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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Keys to victory: Notre Dame vs. Duke

The Notre Dame football team sings the Alma Mater after losing 17-14 to Ohio State at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 23.

After an unforgettable game against Ohio State last Saturday, the time has come for the Irish to shift their focus to another primetime matchup, this time on the road against a surprising ranked opponent: the No. 17 Duke Blue Devils.

Duke turned heads with a 28-7 win over then-No. 9 Clemson in week one of the college football season. It was the program’s first win against an AP Top 10 opponent since 1989. So, what can Notre Dame do to move past the Ohio State heartbreak and avoid the same fate as the Tigers?

Contain Riley Leonard

Quarterback Riley Leonard is by far the Blue Devils’ most dangerous player. The 6’4” junior is a bona fide NFL prospect and a huge part of his team’s early season success.

Through four games in 2023, Leonard has completed 67.7% of his passes for 778 yards and two touchdowns. He also poses a massive threat on the ground, averaging nearly eight rushing attempts per contest for 8.2 yards per carry. He has scored four rushing touchdowns. 

His dual-threat ability was a huge part of the Blue Devils’ marquee win over Clemson. Leonard led his team with 98 rushing yards and a touchdown on just eight carries against the Tigers.

Notre Dame’s defense will need to figure out a way to slow down Leonard and a potent Duke offense that has averaged 37.3 points per game in 2023.

The Irish already had success against another dual-threat quarterback in NC State’s Brennan Armstrong. They held the former ACC passing leader in check and forced three interceptions. 

Graduate student linebacker Marist Liufau flew across the field against the Wolfpack, keeping Armstrong contained and recording five tackles. Look for Liufau to play a pivotal role in Notre Dame’s game plan for Leonard this Saturday. 

Run the ball effectively

Duke’s secondary has been outstanding so far this season, holding opponents to less than 150 passing yards per game. Sam Hartman will need to attack that unit at some point in the game, but Notre Dame’s best chance for success is on the ground.

The Blue Devils have allowed 133 rushing yards per game while Notre Dame has averaged nearly 200 yards per game on the ground with its deep stable of running backs. These efforts are spearheaded by junior Audric Estime, who leads the country with 591 rushing yards. Notre Dame will need to lean on its proven formula to beat the Blue Devils. Pound the ball behind their excellent offensive line to open up opportunities for explosive plays through the air.

Look for Notre Dame to switch up the running looks too. Jeremiyah Love, especially, was exceptionally effective against a big Ohio State front. The freshman averaged over seven yards per carry against the Buckeyes. Sophomore Jadarian Price also had great efficiency last Saturday but only got three carries. Look for him to get more involved in Durham. 

Take care of the football

A big storyline for Duke has been their suffocating defense. Through four games, the Blue Devils have held all their opponents to 14 or fewer points and have allowed less than nine points per game.

They have also excelled in the turnover department, forcing four interceptions and recovering four fumbles. Three of those turnovers came against Clemson, who lost two fumbles against the Blue Devils. Duke also picked off Cade Klubnik in the final minutes of the contest to effectively seal the outcome.

Luckily, Notre Dame has been fairly good at protecting the football through five games. The Irish have only turned it over twice this year. Hartman hasn’t thrown an interception yet. The only two turnovers were a Hartman fumble against NC State and a kick return fumble from graduate student running back Devyn Ford against Tennessee State.

Notre Dame will need to take care of the football and limit Duke’s opportunities to set the offense up for success.

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