Putting together their most impressive performance in the last month, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish boosted their record to 6-2 on the year with a 38-7 victory over the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday night. Jumping out to a 21-0 advantage and then shutting out their opponents after the break, the Irish had only miscues during the course of the contest. Much of those were of the self-inflicted variety and were primarily confined to the final six minutes of the first half.
Below are some of the keys to the win:
First Quarter Domination
Notre Dame entered this contest as slightly more than a touchdown favorite, with the partisan Duke crowd hoping to see an upset. To avoid that problem, the Irish took control of the line of scrimmage during the first quarter and ended up holding a 14-0 advantage when it ended.
Though the first Notre Dame drive was a quick three-and-out, the Irish shut things down after Duke picked up a quick first down. For the remainder of the quarter, the Blue Devils gained only 16 yards during their consecutive three-and-outs. Both Chris Finke and Chase Claypool each grabbed a touchdown pass, and by the end of the period, the Irish had outgained the Blue Devils, 180-26.
While a 31-point victory is a welcome sight after getting routed by Michigan and squeezing out a last-minute win over Virginia Tech, Notre Dame’s win wasn’t error-free. Fans and television viewers got to witness each team get flagged for eight penalties, with combined yardage in that dubious category totaling 139 yards.
None of the penalties caused any major problems for the Irish, but the continuing issue of the false start once again surfaced. Many of the other calls against Notre Dame were simply an annoyance that stalled drives, but cleaning things up in the weeks ahead is likely to be a focus of the Irish coaching staff.
Running by Committee
Notre Dame’s running game struggled in the past two games, primarily due to the absence of Tony Jones, who returned to the field but was mostly ineffective. That resulted in seven different ball carriers picking up yardage on the night, with the Irish racking up an impressive 272 yards on the ground.
Leading the way for Notre Dame was quarterback Ian Book, who gained 139 yards on just 12 carries. Two of those carries went for 45 and 53 yards, respectively and ultimately led to a touchdown and field goal. Yet Jahmir Smith also made his mark with 58 yards, including a 40-yard run that helped spark the second touchdown drive.
One indication of just how impressive the Notre Dame defense was against Duke can be seen in the fact that allowed only 197 total yards on the night, which was just 16 yards more than the entire Irish passing attack. Besides clamping down in the opening quarter, they managed to get stops when it counted.
One example can be seen by looking at how the Blue Devils only managed to three of 16 third-down attempts, and just one of their three tries on fourth down. Even Duke’s lone score on the night was a blip on the radar for Notre Dame defenders, since it came in the immediate aftermath of an Irish interception in their own territory.
Twin Air Threats
As strong as Book was with his legs, his 181 yards on the night through the air helped him finish with four touchdown passes on the evening. Three of those scores went to the tandem of Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, with Finke’s emergence something that Irish fans were hoping to see at some point this year.
Claypool and Finke each grabbed five passes, with Claypool scoring once while gaining 97 yards. For Finke, four of his five grabs came in the opening quarter and helped get Notre Dame off on the right foot. In addition, Finke’s 46-yard punt return in the final period helped set up the final Irish score.
Renewing an annual matchup that takes on special meaning with Veterans Day arriving on Monday, Notre Dame will return home next Saturday to host the Navy Midshipmen. The concept of a rivalry for this meeting, which first took place in 1927, might be something of a stretch in this instance, given that the Irish hold a 78-13-1 advantage in this series.
Still, Navy will enter this game with a 7-1 record and will also continue an odd quirk concerning Notre Dame’s opponents. The Midshipmen will be coming off a bye week, marking the third consecutive foe to have that extra rest coming into a game with the Irish. It’s also the fifth time in Notre Dame’s last six games.