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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Preparing For Everything Against Duke Offense

September 8, 2020

Notre Dame knows which quarterback it will be facing in Saturday’s opener after Duke announced Chase Brice as the starter on Sunday, but Brian Kelly and the Irish understand it would be naïve to assume much more than that with regard to the Blue Devils’ offense.

“Very creative,” Kelly said earlier this week to describe Duke head coach David Cutcliffe’s offense. “They've run everything from no-back to wishbone, so you've got to be, in an opener, prepared for virtually everything.

“With Coach Cutcliffe calling the offense, we know how accomplished he is as a play-caller and managing games. We've got our hands full in terms of making sure that we have answers to a number of different potential issues on Saturday.”

In addition to the creativity, it doesn’t sound like the Blue Devils are going to hold much back or play things conservative, especially after losing to the Irish 38-7 in Durham last year.

“I think we've got to be aggressive on both sides of the ball,” Cutcliffe said on Tuesday. “We can't be afraid. We can't play on our heels. I thought we got on our heels a little bit on both sides of the ball a year ago. They're talented. They are outstanding. And as I said, well-coached.

“I think you have to match that with an aggressive nature that you're going to compete at the highest level.”

Cutcliffe said Duke needs to play well in all three phases and “blend” some together.

“We get a stop on defense, we need to take advantage of it with our return game and take advantage of it offensively,” he said. “That's how you get started in games and make yourself competitive. And that's always something that we're focused on.

“Again, part of that is you’ve got to create some of this with being aggressive."

Kelly said he wasn’t surprised to see Brice, who spent the last three years at Clemson before announcing his transfer to Duke in February, named the starter.

“He was instrumental in the big win at Clemson a few years back when they lost Trevor Lawrence and getting the victory over Syracuse,” Kelly said of Brice, calling him a “very good player."

Cutcliffe pointed to that game experience as a big reason why Brice beat out Chris Katrenick and Gunnar Holmberg for the job.

“He's played a lot more football at this level than the other two have,” Cutcliffe said. “Chase played a lot of games and saw a lot of game time at Clemson. You could see that pocket movement and him just feeling natural in a pocket. The timing mechanism of throws and as he got more comfortable, his accuracy level grew in all of the throws whether it was deep balls or intermediate short layoffs.

“He just became more and more the most comfortable quarterback on a day-to-day basis. As the week closed out last week, I think it became more obvious and then we made the decision to start him at the Notre Dame game.”

Cutcliffe wanted to stress how impressed he was with Katrenick and Holmberg.
“Both have played outstanding,” he said. “They're talented players. They're doing everything that's asked of them. So, certainly the circumstance is going to be fluid. But I think Chase earned this start without a doubt. He's a talented young man. And does a lot of things extremely well."

Kelly singled out Duke running backs Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant, who combined for 1,100 yards on 269 carries last fall.

“Really like their backs,” he said. “These are really good backs with escapability, the ability to make big plays.” 

Duke Athletics
After being a standout in the return game last season, will Philyaw-Johnson provide major impact on offense?

Damond Philyaw-Johnson only caught two passes for 31 yards last season, but he certainly caught Kelly’s attention in the return game, bringing back 17 kicks for 549 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2019. He’s been named captain and appears poised for a breakout season.

"I think the guy that concerns us certainly is Philyaw-Johnson and his speed on the perimeter,” the Irish head coach said.

Tight end Noah Gray led the Blue Devils with 51 receptions last fall and is somebody Kelly expects to be featured again this season.

“Especially when you don't have a spring ball and you have a truncated kind of preseason like most of us have, you're going to find that tight end,” said Kelly. “They've got a great one in Gray and we're going to have to pay attention to them.”

The Blue Devils suffered a major blow last week, when starting center Jack Wohlabaugh went down with a torn ACL.

“It's been tough because it's one of your captains,” Cutcliffe said. “You quickly have to move forward in which we've done and we do have multiple people that can snap and play center.”

Redshirt junior Will Taylor, who played in six games last season and started three, will step in for Wohlabaugh.

“Will is playing the best football he's played since he's been here. Thank goodness, it's timely.”

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