Here are five keys for Associated Press No. 10 Notre Dame when it hosts Duke this Saturday (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC).
Starting slow is one of the best ways to lose as an overwhelming favorite. Sluggish first quarters against double-digit underdogs USC (30-27) and Virginia Tech (21-20) nearly cost Notre Dame those games in 2019. The Irish should look to replicate how they performed in their 38-7 victory over the Blue Devils last November. Notre Dame jumped out to a 21-0 advantage. Duke gained just one first down and endured four three-and-outs in its first five possessions. For a team with College Football Playoff aspirations, Notre Dame should hope to be just as dominant this time.
QUALITY RUN BLOCKING
Run blocking and short yardage situations were the biggest knocks on Notre Dame’s offensive line last season. The Irish ranked No. 106 nationally in Football Outsiders’ power success rate, a metric defined by the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that resulted in a first down or touchdown. If this position group wants to achieve its goal of winning the Joe Moore Award (nation’s best offensive line), the Irish will need to significantly improve in those areas. Notre Dame’s ground game should impose its will on Duke, who ranked No. 89 against the run last season.
The winning formula against Notre Dame includes testing its questionable secondary. The Irish are still sorting out their field cornerback position. Junior TaRiq Bracy and true freshman Clarence Lewis were listed as potential starters on their depth chart. Graduate senior Nick McCloud, who transferred from N.C. State this offseason, will start at boundary corner and also brings questions given his injury history. Shaun Crawford’s size limitations (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) and recent move from corner to strong safety makes him vulnerable when matched up with bigger wide receivers and tight ends. But if their secondary can manage to be serviceable, the Irish should find plenty of success against the Blue Devils and beyond.
Chris Rumph II will be one of the biggest challenges for Notre Dame’s offensive line all season. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound defensive end projects as a high selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s recorded 72 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, four pass breakups and 13 quarterback pressures in 25 career games. The Blue Devils like to feature Rumph in a variety of ways. If the Irish can contain him, their offense should not encounter many problems.
WIN TURNOVER BATTLE
The Blue Devils likely won’t pull off the upset if they commit more turnovers than the Irish. Notre Dame figures to have a decent chance of winning that battle, tying for No. 5 nationally in turnovers lost last season. Meanwhile, Hawaii and Central Michigan were the only teams to commit more turnovers than Duke in 2019. Safety Kyle Hamilton led the Irish with four interceptions as a true freshman. His first pick as a sophomore may come in quarterback Chase Brice’s first start at Duke.