The Notre Dame Fighting Irish reach the halfway point of their 2023 schedule when they travel to face the Duke Blue Devils on September 30. The contest will mark only the eighth meeting between the two schools, with the Irish holding a 5-2 advantage. In their last trip to Durham in 2019, Notre Dame coasted to a 38-7 win.
The 2023 edition of the Blue Devils will be headed by reigning ACC Coach of the Year Mike Elko, who served as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator in 2017. Elko’s award was based on Duke’s 9-4 record, which earned them a bowl berth, and was a mark that very easily could have been 12-1. That’s because three of their four losses were by a field goal or less.
Duke Offense: Air Attack Set to Continue
The arrival of Elko and offensive coordinator Kevin Johns helped the Blue Devils bump up their scoring by 10 points a game in 2022. The chief component of the offense remains quarterback Riley Leonard, an accurate passer who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and also led Duke in rushing. He tossed 20 touchdown passes and only six of his tosses picked off.
In addition to Leonard, the running game for the Blue Devils will largely be handled by the trio of Jordan Waters, Jaylen Coleman and Jaquez Moore. Waters emerged last year after three quiet seasons, finishing with 566 rushing yards and 16 receptions. Coleman and more aren’t quite as prolific in the receiving department but did combine for nearly 1,000 yards on the ground.
Leonard has two primary receiving options that will keep Notre defenders on their toes. Jalon Calhoun hauled in 62 passes for 873 yards and four scores last year, while former quarterback Jordan Moore snagged 60 tosses for 656 yards and five touchdowns in 2022. Two other outlets will be wideout Eli Pancol and tight end Nicky Dalmolin.
Up front, the key player the Irish need to neutralize is left tackle Graham Barton, who figures to be an NFL draft selection next April. He’s got excellent size and is better as a run blocker. He’ll be joined on the other side by either Jake Hornibrook or Jacob Long. Inside, the guards will be manned by Maurice McIntyre and Justin Pickett, while the center position will be handled by Jacob Monk.
Duke Defense: Experienced Hands Look to Maintain Upgrades
Elko’s pedigree on the defensive side of the ball helped the Blue Devils reduce opponent scoring by 17 points. That dramatic improvement was aided by big plays that included 16 fumble recoveries and 10 passes picked off.
The Duke line is experienced and led by interior lineman DeWayne Carter and Ja’Mion Franklin, with Carter contributing 11 stops behind the line and 5.5 sacks last season. Vincent Anthony and R.J. Oben will man the end positions, with Oben delivering hard hits that forced two fumbles last year and also making stops in opposing backfields.
On the weakside, Cam Dillon is the top returnee at linebacker. He hopes to again be effective in both bringing down ballcarriers and delivering solid hits that result in turnovers. Joining him will be Dorian Mausi in the middle, who finished last season with 44 stops in 11 games.
The top two defenders in the Blue Devil secondary are strong safety Jaylen Stinson and nickel back Brandon Johnson. Both finished with two pickoffs last season while combining for 129 tackles. Johnson was also effective on the safety blitz. The corners will be handled by Joshua Pickett and Chandler Rivers, while free safety is Terry Moore’s area.
Duke Special Teams: Familiar Faces in Place
After showing consistency last season, Todd Pelino will again handle the important kicking duties. Meanwhile, punter Porter Wilson averaged 43.1 yards on his 46 punts last season. The return game will have Stinson handling kickoffs, while Shamir Hagins hopes to again have an impact in returning punts after taking one to the house last year.
The Last Time Notre Dame Faced Duke
Opening up the chaotic 2020 season at home, the Irish emerged with a 27-13 win over the Blue Devils. The two teams played sluggishly during the first half, which ended with Notre Dame leading 10-6. Kyren Williams ended up as the star of the game with 112 rushing yards and two scores, along with two catches for 93 yards.