It’s Blue Devils Week!
The Fighting Irish will have to wait another year to make a run at the College Football Playoffs, but in the meantime, there’s still plenty of football left to play, and plenty left to play for. The Fighting Irish may have fallen out of the projections for even one of the New Year’s Six bowl games, but there’s still an outside chance they could qualify for one, provided they win out, a long shot, to be sure, but not outside the realm of possibility. Of course, with perfection required from here on out to avoid relegation to one of the lesser bowl games, the Irish can ill afford to let their guard down against any team, even a Duke team with two losses already on their record.
Following their 36-28 loss to Michigan State, which dropped them to a record of 1-2, Notre Dame enters this game unranked, having dropped out of both the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Poll. Duke also enters the game unranked, and with a 1-2 record, as well. The Blue Devil’s opened the season with a 49-6 win over North Carolina Central, but they then dropped their next two games to Wake Forest and Northwestern.
This will be just the fifth meeting between Notre Dame and Duke, and the first since 2007, which the Irish won 28-7. Notre Dame holds a 3-1 series record over Duke, with the Blue Devil’s lone win in the series coming in 1961.
Players To Watch
Adams put up 103 yards on just 10 carries against Nevada, but managed just 29 yards on 12 carries against Michigan St., with 7 yards being his longest run of the game. Of course, it didn’t help Adams’ cause that the Irish were playing from behind for most of the game, but he simply wasn’t able to make anything happen on his own, either. Through three games, Adams has 178 yards rushing, and 62 yards receiving with 1 receiving TD.
The Entire Defense
OK, that may be overly broad, as a handful of players on the defense have been pulling their weight, Rochell, Morgan, Tillery, and Onwualu come to mind, but, rewatching the game against Michigan St. was an excruciating chore due to the sheer ineptitude of the defense. The lack of a consistent pass rush, the missed or broken tackles, the blown coverages. I can’t imagine it was an easy game film for any Irish defender to watch, either. With two poor showings already this season, the pressure is mounting on the Irish defense to find a rhythm, to find an identity, and to show everyone who’s watching that they’re better than what we’ve seen thus far.
Players To Watch
Daniel Jones (QB)
With just three games under center, Jones, a red-shirt Freshman, has been a bit of a mixed bag, thus far. In his first game of the season, Jones went 10-15 for 189 yards and 2 TDs, and 1 rushing TD, leading his team to a 49-6 stomping of North Carolina Central. In his next two games, against Wake Forest and Northwestern, he passed for a combined 611 yards, and 2 rushing TDs, but he committed five turnovers, 3 fumbles and two interceptions, and the Blue Devils lost both of those games.
Devon Edwards (CB)
Edwards is a playmaker on defense and special teams for the Blue Devils. With six career TDs on kickoff returns, Edwards is just on kickoff return TD shy of tying CJ Spiller’s NCAA record 7 returns for TDs set from 2006-2009. On defense, Edwards leads the team in tackles with 28 (17 solo, 11 assisted), and is tied for the team lead in sacks (3), QB Hurries (2), and is second on the team in TFL (3).
Fighting Irish Keys To Victory
Establish The Run Game
After Josh Adams and Tarean Folston combined for 278 yards in the first two games of the season, the two Irish running backs were held to an embarrassing 43 yards combined against Michigan St. Now, some of that can be attributed to the fact that the Irish were playing from behind for most of the game, but, even in the early going, Notre Dame couldn’t get anything going on the ground; in fact, the big play in the run game came from Kizer on a 14 yard designed run for a TD in the 1st Quarter, the longest run of the day for the Irish. With two exceptional running backs in the Irish backfield, and a step down in competition from last week, the Irish should be able to get their, at times, potent run game back on track.
Play Better Defense
Get a sack, or two. Stop missing tackles. Don’t blow your coverage assignments. As bad as the Irish defense has been, it’s been easy to pile on, but, deserved though it may be, I’m starting to feel a little bad about it. Suffice to say, if the Irish don’t improve on defense from last week, this game will be much harder than it need be, and much closer than it should be.
Ever since the opening loss to Texas, the margin of error for the Irish has been zero. Zero margin of error for a College Football Playoff spot, and now that the playoffs are out of the picture, zero margin of error for a New Year’s Six bowl game bid. Let’s be honest, that’s a pretty daunting task the Irish are faced with, but this game should not be their undoing. Kizer will get the offense rolling, the defense will do just enough to keep the Blue Devils from every really threatening, and, like it was against Nevada, the Irish will have the game all but wrapped up by halftime.
Final Score: Notre Dame 41 – Duke 17