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  • Angry Irish Scare the Devil Out of Duke

    by John Vannie

    Just when Notre Dame needed it most, the soft ACC portion of the schedule has arrived to get the Fighting Irish back into the win column. Duke is the first of three consecutive lightweights, and the teams will square off at Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon. The Blue Devils are also 1-2 following losses to Wake Forest and Northwestern, and are in the midst of a youth movement as several first time starters are coming on board following significant graduation losses. The Irish are still smarting from the physical beat down administered by Michigan State, and Coach Brian Kelly has challenged himself and his staff to address numerous fundamental breakdowns. NBC will provide national television coverage starting at 3:30 PM Eastern time.

    Coach David Cutcliffe is in his ninth season at the helm, and has successfully rebuilt the program from perennial doormat to competitive respectability. His 49-55 overall record masks the fact that he guided the Devils to a 27-13 mark in the last three seasons, and the team has played in four straight bowl games after a 17-year drought. This season, both coaches face similar challenges as underclassmen are thrust into the lineup. Notre Dame is in a much better position in this regard, especially at quarterback, but inconsistent performances by veterans and poor fundamentals across the board have been the story of September.

    Duke Running Game The offense has been a point of frustration for Duke, where they managed only 37 yards against Wake Forest and 86 last week at Northwestern. Of course, ten turnovers in 12 quarters of play have not helped the situation. Quarterback Daniel Jones is a first year starter who was thrust into the lineup when injury-plagued veteran Thomas Sirk suffered a second Achilles tear just prior to the season opener. The 6’5” Jones has impressed his teammates and coaches, but a set of equally young receivers and an inconsistent line has yielded uneven results.

    Notre Dame’s issues have been primarily on defense, although the running game managed only 57 yards in last week’s loss. The team has failed to register a sack in its first three games, while Duke has recorded 14. Poor tackling and a failure to create negative plays have been problematic, although the results have overshadowed strong performances to date by linebackers Nyles Morgan and James Onwualu. Both teams are relatively healthy at this stage of the season.


    DeShon Kizer and the Irish represent a significantly greater challenge to the Blue Devil defense than they have seen from the likes of Wake Forest and Northwestern. The undersized visitors, who deploy a 4-2-5 alignment, are the perfect antidote for Notre Dame after last week’s embarrassment against the Spartans.

    Tackle A. J. Wolf leads the defensive line and has three sacks from his interior spot. The rotation includes three true freshmen, including end James Hornbuckle. Linebackers Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys are productive although they weigh in at only 215-220 pounds. A five man secondary averaging just over 180 pounds per man rounds out the unit. Senior safety DeVon Edwards is the team’s best player, leading tackler, and a record setting kick returner during his successful career. It should be noted that most of Duke’s 14 sacks have been recorded by the linebackers and secondary, with Edwards responsible for three of them.

    Torii Hunter A blitz-happy defense may not be effective against the Irish, as Kizer has been quite successful in reading and making adjustments at the line. More importantly, Notre Dame needs to establish physical control in the trenches and regain confidence in its running game. The Blue Devils should be accommodating in this regard against an Irish front line that has something to prove.

    Duke’s secondary has talent beyond Edwards, and the Irish will play into their hands if they try to rely on the pass. Cornerback Breon Borders is the active leader among all FBS players with 12 interceptions. Kelly remarked earlier this week that Borders “caught his eye” on tape. A potential matchup between Borders and Notre Dame’s Torii Hunter could be cvery interesting. Another Duke starting safety, Deondre Singleton, will sit out the first half following a targeting penalty last week.


    Daniel Jones The Blue Devils have accumulated impressive passing statistics to date, but penalties and turnovers have ended several scoring chances. Jones has exhibited poise in the pocket and has run the ball effectively. He is second on the team in rushing attempts, just a few carries behind starting tailback Jela Duncan. Shaun Wilson is also in the mix and shares the workload with Duncan.

    Duke’s receivers, as is the case with the Irish, are learning on the job. Sophomores T.J. Rahming and Johnathan Lloyd are improving each week, while a pair of seniors, wideout Anthony Nash and tight end Erich Schneider, are reliable veterans. The small but quick Rahming has emerged as a favorite target, and is used in much the same way as Notre Dame’s C.J. Sanders. To date, Jones has completed 60% of his passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

    The Irish defensive line needs to find a way to penetrate Duke’s forward wall. The Devils have surrendered eight sacks and have been somewhat vulnerable up the middle, but Jones will hurt the Irish if he is allowed too much time in the pocket. Duke’s strength up front is on the right side with seniors Tanner Stone and Casey Blaser. Since the Devils have been unable to sustain a running game against the likes of Wake Forest and Northwestern, one would certainly expect Notre Dame’s defense to have similar success.


    Special Teams Breakdown Much to Cutcliffe’s frustration, Duke has encountered serious malfunctions in the kicking game this season. Punter Austin Parker has dropped multiple snaps and kicker A.J. Reed has missed all three field goal attempts and an extra point. Ryan Smith has done a credible job on punt returns with a 12 yard average to date. Edwards has six career touchdowns on kickoff returns including three last season, but is off to a slow start this year with only one for 20 yards. Opposing teams obviously want to avoid him at all costs.

    Irish punter Tyler Newsome has been somewhat inconsistent this month, and produced another clunker against Michigan State at an inopportune moment. Kicker Justin Yoon looks solid to date, but his only field goal attempt in the past two games has been from 21 yards. Return man C.J. Sanders has kept Notre Dame fans from heading to the concession stand or the refrigerator on fourth downs, as his often electrifying runs are not to be missed.


    Notre Dame should be angry after its poor performance last week, and it will be disappointing if they don’t play with passion on Saturday. Duke is not a particularly strong opponent, however they can do damage as we’ve seen previously when an unheralded but talented quarterback has time to work against an unsettled, mistake-prone secondary.

    The Irish need to stop the run, and I’m sure the defense has had quite enough of the constant reminders that they have yet to record a sack. Missed tackles, especially by defensive backs, have kept them on the field for long, painful stretches. Tackling was a focus area in practice this week, so there should be a measurable improvement. Offensively, Notre Dame can set the tone early by unleashing Josh Adams behind Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson. Adams will present a difficult challenge for the undersized Blue Devil back seven, and Kelly needs to play this trump card early and often.

    Here are a few questions that will shed light on the outcome:

    Can the Irish offensive line muzzle Duke’s blitzes?

    Will Notre Dame be the third consecutive team to hold the Devils under 100 yards rushing?

    Which young wide receiver corps will enjoy the most success?

    Can the Irish special teams make a significant contribution?

    Will Notre Dame’s defense force more turnovers from Duke’s mistake prone offense?

    Do any of Brian Van Gorder’s 60 defensive variants require knocking down the ball carrier?


    Unless this team goes completely into the tank, Notre Dame should win its next three games and face its next true test against Stanford at 4-2. Duke will improve as the season progresses and become even better next year, but they should be the perfect antidote for what ails the Irish right now.


    25 Responses to “Angry Irish Scare the Devil Out of Duke”

    1. Vannie.

      I will add one thing to your prediction:

      The ND Assistant Coaches are fighting to keep their jobs.. I expect the D will take out all of
      their frustrations on Duke tomorrow. The player’s read all of the “media” criticism and will
      take it personally.

      It’s so sad that we have to get to this level in order to motivate and fire up the troops.. This
      is on KELLY — he has failed us so many times in playing down to the level of the competition
      and not having us ready for “big games”..

      ND 45
      Duke 19

    2. ND 34, Duke 20. ND will win but ND plays soft and continues to play down to inferior competition. It is just how they are under Kelly’s coaching. I hope I am wrong. I really want to be wrong but I don’t have much faith in our defensive coaching. I want us to be winners now, competing for the Playoffs now, not “waiting for next year” or three years. If Kelly says that Van Gorder is a great defensive coordinator and not the problem then that means that they recruited some of the worst players in D1. In either case it falls on the coaches, whether it be poor schemes, coaching, or poor recruiting. Either way something is amiss.

    3. I agree with Jake. Sad that things get this bad to motivate the troops. Sad that Kelly cant evaluate asst.
      coaches better. I cant believe he couldn’t find better defensive coaches when Bob Diaco left. He had a
      great D. Why not find a coach with the same philosophy and scheme? That makes too much sense.
      Everyone wants to reinvent the wheel. Stick with what works and keep it simple. Go Irish.
      ND 52
      Duke 21

    4. BaldKnobber says:

      Here’s hoping you are right Vannie. It would be nice to watch a game without swearing at the television!

    5. Please name a year under Kelly where the team improved as the year progressed. They have digressed yoy since the beat down by Alabama

    6. My prediction: Duke 99 ND 98 (in regulation)

    7. Carlos Bauza says:

      Duke 14
      Irish 9

    8. irishhawk50 says:

      Hard to take the measure of the team if it beats up on Duke. The bottom line for the last few years has been the inability to beat top 10 teams although the struggle against lesser teams also grates. Clearly, there are coaching problems at ND and the defense sticks out and there must be changes there if ND is going to again become a top tier team but as someone pointed out it would be nice to stop swearing at my TV for awhile.

    9. I expect a shut out nd 49 duke 00

    10. ND should win by 2-3 touchdowns but at this point I can’t take anything for granted. This is not a good football team and to those that rationalize it by saying there’s no harm in one bad season forget that ND was 7-5 in 2014 and that looks like how things might end up this year. How many bad seasons do we need to suffer through before Brian Kelly gets it right if he ever can?

      I’m growing tired of hearing about how expectations must be reset after losing seven players in the NFL draft. OSU lost 13 and just trounced Oklahoma and they are in the top 5. MSU lost 9 players on offense who accounted for over 70% of their offensive production and just walked all over the Notre Dame’s defense on the road.

      Or that our O-line needs to gel and that we have young defensive backs. I’m sure Alabama and other top ten teams are breaking in new O-linemen as well and have some youth on their starting rosters and as contributors.

      Something needs to change because we aren’t getting championship caliber football under Brian Kelly.

    11. As a Duke grad (undergraduate) but also a big Irish football fan, I have two dogs in the same fight. No doubt the Irish will stomp the Devils. The Devils have had very poor performances against weak teams so far. They look like the Duke teams of the 70’s when I was running around the campus as a naive undergrad. Oh well, Duke will have some time to train another group of frosh and ND will get a needed break from smash mouth football (at least until they play Standford).

    12. It is time for the good fathers of ND to open their pocketbook and dig deep into the gold coins of the realm. I know that some of you have heard the term “Cash Sweet Cash” (CSC) and how it applies to the payment of the coaching staff at ND. And how the good fathers like to spend money. ND does not publish its coaches’ salaries but “Sports Illustrated” did print a number for Kelly. From the SI numbers here are some last year’s fun facts:
      Alabama Saban: $7,087,481 Staff: $5,227,090
      Michigan Harbaugh: $7,000,000 Staff: $4,248,667
      Ohio Urban $5,860,000 Staff: $4,021,950
      Oklahoma Stoops $5,400,000 Staff: $3,768,500
      Florida State Fisher $5,150.000 Staff: $4,284,800
      The above is the top five coaches’ salaries. With number 10, Mississippi Freeze is paid $4,300,000 and his staff’s paid $3,091,000.
      Now let’s talk ND as far as $$$ made from football they are number 5 or 6. Kelly is paid $1,187,272 that places him at 68. There were no stats for the ND assistance coaches but if it follows the top ten schools it is less than the head coaches pay.
      If ND wants to keep NBC and its followers, they must replace the coaching staff with quality coaches and pay them what is required to get the best. Past storied history can only take ND so far and it appears to be losing some of its glory. It is time, in my view, for Father Jenkins and the Athletic Director to look for the very best staff available and pay them what is required to bring back ND’s storied history

    13. DomerInLonghornCountry says:

      I didn’t watch the whole game, but happened to see us stop Duke on 4th and 1 in the 4th quarter. To see BVG’s reaction, a scream and a fist pump, you would think we had just stopped Alabama…. that said it all for me. And just saw the finish, another sad year for the Irish…..

    14. yeah well that “soft” ACC just beat us. One of the worse games ever coached by BVG and BK to date. Once again ND gives a head coach a fat raise and long contract and he immediately stinks up the place. Just like old Charlie did!

    15. Please get rid of the silly #1 jersey gimmick. Watching MIchigan pass Notre Dame in all-time winning percentage hurts deeply enough. I and the deserving players who earned the #1 ranking don’t need to be mocked on the field every week by this inept group.

    16. GraceHallChapel86 says:

      It is fairly obvious now that Notre Dame’s solitary win was against a pathetic Nevada, and that MSU was vastly overrated, now having been manhandled by Wisconsin in East Lansing. All the huffing and puffing about Duke turned out to be precisely that, and the Irish will be lucky to break even. More than likely they will lose at least 4 more games and have a losing season.

      Brian Kelly should be fired. If he was going to do anything he would have done it by now.

    17. Fulkerson's Ghost says:

      Brian Kelly makes Charlie Weiss look like Vince Lombardi.

      The Irish are cursed. It’s the admin’s fault – all hubris. Abandon hope.

    18. nopassion? no coaching! says:

      Good managers, generals, and coaches motivate their staff, troops, and players. THEY inspire them to achieve. In BK’s press conference he called out everyone except Williams and the long snapper…then threatened them if they don’t get passion and burn? He doesn’t get it. He ranted like someone who has lost control of his team. The Alabama BCS game showed he was in over his head but we deified him because he got to the NC. He does not get the best out of his players…he gets the worst.

      • Agree, his skill sets are far below others coaches. To blame his players for this loss was wrong at any level. Talk about inspiring a team. Start by telling them they are not worth much and if they don’t improve they will no longer play…..ah shit!

    19. A simple “never mind” from all the predictors of an overwhelming victory by the irish would suffice.

      This was not an upset – they were beaten by a better team.

    20. Notre Dame got pushed around – again.