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Head to head: Duke at Notre Dame

| Friday, September 23, 2016

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Duke’s air attack is led by redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones. Through his first three career games, Jones has thrown for 800 yards and two touchdowns. However, much of that production came in the team’s lone win in Week 1, as Jones has not thrown for a touchdown but has turned the ball over twice in his team’s last two games against Wake Forest and Northwestern. He also spreads the ball between his three starting wideouts, Anthony Nash, T.J. Rahming and Johnathan Lloyd, all of whom have over 10 receptions and 150 receiving yards.

It’s no secret that Notre Dame’s secondary in particular has been exposed at times this season, allowing a 66 percent completion percentage, a 169 quarterback rating and a 47 percent third down conversion percentage in its two games against Power 5 programs. The unit does, however, have an interception in each of its games this season, showing an ability to come up with timely turnovers. Additionally, the Irish held Nevada to a mere 201 yards through the air in its lone win of the season.



The Blue Devils rushing attack is two pronged, heavily featuring Jones and redshirt senior running back Jela Duncan. The two players have 31 and 35 carries, respectively, this season, accounting for over half of the team’s production. The duo also has six of the team’s eight touchdowns on the ground, showing an ability to run the read option effectively in the red zone. As a team, however, the Blue Devils only average 3.6 yards per carry.

The Irish front seven has been inconsistent this season, holding the Wolf Pack to a mere 99 yards on 30 attempts but also yielding over 230 yards on the ground to both Texas and Michigan State. Notre Dame has also allowed nine rushing touchdowns on the season, including five to a Longhorn attack that heavily featured quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and the read option in the red zone.



David Cutcliffe has turned around the Duke program as of late, leading them to at least eight wins in each of the last three seasons. Offensive coordinator Zac Roper, however, is new to his position, as he took over for Scottie Montgomery — who left to become the head coach at East Carolina — in January. Through his first three games, Roper has helped the Blue Devils engineer an average of 433 total yards per game, although that production has only led to 27 total points in each of the team’s last two games.

On the other side of the ball, Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has become a lightning rod for criticism given the team’s two early-season losses. His high-pressure, complex scheme does not seem to fit the personnel he has to work with, as his unit has yet to generate a sack this season and has blown its coverage on several occasions, resulting in either long gains or significant third-down conversions.



After losing Ross Martin to the NFL at the end of last season, Duke has turned to true freshman AJ Reed as its kicker this year. Although Reed is 10-for-11 on extra-point attempts this season, he has been unsuccesful on all three of his field goal attempts so far, including two misses from within 40 yards.

For Notre Dame, sophomore C.J. Sanders has had a significant impact in the return game, averaging nearly 17 yards per punt return.



DeShone Kizer has been one of the few consistently steady performers for the Irish. Head coach Brian Kelly has balked at the notion that DeShone Kizer needs to carry the Irish for them to succeed, but he has accounted for 13 of the team’s 15 touchdowns through three games, including nine through the air. The Irish also boast a trio of strong receivers in Equanimeous St. Brown, Torii Hunter Jr. and C.J. Sanders. St. Brown has stood out in particular thus far, leading Notre Dame in receptions, yards and touchdowns at the receiver position.

Duke, on the other hand, has seen its secondary struggle as of late. Most recently, the Blue Devils allowed Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson to throw for 320 yards and three touchdowns against them. Prior to that game, Thorson had only surpassed 200 yards in one of his 15 career starts and had eight touchdown passes total over that span.



Although the Irish were held to just 57 yards on 25 carries in their loss to the Spartans, the Irish had found success previously on the ground, surpassing 200 yards in each of their first two games. The trio of Kizer, Josh Adams and Tarean Folston have accounted for over 86 percent of the team’s production on the ground, with each of them having over 125 rushing yards on the year. Additionally, Kizer has accounted for four of the team’s six  rushing touchdowns this season.

The Blue Devils, however, have failed to effectively slow opponents’ rushing attacks at times this season. Most notably, Duke was gashed for 239 yards by Wake Forest two weeks ago, and Demon Deacon freshman running back Cade Carney found the end zone three times in his team’s victory. Then, Northwestern junior running back Justin Jackson ran for 98 yards in the Wildcats’ 24-13 win over the Blue Devils this past Saturday.



Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and Kelly have had success calling the plays for the Irish offense this season, as Notre Dame has averaged 38 points scored through its first three games of the year. That’s not to say the unit hasn’t had its share of challenges. In Saturday’s loss, the Irish offense struggled to move the ball until late in the third quarter when Kelly and Sanford began to dial up the vertical passing game to open up the defense.

On the other side of the football, Duke has largely struggled in its two contests against Power 5 opponents. Cutcliffe’s and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ defense  has been beaten both on the ground and through the air in each of the losses. However, the scheme has been able to generate big plays for the Blue Devil defense, as Duke has 14 sacks and six turnovers forced in its three games thus far.



Notre Dame has seen its special teams play improve as of late, particularly that of junior punter Tyler Newsome. Newsome had his best game of the season Saturday, averaging over 50 net yards on his six punts, including a career-best effort of 71 yards. Justin Yoon has been largely consistent for the Irish, converting 14 of his 15 extra-point attempts and hitting two of his three field goals so far this year.

For Duke, senior receiver Ryan Smith has made his presence felt in the return game, averaging over 13 yards per punt return.


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