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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Opponent Preview | Duke

August 10, 2020
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Notre Dame was previously scheduled to play Navy to the start the 2020 season, but a lot has changed since that original schedule was finalized in 2017. Heck, a lot has changed in the last couple of weeks.

Now they’re set to face Duke in week one of their ACC season, which still feels weird to write, on September 12.

Duke comes in rated 69th in the preseason SP+ rankings. They had a down year in 2019 and were throttled by Notre Dame 38-7. The Irish were +3.11 yards per play against the Blue Devils.

Though David Cutcliffe has done a tremendous job at a place that hasn’t had a great track record of success, saying he is on the back nine of his career is probably generous. At age 65 and entering his 13th season at Duke, it would be fair to say he is getting close to signing his scorecard.

This is a game where Notre Dame will hold a significant talent advantage at most spots and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them as a three score favorite heading into the season opener.

Offense

Cutcliffe is taking over the offense after the group finished 112th in SP+ last season. They are projected to be 116th this year, so let’s just say Cutcliffe is going to have to work some magic to field a competitive group.

The offensive line struggled. Despite designing an offense that had plenty of quick throws to avoid pressure and supplement the running game, they finished 78th in sack rate. They couldn’t run the ball well and they finished 114th in yards per rush in October and 115th in yards per rush in November.

The line needs to be much better this year and is likely going to be overmatched by Notre Dame’s front seven. That’s bad news for Deon Jackson, who was a very productive back in 2018, but took a dip last season.

They lack explosive skill players at receiver, but maybe they can see some improvement there with a new quarterback. Clemson transfer Chase Brice is expected to be the man for them, but he’s only had one real opportunity to play outside of garbage time. He showed some moxie in that game, a win over Syracuse where he was forced to make a couple of clutch throws. He also didn’t blow anyone away with his ability.

He had a QBR of 39.3 and his yards per attempt was 6.4.

If Duke put up a lot of points on Notre Dame’s defense, it would be a surprise.

X-factor - Brice

Quentin Harris was below average last season and if Brice is better, he’ll give them a much better chance to get back to a bowl game. Cutcliffe is considered a quarterback whisperer so maybe Brice can be his next great protege.

Wild card - Jackson

2018 for Jackson: 5.26 yards per carry, 1,100 all-purpose yards, 2nd team All-ACC

2019 for Jackson: 3.73 YPC, 833 all-purpose yards

Jackson has the ability to be a dangerous weapon for them. He can’t do it without better line play and more of a downfield passing threat to open things up.

Defense

This defense is going to keep them in a lot of games this season. They are projected 34th in SP+, have a ton of experience in the secondary, and the pass rush will be one of the better ones in the ACC.

They finished 20th in sack rate last season and they have their best pass rushers returning. Chris Rumph II might be listed as an edge, but they line up all over the place and use him similarly to how Daelin Hayes is used for Notre Dame in sub-packages. They take advantage of matchups with him and he gets a ton of pressure.

Last season PFF had him as a first team All-American and he had the highest pass rush win rate in the country. He was very good against Notre Dame last season and finished with 17.5 Havoc plays overall.

Victor Dimukeje was not as effective, but he’s another solid pass rusher who finished with 8.5 sacks. The secondary loses a very good safety in Dylan Singleton, but four of the five starters are back, including safety Michael Carter II. He’s a very good slot corner who plays bigger than his 5’10” frame.

It sounds like they will get former All-ACC corner Mark Gilbert back as well after he missed the last two seasons recovering from a serious hip injury.

Linebacker is a bit of a question mark after losing Koby Quansah. They just don’t have an obvious choice to replace his sideline to sideline production (105 tackles, 15 Havoc plays).

They really struggled handling the quarterback run game against Notre Dame last season, 139 of Ian Book’s 546 yards came against Duke, so that is something to watch closely again on September 12.

X-factor - Rumph II

If Duke has one game wrecker, this guy is it.

Wild card - Gilbert

Who knows how good Gilbert will be after missing so much time, but he was on his way to a bright NFL future before the injury. His 2017 was ridiculous (six interceptions, 14 pass breakups, three tackles for loss). If he is 90% of the player he was, he makes the Duke defense much more difficult to deal with.

Overview

They really need a star to emerge on offense. If Brice can be a difference-maker for them, it makes them a much more dangerous opponent. If he doesn’t, Notre Dame’s defense is likely going to smother them.

They have some nice players on defense, but not enough to win the game on their own. The offense needs to be better to give them a chance at knocking off the Irish to start the season or else this game could look very similar to the one that was played between the two teams last season.

 
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