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Duke vs. Notre Dame: What to Watch For

David Cutcliffe
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

When:  Saturday, September 24, 2016.  3:30 PM.

Where:  Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

Television: NBC

Line:  Duke +20.5

Last Time:  Duke 7, Notre Dame 28.  2007 was one of the worst seasons for the Duke and Notre Dame football programs.  The two teams met for the next to last game of the season in South Bend.  The Duke passing defense played well enough, holding Irish freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen to 16-32 passing and 194 yards.  Clausen did throw 3 touchdown passes, but it was the Notre Dame rushing attack that led the way with 220 yards on the ground.  The Blue Devils would only manage 232 yards of total offense on the day.  A Zack Asack run with just over a minute to go in the game would help Duke avoid the shutout.  Duke would finish the season 1-10 with the only victory coming over Northwestern.  2007 was the final year under head coach Ted Roof, as David Cutcliffe was hired in the offseason to takeover the Duke program.

What to Watch For:

Can the Defense Hold Up?  Despite a 1-2 start to the season the Blue Devil defense has played well in the first three games.  While giving up over 20 points each to Wake Forest and Northwestern, teams who have left a lot to be desired on offense recently, a closer look at the stats and games will show solid production by the defensive squad.  Duke has been able to generate a lot more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, tallying 14 sacks in just three games.  Duke ranks 5th in the nation in sack percentage, according to TeamRankings.com.  In addition, Duke is holding opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 49.09%, good for 16th nationally.  Conversely, Duke gives up an average of 8.5 yards per pass, which ranks 100th nationally.  This can be attributed to a few things.  Duke has made a determined effort to rushing the passer, when blitzing it opens up your defense to giving up big plays.  These big plays also happen as a defense wears down over the course of a game.  The Duke offense has shown flashes, but hasn’t been able to put a consistent game together yet this season.  A combination of turnovers, playing calling, and poor execution has caused the offense to stall on several occasions.  When this happens the defense doesn’t get the rest it needs, and a defense the blitzes and plays one on one coverage needs their rest.  Notre Dame quarterback DeShon Kizer is going to test the Duke defense both on the ground and through the air.  The secondary will need to focus on keeping everyone in front of them and the Duke offense needs to do their part to extend drives and stay on the field.

Opportunity For Offense.  Notre Dame has had a difficult early schedule, which certainly has an affect on the numbers, but the Irish defense has struggled a bit.  They are giving up an average of 32 points per game and 6.0 yards per play, ranking 78th and 87th nationally.  Notre Dame has been even worse than Duke at giving up big plays, surrendering an average of 9.1 yards per pass.  Duke has been able to hit some big plays this year. Daniel Jones has the arm and Rahming, Nash, Lloyd, and Taylor can get up the field.  Duke likes the play action pass, but hasn’t been able to find much success with it because the running game hasn’t produced like expected.  When Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson get going Duke is a completely different team.  The offensive line has to do a better job of creating running lanes for Duncan and the offense needs to find a way to get Wilson the ball in space.  The line should get better each week as they get more experience as individuals and playing together.  Communication is just as important for the offensive line as it is any other position group.  The Irish give up just under 200 yards per game on the ground.  This would be a great time for the running game to find itself.

Special Teams Improvement.  Duke has not started the season with strong play on special teams.  Freshman kicker AJ Reed is 0-3 on field goal attempts and even missed an extra point attempt at the end of last week’s game.  Freshman punter Austin Parker has fumbled two snaps.  These young guys need to find some confidence.  Coach Cutcliffe has publicly expressed confidence that both players will find their way as they gain experience and he is not planning any personnel changes at this time.  Not only has kicking and punting been a problem, but Duke hasn’t been able to get anything from their most dangerous weapon, DeVon Edwards.  In three full games Edwards has only logged just one kickoff return.  Opposing teams are certainly looking to avoid putting the ball in Edwards hands.  The majority of kicks Duke has seen this year have gone for touchbacks.  Shaun Wilson has fielded three kicks.  This is something that in reality is out of Duke’s control, but it would give the team a big boost to see Edwards break off a big return.  Edwards is one kickoff return for a touchdown shy of the NCAA and ACC record.