Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame, Ian Book Overcome Slow Start in Opener

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.

Bumpy Beginnings

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.

Next Up

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.

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  1. It has been a guessing game for coaches this year as to how to prepare a team without spring football, in the middle of a pandemic, and with shortened fall practices. Guess wrong, like NAVY who had soft-hit practices, and you get beat in the opener…sometimes badly. Some teams on Saturday skimped on Special Teams practice, and it cost them. I am happy to report that our Special Teams were at the top of their game, especially Bramlett. He hit his field goals and executed a fake punt which IMO changed the whole game. That is what a well drilled Special Teams unit can do for you. A shout out to the ST coach, the punt squad, and whoever made the fake punt call…perfect time for it, and perfect place on the field. That is winning football. Also, we finally got a HELMET STICKER! Woo Hoo! I’d have given it to Bramlett, but I won’t argue against our newfound running back getting the sticker! He was on his game.
    Did anyone else notice an eerie similarity with Rees’s first three series that all went nowhere off right tackle in the Tangerina Bowl and the first three series in the Duke game, which all went nowhere between the tackles? Then Rees opens it up elsewhere on the field and the scores start rolling in! Too early to tell yet, but it may be Rees’s way of probing a defense, maybe similar to LOU with his list of early plays to run which just answered questions he had about what the defense would do if we do “x” “y” or “z” etc.. It’s something to watch for against Southern Florida.

    BGC ’77 ’82

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