After a jarring last-second loss on Saturday night, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will now head to Durham, North Carolina to take on the undefeated Duke Blue Devils. One danger in this game for the Irish is the potential hangover from that painful defeat to Ohio State. However, that potential won’t take long to fade, given the rabid presence of the football version of Duke’s Cameron Crazies that will be in attendance.
The 4-0 Blue Devils have one major victory on their 2023 resume, that coming on Labor Day night when they jolted the Clemson Tigers in a 28-7 win. Since then, their challenges have come against much weaker opponents. On Saturday, they thrashed the Connecticut Huskies, 41-7, with UConn’s only score coming with just 12 seconds left in the contest.
Below are some of the key matchups that should play a central role in the matchup:
QB Sam Hartman vs. Duke Defense
Hartman had a productive night on Saturday, completing 17 of 25 for 175 yards and one touchdown pass. He maintained his unblemished passing by again avoiding an interception. He’ll be tested in this game as he faces a team that’s given up the fourth-fewest points in college football and is looking to move up from the 17th spot in the current AP poll.
The Blue Devils managed to shut down Clemson in that opening game shocker and have allowed slightly under nine points per game in their four victories. They are vulnerable when it comes to the running game, with Clemson gaining 213 yards and over five yards per carry. That could mean a big night for Audric Estime and his cohorts if Marcus Freeman pursues that route.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Riley Leonard
The one that got away isn’t something that should be laid at the collective feet of the Irish defense. The unit made two huge fourth-down stops in the Red Zone, including one on the goal line. Facing a Blue Devils team that doesn’t have the same level of talent will still be a battle. However, the Irish defenders helped shut down the raucous crowd at North Carolina State and will aim to do it again in Durham.
Leonard has a solid throwing arm but it’s his legs that the Irish also need to focus on. That’s because he’s the Blue Devils’ second-leading rusher this season, scoring three touchdowns and averaging 8.3 yards on each carry. He’s careful when he throws, completing two of every three passes and only tossing seven interceptions in the 519 attempts during his Duke tenure.
LG Pat Coogan vs. DT DeWayne Carter
Coogan has taken the long road to become part of the Notre Dame starting front line and has generally done a good job. He was in the right place the last time the Irish were in North Carolina, falling on a Hartman fumble against North Carolina State. He’ll have his hands full for the evening and may end up getting some help from center Zeke Correll.
Carter has been part of the Duke program since 2019 and toward the end of the 2021 campaign, started to develop into an important player in the trenches. He had seven tackles in the opening shocker against Clemson and on Saturday, scooped up a fumble and rambled into the end zone. A notable effort for someone 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds.
MLB J.D. Bertrand vs. RB Jordan Waters
Bertrand had one of his biggest challenges on Saturday and was flagged for pass interference on a fourth-quarter call. Yet, in retrospect, the call worked in Notre Dame’s favor since it wiped out a likely touchdown and helped eventually turn the ball over on downs. He again faces a quality back and his leadership skills will be vital in getting the Irish to return to form.
Waters’ 240 yards lead the Blue Devils’ rushing game and he’s also scored five touchdowns while averaging 7.5 yards on his carries. He broke off a 42-yard scoring run against Northwestern a few weeks ago, so his quickness needs to be held in check. He played wide receiver in high school and can catch the ball, even though he only has four receptions this season.
WR Chris Tyree vs. S Brandon Johnson
Tyree had one catch for 25 yards on Saturday and will be tasked with taking on one of the Blue Devils’ top defenders. He has nine catches in Notre Dame’s five games and has supplemented the work of his fellow receivers. He’s currently just 18 yards away from surpassing his single-season receiving yardage mark of 258 yards.
From his position at nickel back, Johnson tends to be all over the field. He knocked away a pair of passes in the Clemson victory and leads the team in tackles-for-loss this season. Last year, he tied for the team lead in sacks and collected a pick-six along the way. He’s shown he can hit hard, forcing a pair of fumbles and recovering three during his time with the Blue Devils.