A Notre Dame defense that’s been struggling so far meets up on Saturday with a Duke offense that’s also hit the skids over the last 10 quarters. This Notre Dame Duke contest pits two teams that both sport a 1-2 mark, with both of the victories coming against low-level opponents. Like the Irish matchup against Nevada, this could be an instance where the game restores some luster to the team’s besieged defensive unit.
Duke Players to Watch
Behind center, Blue Devils’ redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones has thrown for over 600 yards in his last two games, However, he hasn’t been able to connect on any scoring tosses. Thus far, his favorite target has been sophomore T.J. Rahming, with 18 catches, though fellow wideouts Anthony Nash and Johnathan Lloyd have combined for 24 grabs.
Senior Jela Duncan is the key threat in the backfield, though he’s been held in check during the past two games. Stopping him effectively stops the running game because the only other real running threats in this Notre Dame Duke 2016 matchup are Jones and fellow back Shaun Wilson.
Up front, the Duke offensive line is a work in progress after having allowed seven sacks during the last two clashes. It has three veteran starters, though the team’s best players on the line are relative newcomers: center Austin Davis and left guard Zach Harmon. In the latter case, Harmon’s elevation to the starting lineup last week versus Northwestern was a direct response to a weak effort shown by the Blue Devils against Wake Forest.
Match-Ups Notre Dame Can Exploit
The combination of those line struggles and the limited experience of Jones have played a major part in the Blue Devils’ early-season struggles. One flaw shown by Jones thus far has been his willingness to seemingly stay in the pocket forever, which lends itself to allowing onrushing defenders to either sack him or force a throw.
Confusion has also been in evidence for the young signal caller, so disguising coverages for this Notre Dame Duke contest may be a way to force the issue. Wake Forest was able to use an eight-in-the-box defense that did just that and Duke’s eight fumbles on the year make them vulnerable to aggressive defenders.
Match-Ups Notre Dame Should Avoid
The continuing problems in the Irish secondary mean that that a strong pass rush by the Notre Dame defense is paramount to making sure that this quartet doesn’t become a focal point in the game. Whether that happens through blitzing or just steady pressure on the front line isn’t vitally important in this Notre Dame Duke 2016 clash, but Jones has given hints that he can air it out, if necessary.
Given that 11 different Blue Devils have caught a pass so far, Jones has a number of different targets available. None of those receivers are blessed with great speed, but if he’s able to move the ball down the field in piecemeal fashion, that could cause problems.
The Bottom Line
Duke doesn’t have anywhere close to the same firepower of either Texas or Michigan State. However, the Notre Dame defense can’t afford to look ahead to Syracuse when their own house isn’t in order. While the pressure is on the Irish to save their season, making sure they deliver some of their own is one way to make that happen.