Duke Preview: Notre Dame Defense vs. Duke Offense

 Jeremy Brevard // USA TODAY Sports
Jeremy Brevard // USA TODAY Sports

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.

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  1. Apparently Duke has a QB who can throw the ball (600 yds in 2 games). Add to that (so far) no rush, no TFL’s, no y/y improvement in the secondary’s performance and we could see Duke controlling the ball and the game similar to what we saw in Q2 and Q3 v. MSU. Could be painful.

    Just read that BK will get involved in this week’s D prep. Wants to go over with them the proper way to ‘tackle’. Huh?? Now, this late in the year? BK… start the instruction with…’keep your head in FRONT of the runner’ on attempted tackles. Then go from there.

  2. I do believe ND should beat Duke. I’m not sure Duke would rank much higher than Nevada, whom ND handled pretty soundly, save for the 1st quarter. But ND needs to do more than beat Duke. They need to obliterate Duke. They also need to take the opportunity this game should present to get back to basics. Stop trying to be complicated. It sounds like a broken record but the defense should focus on simple tackling and avoiding dumb penalties. Our linebackers are supposed to be a strength, our secondary a weakness. I’m no coach, but I would think going to a bend but don’t break model would be in order. Simply keep everything in front of you, and once you get the red zone, the linebackers should be able to supplement the backfield since it’s a shorter field. Diaco did that in 2012 because our secondary was suspect then too, and it worked (though our secondary ended up being a fairly decent unit anyway). Yes, you may give up field goals, but I’d rather give up 3 points then 7, and if the offense does it’s job, FG’s should be moot.

    On offense, they may need to go to more passing plays. The O-Line seems to be better in pass protection than running plays. I’d still incorporate runs because we have potent running backs, and you never want to go 1 dimensional. But Kizer has shown poise in passing situations as well as patience and he is elusive and has the ability to make accurate passes on the run.

    But this week is an opportunity to get back to basics. It can’t be a close game. A convincing win does not mean all is right with the world. But it is a step in the right direction. The next week do the same with Syracuse, and so on. Just one game at a time.

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