Kyren Williams ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns, and added 93 yards on a pair of pass receptions to lead sluggish Notre Dame to a 27-13 victory over Duke in the season opener. Avery Davis caught a 17-yard scoring pass from Ian Book early in the fourth quarter to seal the win, while kicker Jonathan Doerer drilled a pair of field goals in a flawless performance.
The Irish defense dug in and turned away the Blue Devils in critical moments despite giving up ground in the middle of the field. Two of the three scoring chances by Duke ended in field goals as Isaiah Foskey led a relentless pass rush against quarterback Chase Brice. Notre Dame made key stops and recorded sacks when they were needed most to give the offense a chance to overcome a poor first half.
Book was not sharp after the nine month layoff. He threw an interception in the end zone before halftime one play after Williams had taken a screen pass 75 yards to the Duke 11-yard line. Moments later, with the Irish leading by only 7-6, a second interception was negated by an offside penalty against the Blue Devils. This bit of good fortune gave Doerer an opportunity to convert his first field goal of the year from 48 yards as the half ended.
The defense rose to the occasion again in the third period. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah forced a fumble to stop a Duke drive. The Irish responded with a 59-yard scoring drive capped by a 26-yard romp by Williams on a fourth and one play. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, star safety Kyle Hamilton suffered an ankle injury in the scramble for the fumble. He did not return to the field and his status for next week is uncertain.
Duke closed to within 17-13 later in the quarter after capitalizing on good field position. Brice scored the lone Blue Devil touchdown with a gutsy third down dive at the 2:19 mark. Williams and freshman Michael Mayer led the Irish back on the ensuing drive by securing key first downs in an 83-yard march. Davis outfought the Duke defender in the end zone to secure a third down pass and restore the 11-point advantage with 10:58 remaining.
Duke did not threaten after that, as Notre Dame’s defense dominated play. Doerer tacked on another field goal five minutes later, and a lost fumble by Brice on a last-gasp drive was the final straw.
Let’s review the answers to our pregame quesions:
Can Notre Dame’s highly acclaimed offensive line take charge of this contest? Not at all. The line was outplayed for most of the game by the Duke front. Williams was able to break free for some good gains in the second half, but it wasn’t a dominating performance by any means.
Will the Irish defense be able to apply consistent pressure on Brice? Yes. Brice showed toughness and made several good throws, but he was under duress from Foskey and others all afternoon.
Can the young return men spark the Notre Dame special teams? The return game was nothing special, but punter Jay Bramblett’s 14-yard run on a fake punt was the best play by Notre Dame in the first half.
Which freshmen will make an impact when their number is called? Tight end Michael Mayer stood out. He reminds me of Dave Casper (showing my age here). Running back Chris Tyree also flashed his speed on a 25-yard run late in the game.
Will Book display the poise and accuracy expected from a third-year starter? To put it bluntly, Book did not show the accuracy and touch needed to bring this team to the next level. Thankfully, there is time for improvement against the next two opponents.
Can the Irish avoid sloppy tackling and silly penalties after such a disruptive offseason? Notre Dame played better than expected in these areas. One regrettable unsportsmanlike penalty against Shaun Crawford was the only real blemish.
Will Rees stick to the running game, especially if the weather turns bad as forecast? Rees stuck with Williams because the downfield passing game was not working at all. Duke’s game plan was effective and the Irish offensive line struggled more than expected.
Will Kyle Hamilton catch more passes than any Duke receiver? Unfortunately not. Hamilton was a dominant player early in the game and he will be missed if his injury is severe. Fortunately, it has just been reported as a sprain and not a break.
In retrospect it may have been unreasonable to expect a better offensive showing from Rees, Book and the offensive line, but the overall performance still left a lot to be desired. Right now, the best thing I can say is mediocre football is still better than no football at all.