Notre Dame jumped out to a fast 14-0 lead and coasted to a 38-7 victory over the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday night. Ian Book passed for 182 yards and four touchdowns as the Irish were never seriously threatened. The defense dominated the line of scrimmage and held the anemic Duke attack to just 197 yards. The road win lifted Notre Dame to 7-2 on the season with three games remaining.
Book was told by the coaches to “Let it rip” before the game, and he responded with a confident and decisive first half performance. He threw the ball with conviction and velocity, completing 18 of 32 passes on the night and running the ball for substantial gains when the defense dropped into coverage. Chase Claypool was once again the receiving star for the Irish with several acrobatic catches. Chris Finke also had a season-best performance. The senior recorded two touchdown receptions and returned a punt 46 yards to set up Book’s final touchdown pass to reserve tight end George Takacs.
The Irish ran for 272 yards on 41 carries with Book accounting for 139 of them. This included a 45-yard romp to set up Notre Dame’s third touchdown of the night, and a 53-yarder to set up a fourth quarter field goal by Jonathan Doerer. Both long runs by Book came on designed quarterback draws.
The Devils made an effort to get back into the contest before halftime with a score at the 2:55 mark, and followed it with an interception by Shaka Heyward near midfield. As time ran down, poor clock management forced the hosts to settle for a 44-yard field goal attempt, but J.R. Reed recorded his first miss of the season to end the half.
Duke had another chance to tighten things up early in the third period while trailing by 21-7, but Troy Pride picked off a Quentin Harris pass to end the threat. Book immediately hit Claypool on two long tosses before Finke caught a six-yard pass for what was essentially the game-clinching score. Harris, who was pressured all evening, finished with 16 completions in 28 attempts for a mere 102 yards before being relieved in the fourth period.
Let’s review the answers to our pregame questions:
Can Notre Dame run the ball effectively without a fully healthy Tony Jones? Yes. Although Book outrushed the Irish tailbacks, Jahmir Smith contributed a 40 yard run and C’Bo Flemister scored a touchdown.
Will the Irish defense be able to apply consistent pressure on Harris? Yes, they dominated the porous Duke offensive line.
Which special teams and kicker will influence the outcome? The Irish finally showed some spark in the second half after Brian Kelly was caught on camera screaming at ST Coach Brian Polian after Duke ran a successful fake punt. Finke’s long return and Doerer’s field goal came after that tirade. Jay Bramblett shanked a punt in the first half that led to Duke’s only touchdown.
Can Notre Dame score on its opening drive? It was another three and out, but the next two possessions hit paydirt.
Will either offense execute big plays over 40+ yards? Yes, and all three such plays from scrimmage came on running plays. Finke’s punt return made it four, and his 78-yard reception that was called back on a phantom holding call would have been the fifth.
Can the Irish reverse their history of poor road performances at night? They seemed mentally sharper and more determined tonight, and they also seemed to be having fun for a change. The soft opponent didn’t hurt, either.
Which team will commit crucial turnovers? Although Book had a couple of second half interceptions, they were not damaging. Duke also suffered two turnovers, and the interception by Pride took all the wind out of their sails.
Will fans who don’t have the ACC Network find something better to do on Saturday night? Geez, I hope so. The Duke fans in the stands were smart enough to disappear early.
The Irish fan base can now look forward with anticipation and optimism rather than dread to the final three games of the regular season. If the team can match its level of play tonight with consistent efforts against Navy, Boston College and Stanford, a 10-2 finish should not be problem.
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