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Notre Dame Football

Instant Reaction | Notre Dame 21 Duke 14

October 1, 2023

Down one in the fourth quarter, things appeared to be off the rails for Notre Dame. It didn’t really look like the Irish would be able to get back on track.

The defense had played a great game. They carried the team the entire night.

They needed the offense to help them at some point in the second half, but after Duke had scored to take their first lead, the offense responded with a three-and-out. One more stop was needed from the defense and they got that, but I wouldn’t say that anyone could feel confident after Duke pooch punted the ball to the five yard line.

Notre Dame’s stagnant offense was going to have to come through with another two-minute drill, but this one would be in a much tougher situation than being up three scores against Navy. It wasn’t pretty, which fit with how the offense played the entire game, but Sam Hartman and the offense got the job done.

Marcus Freeman using all of those opportunities at the end of the first half to start the season paid off because Notre Dame had come through before. They came through in a big way tonight.

They did that when all of the signs pointed to a storybook ending for Duke. This was more than their Super Bowl. This was setting up to quite possibly be the biggest win in the history of their program.

Hartman and Audric Estime stepped on their moment. Then the defense came in and put the exclamation point on it.

By no means was it comfortable. It was resilient, though. Notre Dame will take one of those on the road against a good Duke team.

- This performance was on the Marshall and Stanford level of frustration from the Notre Dame offense. I don’t think I need to sugarcoat it.

Duke has a good defense. They came into the game second in points per drive and fifth in yards per play. They also came into the game 104th in 3rd down defense and managed to hold Notre Dame to only two conversions on their first 12 attempts.

Notre Dame couldn’t find success running the ball on first down (3.1 yards per carry). They couldn’t scheme up a 3rd down conversion if their lives depended on it. The life of the offense in this game did depend on it and they needed Hartman’s legs to help them survive.

If not for Mitchell Evans, the Irish wouldn’t have had a hope of doing much at all on offense in this game. He clearly proved that his Ohio State performance was no fluke. Six catches for 134 yards was a more prolific day than any one Michael Mayer had in a Notre Dame uniform, which tells everyone everything they need to know about how good Evans was.

The contested catches and the fight after the catch made him look like Gronk out there.

With what Notre Dame had at wide receiver in this game, they needed a performance like this one from Evans. It might just be a regular thing from now on.

- It should be noted that Duke’s defense only gave up six explosive players of 20+ yards all season before this game. To expect Notre Dame to go out there and light them up would have been unfair.

The Irish offense had seven plays of 20+ yards in this game and they needed every one of them because they had trouble doing much of anything else.

The fake punt to Jeremiyah Love was included in that and it was a massive play, a terrific design by Marty Biagi, and the right call at the right time by Freeman.

- Duke quarterback Riley Leonard had only been sacked once and had thrown zero interceptions in their first four games. Well, those numbers are different after tonight.

Notre Dame’s defense had Leonard in knots as a passer for the majority of the game. He managed only 5.0 yards per attempt and completed only 44% of his passes.

Kevin Johns is a very good play-caller and he schemed up some wins for Duke on 3rd down and on the second touchdown, but Notre Dame’s defense forced Johns into doing something he didn’t want to do. He had to try and lean on Leonard as a runner to get them back in the game and it worked, but it also meant Leonard had a career high in carries and he took some shots. The last one was the worst when he injured his ankle on the game-clinching sack.

I said before the game that Notre Dame needed to force Leonard to play out of his mind for Duke to win the game. They didn’t allow him to come close to doing that.

- I’m not surprised the defense played well. I knew they were this good before this game.

Still, to have this many players rise to the occasion should have Irish fans very excited.

Howard Cross was a true game wrecker. 5.5 havoc plays, including two forced fumbles, and 13 tackles is ridiculous. Marist Liufau was a fixture in the box score in this game (six tackles, 1.5 havoc plays, and Notre Dame’s first fumble recovery of the season), he was critical in containing Leonard when he tried to scramble early in the game.

Xavier Watts made plays. JD Bertrand made plays. Javontae Jean-Baptise made plays. Rylie Mills finished against Leonard one on one in the run game. Most of the players who are supposed to “the guys” for Notre Dame’s defense were that for the Irish.

- Greg Flammang brought up in the post-game show that this win felt like a few Notre Dame wins in recent years. Virginia in 2015, Virginia Tech in 2019, and Virginia Tech in 2021 weren’t that dissimilar with where things were in those games and how it ultimately finished.

I can’t help but think of UCLA in 2006. The pimary thing I remember about that game was that it was an incredibly frustrating day for the Notre Dame offense that ended with Quinn to Samardzija.

I couldn’t tell you anything about the frustrating part today, but I sure do remember the final drive.

I’m going to rewatch Notre Dame-Duke and analyze everything because that’s what we do right after. Years from now I’m sure what will be most remembered is the 4th and 16 and Estime scoring.

After it was over, I was glad it was. It wasn’t a fun game to watch. It was a game to forget for the Notre Dame offense, except for the ending.

Remembering it years from now, how they won will be more fun to think about.

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