#10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Duke Blue Devils Game Preview

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The 2020 season, one that will feature Atlantic Coast Conference opponents only, kicks off for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish when the Duke Blue Devils come to South Bend on Saturday. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said a little less than a month ago that ND’s familiarity with their 2020 opponents will work to their advantage.

“We have a great deal of respect for the opponents we’ve played in the ACC,” Kelly said shortly after training camp began. “They’re well coached. There are different systems, both on offense and defense, you’re going to get a variety.”

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“One thing that we do like, obviously, in this makeup, is we’ve got a better sense of the teams because we’ve played a lot of them before, and that doesn’t always happen to be the case because when you play as an independent, you get different teams, different offenses and defenses each year.”

“So there’s a bit of a familiar opponent that helps if you will, playing in this ACC structure, but across the board you’re getting a variety of offenses and defenses, but the standard here is well coached, fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball, and again really good athletes that are going to challenge you week to week.”

Notre Dame has played everyone on the 2020 schedule at least once since 2015. They have faced an overwhelming majority of the opponents at some point between 2017-2019.

Game Information

Location: Notre Dame Stadium | South Bend, IN 

Date: Saturday, September 12, 2020

Time: 2:30 PM EST 

TV: NBC | Streaming: WatchESPN.com | Radio: IMG 

Moneyline: DUKE +760 | ND -1400 Spread: ND -19.5 | O/U: 53.5 

Historical Information 

Notre Dame defeated Duke, 38-7, on the road in their most recent game on November 9, 2019. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are 4-2 all-time against Duke. 

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Duke Offense 

Chase Brice is the starting quarterback at Duke after three years backing up Trevor Lawrence and Kelly Bryant at Clemson. In 25 games with the Tigers, he completed 82-136 passes for 1,023 yards, nine touchdowns, and four interceptions. Brice is most notable for stepping in to relieve an injured Lawrence and save Clemson’s 2018 season with a 27-23 comeback win over Syracuse. 

For the first time since 2004, David Cutcliffe will be calling the plays for the Duke offense. Last year under offensive coordinator Zac Roper, the Blue Devils posted one of their lowest yardage totals in 12 seasons under Cutcliffe and missed a bowl game for only the second time in eight seasons. 

The Blue Devils struggled running the ball, averaging only 3.6 yards per attempt. The passing attack was also mediocre as the team averaged 179 yards passing, 1.5 touchdowns, and 1.2 interceptions per game. 2019 was a steep decline from two years ago when Duke averaged 4.3 yards rushing, 246.1 yards passing, 2.4 touchdowns, and 0.8 interceptions per game. 

Cutcliffe has a reputation as a quarterback guru. He’s coached five quarterbacks who have passed for 3,000+ yards (Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Erik Ainge, Thaddeus Lewis, Sean Renfree). Not to mention the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, Daniel Jones. So Chase Brice will be learning from one of the best.

Brice will enter the season opener without one of his senior linemen. Center Jack Wohlabaugh (18 career starts), suffered a torn knee ligament on September 1 in practice.  

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Duke Defense 

Cornerback Mark Gilbert comes from a royal football bloodline. His uncle, Sean Gilbert, was the third overall pick in the 1992 draft and his cousin, Darrelle Revis, is a Hall of Famer in waiting.  

Although ultra-talented, Mark hasn’t seen the field since 2018. Following a first-team All-ACC season as a sophomore, Gilbert went into 2018 with six interceptions and 15 pass deflections. After suffering a dislocated hip during the second game of the season, he has not been on the field in more than 20 months. If 100%, Gilbert will be one of the best cornerbacks that Ian Book and the Irish face all season. 

Apart from Gilbert, the Blue Devils have seven starters returning on defense, including defensive ends Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph II (15 combined sacks and 22 combined tackles for loss in 2019). 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Offense 

To no surprise, Ian Book is the starting quarterback for the Irish. He returns following a 3,000 yard passing season where he threw 34 touchdowns. In 2019 against the Blue Devils, Book rushed for a career-best 139 yards and threw four touchdown passes in a 38-7 rout. 

The Fighting Irish depth chart was not without its surprises. Playmaking wide receiver Braden Lenzy is slotted behind Javon McKinley and Bennet Skowronek. The coaching staff’s decision gives Book two experienced starting wide receivers to throw to and could provide the breakout season for Javon McKinley that Irish fans have been waiting for since he signed in 2016.

Despite Lenzy being behind McKinley on the depth chart, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees will find ways to work him into the game plan.

While Kyren Williams is the starter at running back, it appears it will be a running back by committee type of situation. During the offseason, Williams dropped about ten pounds.

Now 195 pounds, it’ll be interesting to see if Williams will look more like the Missouri Offensive Player of the Year award winner that he was in high school, where he tallied 1,530 all-purpose yards and 28 touchdowns. 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Defense 

While the defensive line shook out the way most expected, another depth chart surprise came when Notre Dame announced Shayne Simon as the starter at the BUCK linebacker position. Following this announcement, former BUCK linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath announced he was leaving the program.

Simon, a former safety, and backup Marist Liufau will undoubtedly add more speed to the defense.

In the secondary, Kyle Hamilton, along with converted cornerback Shaun Crawford, are at the safety positions. The move from cornerback to safety usually means a few things: the player has lost a step, they’re a great tackler, and they have good football instincts.

Following two ACL injuries and a torn Achilles, Crawford has most likely lost a step. But with four interceptions and two recovered fumbles, he also has excellent ball skills. 

At cornerback, graduate transfer Nick McCloud will provide dependable tackling in the secondary. During his NC State career, he made 106 tackles while breaking up 20 passes and three interceptions. TaRiq Bracy will anchor McCloud on the other side of the field. 

Despite the appearance of experience on the defense, the 2020 Fighting Irish are relying on new transfers and players in key positions. With limited practices due to COVID-19, their communication and alignment will be tested by Cutcliffe as he tries to fix a pedestrian Blue Devil offense. 

 

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