by John Vannie
Kicker A. J. Reed, who hadn’t made a field goal this season, booted an 19-yarder with 1:24 left to give the Duke Blue Devils an improbable 38-35 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday. The seesaw game tilted back toward the Irish in the second half until the defense suffered yet another meltdown late in the fourth quarter. With the outcome on the line and quarterback DeShone Kizer once again taking the weight of the program on his shoulders, the talented junior could not come through to bail out Coach Brian Kelly as Notre Dame fell to 1-3.
The contest was littered with the same poor fundamentals that have plagued the Irish all season. The offense chipped in with three turnovers to complement countless missed tackles by the defense and special teams failures. Duke outrushed Notre Dame by 208-153 and gained 500 total yards. Kizer threw for 381 yards as the Irish gained 534 in total, but the turnover battle was lost by 3-1.
Notre Dame started fast with two quick touchdowns drives in the first six minutes, and the crowd settled in to witness a blowout. The fun began as Shaun Wilson returned a kick 96 yards to cut the lead to 14-7. The Irish visibly sagged from this gut punch as suddenly emboldened Duke dominated the rest of the half to take a 28-21 lead into the locker room. Two costly plays highlighted the turnaround – a missed field goal by Justin Yoon and a fumble recovery by the Devils at Notre Dame’s 25 yard line.
The Irish appeared to regain control in the second half. The first sack of the season by the defense was followed by a six play, 83-yard drive to tie the score at 28. Moments later, the defense stopped Duke on fourth and one at the Notre Dame 20. Kizer took over and drove his team down the field to take the lead 35-28 on a nine yard strike to Equanimeous St. Brown with 7:46 remaining in the game.
Things deteriorated rapidly, however, as Devil quarterback Daniel Jones read a corner blitz on the next series and hit Anthony Nash down the sideline. One whiffed tackle attempt later, Nash streaked into the end zone with the tying touchdown at the 6:47 mark. Notre Dame could not mount a comeback, as a poor kickoff return was followed by a sack to pin them at their own five yard line. Kizer then threw long on third down, but the pass was picked off at the Irish 45.
Duke proceeded to bleed the clock as they ran the ball through the Irish until the drive finally stalled one yard from the goal line. Reed could not miss from there and the Devils took the lead by 38-35 with 84 seconds on the clock. Any hopes for overtime or a dramatic win were quickly dashed as Notre Dame turned the ball over on downs before reaching midfield.
Brian Kelly was seen talking to Kizer repeatedly during and after the contest, but this is anything but a sign of good coaching. That the complete attention of the head coach is focused on his talented quarterback to win the game by himself while the rest of the team drifts sullenly like a rudderless ship is a sad commentary on the state of the program. The team’s overall performance was so inept and uninspired that no Manning or Montana could save this poorly coached bunch.
Let’s review the pregame questions to continue our frustration a bit longer.
Can the Irish offensive line muzzle Duke’s blitzes? Notre Dame generally picked up the blitzes well and Kizer enjoyed some success against it, but there were also some successes for the Devils.
Will Notre Dame be the third consecutive team to hold the Devils under 100 yards rushing? Heck, they couldn’t even hold them under 200.
Which young wide receiver corps will enjoy the most success? Both teams had quality performances by its receivers. Nash and T.J. Rahming stood out for the Devils, and Kevin Stepherson had his first TD for Notre Dame.
Can the Irish special teams make a significant contribution? Yes, but those contributions to the outcome were of the negative variety.
Will Notre Dame’s defense force more turnovers from Duke’s mistake prone offense? Freshman Donte Vaughn made an athletic interception to stop a potential scoring drive, but that was it.
Do any of Brian Van Gorder’s 60 defensive variants require knocking down the ball carrier? He may still be installing some of those variants, but the ones we’ve seen to date have not stopped anyone.
Notre Dame fans are now at the point in the Kelly regime where even his most ardent supporters are questioning whether this chuck and duck approach to offense and matador style of defense has run its course. The Irish were once synonymous with toughness and grit, but the program has become soft and the foundation is rotting.