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Cutcliffe praises Irish as Duke prepares for season opener in South Bend

| Friday, September 11, 2020

On the heels of a 5-7 year, the Duke University football team will travel to South Bend this weekend in search of a statement win on the gridiron over No. 10 Notre Dame. Routed 38-7 by the Irish in Wallace Wade stadium last November, the Blue Devils travel North in hopes of returning the favor in Saturday’s season-opener. The Irish lead the all-time series 4-2.

“We’re starting in a very historical place, that college football has been such a great part of Notre Dame as an institution,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said in a press conference on Tuesday. “I think it’s unique and it’s appropriate that 2020 opens in South Bend against a great team first of all, a top-10 team without a doubt. Just look at their ability, their talent. But as a program, one of the top five programs in the history of college football.”

Cutcliffe went on to note that the matchup, though a formidable one, is a good chance for his team to start the season on the right note.

“It’s a great opportunity to test your team. It’s a great opportunity to energize your team,” Cutcliffe said. “When we found out we were playing Notre Dame up there to open, I think that helped us realize how big a challenge that is. I think it really did infuse some energy into our camp and into the preseason work and practices.”

Zachary Yim | The Observer

Irish graduate student quarterback Ian Book breaks away for a big gain during Notre Dame’s 38-7 win over Duke on Nov. 9 at Wallace Wade Stadium. Book rushed for a team-high 139 yards in the rout.

Duke faced a daunting offseason task after the graduation of quarterback Quentin Harris, and a three-man battle for the position concluded with redshirt junior Chase Brice on top. The Clemson transfer collected 1,023 yards for nine touchdowns and four interceptions in 23 career games with the Tigers. In the end, it was his experience that gave him the edge over redshirt junior Chris Katrenick and redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holmberg.

“Chase played a lot of games and saw a lot of game time at Clemson,” Cutcliffe said. “You could see that pocket movement and him just feeling natural in a pocket. The timing mechanism of throws and as he got more comfortable his accuracy level grew in all of the throws whether it was deep ball’s or intermediate short layoffs. He just became more and more the most comfortable quarterback on a day-to-day basis. As the week closed out last week, I think it became more obvious and then we made the decision to start him at the Notre Dame game.”

Brice’s passes will attempt to find equally experienced hands as the Blue Devils return two top targets from 2019 in sophomore wideout Jalon Calhoun and senior tight end Noah Gray. Notable losses in the receiving corps include Scott Bracey and Aaron Young, a graduate transfer and transfer respectively.

Senior Deon Jackson returns for the Blue Devils to anchor the ground game, shouldering a heavier load in 2020 with the departure of dual-threat Harris. Duke also returns a veteran offensive line, but All-ACC honorable mention center Jack Wohlabaugh remains out indefinitely with a torn right ACL.

On the other side of the ball, Duke will look to use a deep and talented secondary to pick apart a relatively inexperienced Notre Dame offense. The group will be anchored by senior safeties Michael Carter II and Marquis Waters, who are joined by redshirt junior cornerback Leonard Johnson.

Cutcliffe concluded that a strong showing from all his position groups will be vital for success come Saturday.

“We’ve got to be aggressive on both sides of the ball. We can’t be afraid. We can’t play on our heels,” he said. “They’re talented. They are outstanding. And as I said, well-coached. So, I think you have to match that with an aggressiveness nature that you’re going to compete at the highest level.”

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