When Notre Dame takes the field there will be two things different. There won’t be a sold out crowd and their match-up with Duke will be a conference game.
The Fighting Irish are on a one year hiatus from their Independence status and will be a member of the ACC. The schedule looks incredibly strange without USC and Navy on it. Perhaps the most intriguing game lost was the Wisconsin game that was supposed to be hosted at Lambeau Field.
With Covid-19 changing how business is done, there is very little information coming out of South Bend or any other college. Like the NFL, it’s hard to know what to expect when the Fighting Irish takes the field.
With that being said, the keys to beating Duke seem to be pretty standard. It starts with Ian Book. The senior quarterback will be throwing to a new crop of receivers with the most important one being Northwestern transfer, Ben Skowronek. The key to Notre Dame’s passing game could be the dependability of converting 3rd and 5/6 through the air. That’s where Skowronek and tight end, Brock Wright could be huge in the Fighting Irish offense.
That leads us to the running game. In year’s where Notre Dame’s offense has been truly dangerous, they have a “flip the field” running back. There’s a lot of questions about the position this season. With Autry Denson gone, Lance Taylor has the responsibility on coaching up this unit. Kyren Williams and his four career carries, will get the start against Duke but expect to see some sort of combination that will include Chris Tyree, Jahmir Smith, C’Bo Flemister, and/or Jafar Armstrong. With the position being relatively unsettled, it might take head coach Brian Kelly, a few games to settle in on a true rotation.
With Duke in town, the Fighting Irish will have to be prepared for David Cutcliffe and his passing game. Earlier in the week, the Blue Devils announced that Chase Brice will start. The Clemson transfer beat out Chris Katrenick and Gunnar Holmberg for the job. Brice gives Duke a dual-threat quarterback so the Irish linebackers and secondary must stay disciplined.
Speaking of the secondary, that’s been a subject all offseason. Kyle Hamilton is a given at free safety with converted cornerback, Shaun Crawford, snagging the other safety position. The cornerback position is a much watch on Saturday. Tariq Bracey held off Clarence Lewis at one spot while Nick McCloud will start at the other corner. Both will be tested by one of the pass-game designers in Cutcliffe.
The best way for Notre Dame to shutdown Cutcliffe’s passing game is with a strong pass rush. Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes could be poised for a big game.
Notre Dame comes into Saturday’s game as a 20-point favorite. With so much unknown, it’s had to tell if they are truly three touchdowns better than anyone at this point but they should have enough to come away with a win in their first conference game.