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Notre Dame Football

No. 10 Notre Dame opens 2020 with ACC win

September 12, 2020

An unprecedented season opener had all the characteristics of a standard debut.

Well, except for a run by the punter that ultimately ignited No. 10 Notre Dame to victory on the day the school competed for the first time ever as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and announced the months-old contract extension of coach Brian Kelly.

Facing fourth-and-8 from deep inside its own territory, Notre Dame called for punter Jay Bramblett to deliver. The sophomore responded in kind when he received the snap at his own 8-yard line, followed his blocks, made one key cut and lunged beyond the 20 for the first down.

The Fighting Irish got the first of Kyren Williams’ two touchdowns just snaps later, and never again trailed in a 27-13 win against visiting Duke (0-1, 0-1 ACC).

“We needed something,” Kelly told NBC of the fake punt. “Everybody was kind of sleepy-eyed, so we needed to wake up a little bit.”

Notre Dame (1-0, 1-0 ACC), which won its fourth-straight season-opening game and ninth in Kelly’s 11 years, outscored the Blue Devils 27-10 across the final three quarters.

After beginning the game with three-straight three-and-out possessions, the Fighting Irish amassed 439 yards of total offense in the official debut of first-year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, the former Notre Dame quarterback who ascended to the post after Kelly parted ways with Chip Long after the 2019 regular season.

Ian Book threw for 263 yards, with a scoring toss to Avery Davis and one first-half interception after throwing 34 touchdowns and just six picks a year ago. Williams tallied 112 yards and two rushing scores, while freshman Chris Tyree sparked special teams with 90 yards on kickoff returns and also a 25-yard run.

Clark Lea’s veteran Irish defense shook off Duke’s first-quarter effectiveness and limited the Blue Devils to just 177 yards through the game’s final 45 minutes.

Jonathan Doerer hit a pair of field goals, converting just before the half from 48 yards and to help secure the game in the fourth quarter from 34 yards.

“The second half as a group proved where we need to go,” Kelly said. “We kept running the football, (Chris) Tyree and Kyren and Joe Wilkins stepped up and made some plays. …

“We’re going to be pretty good as we move forward.”

Added Book to NBC when asked who impressed him, “I’m going to go with the running backs. Just Kyren and Tyree and Jafar (Armstrong), and all those guys. They’ve been doing that throughout camp, so it wasn’t a surprise to me.”

In the opening half, the Fighting Irish offense never truly discovered a rhythm and oftentimes impeded itself with penalties, dropped passes and mistakes.

Up 3-0 through the opening frame, Duke outgained its host 151-7 and possessed the ball for more than 10 minutes.

It took a 14-yard run from Bramblett, the Irish punter, on fourth-and-8 to kickstart Notre Dame’s first scoring drive. Four snaps later and Williams bulled in from a yard away for the first of his touchdowns.

Notre Dame made it a 10-6 halftime lead when it executed its two-minute offense in sharp form.

The Irish marched 54 yards on nine plays in just 73 seconds, getting Doerer’s 48-yard field goal on the last snap of the season’s opening half.

Notre Dame is scheduled for its lone non-conference contest next Saturday when it hosts South Florida (2:30 p.m., USA Network).

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