Notre Dame defense leads the way in 38-7 road win at Duke
Shane Lewis | Sunday, November 10, 2019
Senior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. was succinct in identifying what the mindset was for Notre Dame heading into its Saturday night matchup with Duke, a contest that turned into a 38-7 victory for the Irish.
“We want to dominate,” Pride said, who finished the contest with six tackles and an interception. “We want to beat a team 150-0 if we can.”
It wasn’t quite 150-0, but Notre Dame did put forth a dominating defensive effort. The Irish held the Blue Devils to under 200 yards of total offense, forced seven three-and-outs and limited the opposition to just three of 16 on third down. Duke’s lone scoring drive came after being gifted starting field position at the Irish 39-yard line following a special teams miscue.
“When we execute and do exactly what we have to do, when everyone is in their hole and everybody is in their coverage, that’s what you get,” Pride said.
After surrendering 45 points to Michigan, the Irish have allowed only a pair of touchdowns over the past two weeks. Head coach Brian Kelly said the performance was just a continuation of what he’s seen over the course of the year.
“The defense has been really good all season,” Kelly said. “We had one bad performance [against Michigan], and they’ve rectified that with the way they’ve played the past couple of weeks. Offensively, we’ve had our starts and stops, but we know the defense is going to be there for us.”
The offense had more starts than stops Saturday. The Irish chalked up almost 500 yards of total offense, including 288 rushing yards.
Senior quarterback Ian Book had what he described as his “best game” of the season. The signal caller threw for 181 yards and four touchdowns, while also adding 139 yards on the ground. In doing so, Book became the first Notre Dame player to throw four touchdowns and run for more than a hundred yards.
“I felt very comfortable tonight,” Book said. “We were able to move the ball, and the O-line did a great job of blocking for me. We wanted to come down here and make a statement and get a big road win.”
After a three-and-out on their opening possession, the Irish offense responded with a pair of scoring drives that opened up a 14-0 lead midway through the opening quarter.
The first was a methodical 10-play, 85 yard drive highlighted by three third-down conversations off receptions from graduate student wide receiver Chris Finke. Finke finished off the drive with an 18-yard touchdown catch from Book on third down.
“Extending those drives on third down really got the offense going,” Finke said. “The offense gained confidence, and we put some points on the board.”
After forcing a Duke three-and-out, Notre Dame took little time adding onto their lead. Sophomore running back Jahmir Smith opened their ensuing drive with a 40-yard run — plowing through a Duke defender in the process — to set up the Irish inside the Blue Devils’ 25-yard line. Four plays later, senior wide receiver Chase Claypool ran into the endzone untouched after catching a seven-yard slant from Book.
The Irish gained a total of five yards on their next two possessions, before mounting another long touchdown drive in the second quarter. Book ran the ball twice for a total of 57 yards on a five-play, 72-yard drive that was capped off with a two-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back C’Bo Flemister.
Up 21-0, Notre Dame looked poised to put the game away before halftime. However, a sequence of miscues would keep the door open for the Blue Devils.
Facing third-and-four on their own 15-yard line, the Irish appeared to get yet another key third-down conversion from Finke, this time a 78-yard long catch-and-run that would have set up Notre Dame well within Duke territory.
A holding call negated the play, however, and the Irish were forced to punt. The Irish punt traveled only 22 yards, giving the Blue Devils excellent field position on their opponent’s 39-yard line. The team would capitalize, throwing a 29-yard touchdown pass two plays later to draw within 21-7.
But any idea of a comeback was short-lived, as the second half was all Notre Dame.
The defense pitched a shutout over the final two quarters, and the offense outgained Duke 196 yards to 74, tacking on 17 more points thanks to another pair of Book touchdown passes and a field goal from junior kicker Jonathan Doerer.
Claypool finished as the leading receiver for Notre Dame, with 97 yards and a touchdown. Smith was the second-leading rusher behind Book with 60 yards.
Defensively, junior linebacker Drew White led the team in tackles with seven and also notched a sack.
Kelly said he was happy with the performance of his players and what it means for the Irish heading down the stretch.
“I’m really pleased for my kids,” Kelly said. “Anytime you go on the road and beat a Power Five team in convincing fashion, you have to feel really good about your team, your preparation and your execution, especially in the month of November.”
November posits a pair a home games for the Irish against Navy and Boston College, before a season-ending trip against Stanford. Ranked No. 15 in the first College Football Playoff Rankings, a New Year’s Six bowl is still in play for Notre Dame. However, the team remains focused on the task at hand.
“We [couldn’t] care less about [bowl talk],” Pride said. “We’ve never worried about the outside and we’re internally motivated. We’re working to be the best we can be.”