Given the events that have taken place over much of 2020, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish should be content with their 27-13 opening-game win over the Duke Blue Devils, even if it wasn’t a thing of beauty. The good news is that they were able to adapt after facing some early challenges, which might serve as a metaphor for this whole season.
The socially-distanced crowd of 10,097 had little to cheer about early on, but eventually got to see Irish head coach Brian Kelly pick up Notre Dame’s 19th straight home win and the school’s first-ever conference victory in their one-year stint as a member of the ACC. The last time the Irish tasted defeat in front of their fans was the 20-19 loss to Georgia in 2017.
The opening 15 minutes for the Irish against Duke were eminently forgettable, considering that they had just seven yards of offense for the quarter. That’s in addition to watching the Blue Devils rack up six first downs before they collected their first one on the day. Duke managed to gain 142 yards on their first three drives of the contest, but only managed to put three points on the scoreboard, which served as a positive indication for the final result.
Though the Irish finally managed to pick up a first down, they were soon facing another punting situation. At that point, the momentum finally changed in favor of Notre Dame as Jay Bramblett’s 14-yard run on a fake punt finally awakened the Irish offense. That led to the first Notre Dame touchdown and calmed the reduced fan base in the stands.
An Unfinished Book
Looking to close out his Notre Dame career with another strong season, Ian Book had some issues during the course of the game. While his numbers of 19-for-31 for 263 yards and one touchdown pass appear notable, digging below the surface shows that not everything went smoothly.
These included a trio of drives to start the game that all ended with three-and-outs, while Book’s lone interception took place in the red zone and short-circuited a promising drive. On the ensuing series, he narrowly missed tossing another pick when Duke was flagged for holding. He did start to find his way in the closing minutes of the first half, driving 54 yards to set up an Irish field goal. He later connected with Avery Davis in the fourth quarter for his lone touchdown pass.
Welcome to Williams-Burg
The offensive star of the game was sophomore running back Kyren Williams, who ended his afternoon with 112 yards on 19 cariies and reaching the end zone twice. On the receiving front, he snagged two passes from Book for 93 yards, the first of those coming on an exciting 75-yard dash.
Unfortunately, Williams’ long reception led to no points, but after the break, he began and finished a series to give Notre Dame a 17-6 advantage. On the final Irish touchdown drive, two of his runs totalling 21 yards and an 18-yard catch gave Kelly’s squad enough breathing room for the win.
Second Half Shutdown
During the first half, the Irish defense had their problems handling the Blue Devil offense by allowing 246 yards, with 195 of those coming through the air. Those gains for Duke allowed them to rack up 13 first downs and kept them within a touchdown of the lead at halftime.
When play resumed, Notre Dame took advantage of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah‘s forced fumble and Shaun Crawford‘s recovery by the Blue Devils to boost their lead into double-digits. Though Duke again cut the margin to four late in the third quarter, that would be as close as they got.In those final 30 minutes, the Blue Devils saw their offensive output limited to double digits, gaining just 82 yards.
The Irish will take on the South Florida Bulls next Saturday for only the second time and hope to enjoy better luck on both the scoreboard and with the weather. Back on September 3, 2011, the Bulls led 16-0 at the half and held on for the 23-20 win in a game that took nearly six hours to complete because of weather factors.With Tommy Rees inserted at quarte rback after the break, the Irish made a comeback, to cut the margin to three with 21 seconds left, but a failed onside kick gave the Bulls and their head coach, Skip Holtz, son of the Notre Dame coaching legend, the win.