College Football Game of the Week: Duke vs. Notre Dame

Story posted September 11, 2020 in Sports, CommRadio by Christopher Hess

The ACC was one just of three Power Five conferences that elected to play the 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, kicking off its season on Sept. 10.

Two of those programs in the conference, Duke and Notre Dame, will square off at Notre Dame Stadium at 2:30 p.m. on Sept.12. Yes, Notre Dame joined the ACC for the 2020 conference-only season and will go back to being an independent in 2021.

David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils ended the 2019 season with a record of 5-7 and suffered a five-game losing streak in the back end of the campaign. That skid included blowout losses to Notre Dame, Virginia and Syracuse.

With the new season approaching, Duke was able to strike gold in the transfer portal, as Clemson graduate transfer Chase Brice will take over quarterbacking duties from Quentin Harris.

In limited action in 2019, Brice completed 50 passes on 85 attempts for 581 yards and four touchdowns alongside 14 rushes for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Deon Jackson will get a majority of the carries in 2020 for the Blue Devils. The senior running back rushed for 641 yards on 172 attempts and found the end zone six times last season. He’ll be looking to have a strong start to 2020.

At receiver and tight end, Cutcliffe’s troops return two of their best from a year ago in Jalon Calhoun and Noah Gray. Calhoun led all pass catchers in receiving yards and touchdowns with 420 and four, respectively. Gray led all Blue Devils in receptions with 51 and placed second in yards and touchdowns with 392 and three.

On the defensive side of the ball, Duke will be without its leading tacklers in Koby Quansah and Dylan Singleton due to graduation, so there will be big shoes to fill.

Shaka Heyward, Michael Carter II and Marquis Waters will spearhead the Duke defense, which ranked No. 77 overall last year, surrendering 29.2 points per game. This unit could experience some of those same struggles once again in 2020.

Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish team has entered 2020 with some high expectations after finishing 2019 with a 10-3 record and a 33-9 dismantling of Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl.

Ian Book, the undisputed leader of the Notre Dame offense, decided to return for his senior season, and he is an early contender for the Heisman Trophy.

In 2019, Book completed 240 passes on 399 attempts for 3,034 yards, 34 touchdowns and just six interceptions. In addition, Book racked up 546 yards and four scores on the ground.

The offense is made up of mostly juniors and seniors with a sophomore running back in Kyren Williams. Williams will have to fill in the void of Tony Jones Jr., who was lost to graduation.

The Irish also have to find replacements for the three leading receivers from a year ago: Chase Claypool, Cole Kmet and Chris Finke. Expect Javon McKinley, Avery Davis, Brock Wright and Northwestern graduate transfer Ben Skowronek to fill in those spots.

Notre Dame’s offensive line is always one of the top units in the nation and will also be an extremely experienced group in 2020. Two fifth-year seniors, two seniors and one junior make up the group, led by top prospects Liam Eichenberg, Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey.

The defense also has quite a bit of experience, as it consists of predominantly juniors and seniors.

Drew White led the Irish in tackles in 2019 with 80, and the second leading tackler with 79, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, is also back for his senior season. Owusu-Koramoah also had 8½ sacks in 2019.

The secondary is led by fifth-year senior Shaun Crawford and sophomore Kyle Hamilton. Hamilton recorded four interceptions as a freshman, and Crawford has played a lot of ball in his four years in South Bend.

The Irish also added NC State transfer Nick McCloud and Ohio State transfer Isaiah Pryor via the transfer portal in the offseason.

The Fighting Irish have a spread offense that is incredibly hard to stop if it scores first. It is very similar to Minnesota’s offense in the sense that it can dictate the pace of the game right from the jump.

If the Blue Devils want to come out on top, they will have to slow down the Notre Dame offense immediately. But Book’s ability to improvise and make plays with his feet cannot go unnoticed, and that’ll be tough for the Duke defense to pin down.

The lack of offensive production and defensive struggles will be too much to overcome for the Blue Devils, and Notre Dame will come out on top in convincing fashion.

Prediction: Notre Dame 37, Duke 13

 

Christopher Hess is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email christopherhess22@gmail.com.