Notre Dame is back in action today on the road against ACC foe Duke. The Irish enter the contest at 6-2 on the heels of one of the most exciting, albeit at times frustrating, wins in the last few years. With four games left on the schedule, a New Year’s 6 bowl is still a possibility for the Irish as long as they don’t slip up again, and that includes today. Duke is sitting at 4-4, but are still dangerous considering how Notre Dame has been playing of late.
What I’m Worried About This Week
Notre Dame’s rushing attack. Notre Dame should have Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr healthy in the backfield together for really the first time this year other than that first drive against Louisville. Should. We thought we had both for USC, but Armstrong barely played. We thought we had both for Michigan, but then Jones got hurt. Last week, Jones was sidelined while Notre Dame struggled to run the ball.
Combine Notre Dame’s injuries in the backfield with the injuries to the right side of the offensive line – the Irish are without Robert Hainsey and Tommy Kraemer for the rest of the regular season – and I am worried about Notre Dame’s ability to run the football.
In a perfect world, we see that two back sets that we got a brief glimpse of against Louisville, but I am not holding my breath at this point. I’d love to see it, but I am just not counting on it right now.
Notre Dame’s offense stalling at times. The Irish had a chance to put up a lot of points last week, but they left far too many points on the field. Ian Book missed at least three touchdown passes on drives that resulted in zero points for Notre Dame. He missed Kmet on a post route in the first quarter before throwing an interception a few plays later. He threw an interception at the goalline because he underthrew Chase Claypool, who had gotten behind the defense. Then he missed Kmet in the endzone again before Jonathan Doerer missed a field. Three drives with easy touchdown passes called. Zero points.
Now, one way to look at this is, at least Book saw those reads last week. He didn’t make those reads earlier this season – especially against Michigan. So maybe this is the week Book starts not only seeing those reads but making those throws too. At this point, though, I’m worried that that isn’t what happens today and that the Irish offense continues to struggle at times.
What I’m Not Worried About This Week
Notre Dame’s defense. The Michigan game looks like an aberration after the Irish defense returned to normalcy last week against Virginia Tech. The Hokie offense could not muster long drives on Clark Lea‘s unit. The only way Virginia Tech scored last week was when they were gifted turnovers or penalties. That is the defense I expect to see later tonight.
The defense we saw against Virginia is the defense I think we’ll see tonight in Durham. Duke has been careless with the football at times this year. Look for the Notre Dame defense to capitalize on that. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve had a Julian Okwara sighting on defense, but this game feels like a good time for another outburst. Okwara, a North Carolina native, could be in for a big evening.
Facing a mobile quarterback is something that could be worrisome for this defense, but we’ve seen the Irish limit damage in that department after the first quarter of the Louisville game. Notre Dame’s defense will create turnovers and limit Duke all night long.
Playing on the road. Sometimes when Notre Dame is struggling a bit, the perfect medicine is a road game like this one. They won’t be in a hostile environment, and they’ll be away from the distractions that come with the pageantry of a Notre Dame football home game. This team showed last week that they are still very much playing for each other. Chase Claypool had his quarterback’s back all ever since the Michigan game, and it showed last week.
There is a chance this team uses Ian Book’s game-winning touchdown run as a galvanizing moment for the season, and from this point on, we start to see the team that we thought we’d see from week one. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but a team can use a moment like that to rally behind.
Players I’m Watching This Week
- Braden Lenzy – Can we please start to utilize this kid’s speed more? USC couldn’t keep up with him; there’s no way in hell Duke can keep up with him. It’s time for Chip Long to get creative.
- Jafar Armstrong – Is he fully healthy? He hasn’t looked it just yet this year. Maybe this is the week we see Armstrong get back to the back we expected to see in August.
- Javon McKinley – Can we please get some more targets for this kid too? Any time Book throws it up for McKinely, he comes down with the ball. Let McKinley use his size to win 50/50 balls today.
- Trevor Ruhland – After all his injuries, it’s amazing he is still playing. Notre Dame can’t rely on him as much as they did last week if they want to have him available for the rest of the season.
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen some of those “WOW” moments we saw earlier in the year. Today feels like a good day to have a couple of those – especially with Notre Dame facing a mobile quarterback.
Welp, last week, I had a good feeling about the game and thought the Irish were ready to break out against a mediocre Virginia Tech team. They didn’t. And now they face a Duke team that beat that same average Virginia Tech team 45-10 earlier this season. I’m not a huge believer in the transitive property of college football, but on the surface, that doesn’t make me think that this is the week the Irish breakout. Heck, at this point, I question whether or not we see the offense break out at all this year.
I see tonight being a slog. Notre Dame is going to have to earn all of its yards and points, and as a result, this game will be close throughout most of the evening. I see Notre Dame scoring late to put the game out of reach for the Blue Devils after giving Irish fans plenty to stress about throughout the game.
Notre Dame 27, Duke 17