Despite jumping out to an early 14-0 lead, the Irish hit a new low after losing a close game to basketball powerhouse, Duke, in football.
If you had told me before the season started that the Duke Blue Devils would leave South Bend with a victory, in football, I’d have, undoubtedly, laughed out loud, heartily. Hell, even after the first three weeks of the season, I was still confident enough in Notre Dame’s ability to handle Duke that I predicted a 24 point victory for the Fighting Irish. And, midway through the 1st Quarter, with the Irish leading 14-0, that seemed like a pretty safe bet. Until it didn’t. And for me, the moment it didn’t was when Duke, who had just lost their talented and record chasing kick returner, returned a kick-off 96 yards for a touchdown without him; that the return for a touchdown was aided by a number of missed tackles should come as no surprise. But despite this, despite the growing sense of trepidation with every miscue, a fumble here, a dozen missed tackles and an interception there, the Irish still had a chance to win the game in the end.
And there’s the rub. Because if they had won that game, if Kizer had somehow managed to drive the Irish down the field for a touchdown with just over a minute left to play, instead of overthrowing several receivers and turning the ball over on downs, Brian VanGorder is probably still your Fighting Irish defensive coordinator heading into this week’s game against Syracuse. And each win, no matter how close, no matter if it was to a team the Irish should beat in easy fashion, would have been another week VanGorder’s job was saved. So that was the trade-off, a humiliating loss to an unranked Duke football team with a losing record, for at least the chance at a clean slate and eventual turnaround under a new (interim for now) defensive coordinator for the Irish defense. It was an embarrassing price to pay, but after hearing even the Notre Dame Student Section break out with the FireBVG chants during the game against Duke, I think it’s one we’ll quickly come to terms with, especially if the defense improves, and the Fighting Irish start winning some games.
I do want to say before moving on, that I wish Brian VanGorder and his family nothing but the best moving forward. It’s easy, and warranted, to be critical of the end result of his coaching, and his defensive scheme, on the field, but that’s where, for me, it ends. I don’t doubt, not even for a second, his desire to win at Notre Dame, or his dedication to his players. It didn’t work out for him at Notre Dame. So be it. I hope he finds great success wherever he lands next.
Key Fighting Irish Plays
1st Quarter – DeShone Kizer 8 yard TD run. It took the Irish just under 3 minutes to drive 75 yards downfield for the quick opening drive score.
1st Quarter – DeShone Kizer 44 yard TD pass to Kevin Stepherson. The Irish defense forced the Blue Devils into a 3 and Out on their first offensive possession of the game, and four plays later Kizer finds Stepherson running free deep down the middle of the field, hitting him in stride for the touchdown, giving the Irish a 14-0 lead over the Blue Devils.
1st Quarter – Justin Yoon 42 yard missed field goal attempt. Yoon pushes his attempt wide right, and the Irish miss out on a scoring opportunity to end the 1st Quarter with the score tied at 14-14.
2nd Quarter – DeShone Kizer fumble. Kizer mishandles the snap from the pistol position, on what looks to be a routine run play to the right, and Duke recovers the ball on the Notre Dame 25 yard line. Duke would score on the very first play of their possession, and with 21 unanswered points, they take a 21-14 lead over the Irish.
2nd Quarter – Dexter Williams 13 yard TD run. Williams scores his second touchdown of the season to tie the game at 21-21.
3rd Quarter – DeShone Kizer 31 yard pass to Equanimeous St. Brown, forced fumble after the reception. St. Brown and the Irish had a nice gain on the play, but fought for a few extra yards and had the ball stripped from his arms.
3rd Quarter – Donte Vaughn interception of Daniel Jones’ pass. With the Blue Devils driving and looking to retake the lead, Vaughn picked off Jones’ pass at the right front corner of the end zone for a touchback; it actually looked like Vaughn was out of position a bit, but he turned around at just the right moment and came up with the big interception late in the 3rd Quarter, the first of his collegiate career. The 3rd would come to an end with the game tied at 28-28.
4th Quarter – DeShone Kizer 12 yard TD pass to Equanimeous St. Brown. Kizer’s second touchdown pass f the game would give the Irish a short lived 35-28 lead halfway through the 4th Quarter. Unfortunately, it would be a short lived lead, as Duke would answer just three plays later on a 64 yard TD pass from Daniel Jones to Anthony Nash (his second of the day) to tie the game at 35-35.
Final Score: Notre Dame 35 – Duke 38
Top Fighting Irish Performers
There’s no question that Kizer’s struggled at times over the last few games, and he’d be the first to admit it, especially after a game where he was responsible for a fumble and an interception. That said, for the second straight week, Kizer threw for over 300 yards in a losing effort where the Irish defense gave up 35+, so any mistakes he makes will be amplified simply due to how poorly the defense is playing. Kizer finished the game 22-37 for 381 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, and 60 net rushing yards and 1 TD on the ground.
Equanimeous St. Brown
Even with Torii Hunter Jr. back in the mix, St. Brown is clearly becoming DeShone Kizer’s favorite target, as Kizer once again looked to him in the red zone for a lead changing, short lived though it was, touchdown. St. Brown recorded the first 100 yard game of his collegiate career against the Blue Devils, and finished the game with 6 receptions for 116 yards and 1 TD.
Morgan would have earn his spot here if for no other reason than he ended the sack drought for the Irish midway through the 3rd Quarter. But, as usual, he’s also doing much of the heavy lifting for the Irish defense, and led the team in tackles, for the second straight week, with 10 (7 solo, 3 assisted). Morgan now has a team leading 37 tackles (26 solo, 11 assisted), to go along with 1.5 TFL and 1 sack on the season.
Next Up: The Fighting Irish travel to New Jersey to take on Syracuse at 12:00 ET (9:00 PST)