A November clash in Durham marks the first time since 1961 that the Notre Dame football schedule has had the Irish facing the Duke Blue Devils on the road. Duke’s head coach David Cutcliffe begins his 12th season and is coming off an 8-5 season in 2018, having turned a football wasteland into a viable program that’s had five winning season in the last six years.
The offense for the Blue Devils has some major holes to fill when it comes to skill positions, while some question marks exist when it comes to the defensive side. Last year, plenty of newcomers and other raw talent got their feet wet, but they need to take a step up in 2019.
Duke Offense: A Change Behind Center
After throwing for 8,201 yards and 52 touchdowns the past three years, Daniel Jones left the Blue Devils and is now the heir apparent to Eli Manning with the New York Giants. Attempting to fill those large shoes will be Quentin Harris, a fifth-year senior who does have some limited experience behind center. Last season, he threw for 437 yards and threw for seven touchdowns while also scoring five time on runs. The good news is that he brings both mobility and a veteran’s approach of knowing how to avoid turnovers.
However, given the sparse returning talent among the receiving corps, expect Duke to try and use their solid running game to set up the pass. The team’s top runner in Deon Jackson is back, along with Brittain Brown. Jackson ended last season by gaining over 800 yards and collecting more than five yards per carry. He reached the end zone seven times and is also a passing option after 26 grabs and two scores in 2018.
When it comes to the receivers, the hope is that some of the newcomers can push both Jake Bobo and Aaron Young to be more productive after combining for just 17 catches in 2018. Young is a deep threat, but tight end Noah Gray might be an effective option after snagging 20 passes last year.
The offensive line for the Blue Devils has plenty of experience that has had some growing pains along the way. Last season, they allowed 30 sacks, so there’s room for improvement. Julian Santos is the lone senior in this quintet and is looking to close out what’s been an impressive career than began when he entered the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2016.
Duke Defense: Pass Rush Needed
The good news for this side of the ball is that a number of key younger players are returning. The bad news is that getting a stronger pass rush is an absolute necessity if the Blue Devils want to get out of the rut of playing in minor bowl games.
On the line, some of that young talent is back in the form of tackles Derrick Tangelo and Trevon McSwain, who combined for 89 stops and 7.5 tackles-for-loss. Look for Drew Jordan and Victor Dimukeje to be on the ends, though getting back Edgar Cerenord and Ben Frye back from injury figures to help and also take pressure off of a talented secondary.
At linebacker, two gaping holes need to be filled. However, Koby Quansah and Brandon Hill contributed 80 tackles between them, with Quansah also making 3.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. It wouldn’t come as a total surprise if Xander Gagnon ended up with plenty of playing time despite only 10 stops last season.
That secondary is strongest at safety, with Marquis Waters the standout of this unit. Leonard Johnson and Lummie Young handled the other two spots, but could be pushed by Dylan Singleton and Michael Carter. The corners could see a huge increase in the talent level if Mark Gilbert is able to bounce back from a nagging hip injury.
Duke Special Teams: A Bigger Workload
Austin Parker served only as Duke’s punter last year, averaging 41.4 yards, but will add the duties of the team’s placekicker in 2019. The hope is that he’ll have better range than Collin Wareham did last season. On the return front, Deon Jackson will again hold down the kick return responsibilities, while Bobo appears to be the top option on punts.
The Last Time That Notre Dame Played Duke
Three years ago, a weak Duke team was part of the 2016 Notre Dame football schedule and managed to turn an early 14-0 deficit into a 38-35 win. That loss was the first indication that it would be a long year for Brian Kelly’s team, which finished at 4-8. The Blue Devil comeback began with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown before then scoring 10 points in the final seven minutes to stun the Irish.