Stacking Up: Notre Dame Defense Should Dominate Against Duke

Breaking down how the Notre Dame defense stacks up on paper against the Duke offense
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When you look at this matchup on paper there is no doubt the Notre Dame defense should dominate the Duke offense. That's certainly what happened in the 38-7 Irish victory in 2019, when Notre Dame held the Blue Devils to a season-low 197 yards of offense.

When you talk to those covering Duke, there is a lot of optimism that the offense will be improved in 2020, but right now the Irish defense presents a mismatch over the Blue Devil offense.


ND Scoring Defense vs. Duke


Duke's offense struggled in last year's 42-3 season-opening loss to Alabama, but that was to be expected. Duke scored 45, 41, 45, 30 and 41 points in its next five games, a stretch during which the Blue Devils went 4-1.

That was the high point of the season for Duke, who averaged just 16.3 points in its final six games. Duke went 1-5 during that stretch and lost four of the five games by at least 12 points.

Duke's offense topped 300 yards just once during that stretch, and even in the 27-17 season-ending win over Miami the offense managed just 287 yards and 3.9 yards per play.

Notre Dame's defense was dominant during its 6-0 close to the 2019 season. During that stretch, the Irish defense held opponents to just 13.3 points and 274.8 points per game. Notre Dame returns much of its front seven from that unit, and the secondary will look different, but it should still be quite good, at least on paper.

Duke should get a lot better on offense this season, but the gap between the two programs in this matchup is enormous.


ND Run Defense vs. Duke


The Duke run game was a driving force in its strong start in 2019, with the offense topping 200 yards in three of its first four games, and 190 yards four times during the Blue Devils 4-2 start to the season.

Duke never went for more than 132 yards in the final six games, averaging just 117.8 yards per game on the ground during the late-season swoon.

The good news for Duke is that standout running back Deon Jackson returns for his final season. Jackson was banged up last fall, and the lack of a pass game made it hard for him to find room. Jackson rushed for just 641 yards and 3.7 yards per carry last season, but with a better line and pass game in 2018 he went for 847 yards and 5.3 yards per rush.

If the offensive line can improve then Jackson could end up as one of the better runners in the ACC.

Notre Dame absolutely dominated the Duke offensive line in this matchup a season ago. The Irish held Duke to a season-low 95 rushing yards in that contest, despite not having Daelin Hayes and losing Julian Okwara for the season during that matchup.

The Irish front seven is experienced, talented and deep. Duke is expected to have an improved offensive line, and Jackson is talented, but the Irish should be poised to dominate this game in the trenches once again. 

To be a playoff contender the Irish run defense must be improved, and this will be its first test of the season.


ND Pass Defens vs. Duke


Duke had an abysmal pass attack in 2019, and Notre Dame had one of the nation's very best pass defenses. The Blue Devils ranked among the nation's worst pass offenses last season, while Notre Dame ranked in the top 10 in five of the seven categories used for this breakdown.

From an on paper standpoint this will be one of the biggest statistical mismatches of the season. Last season, Duke completed 16-of-31 throws against Notre Dame for just 102 yards, averaging 3.3 yards per pass attempt. It was pure domination by the Irish.

The question is can Clemson transfer quarterback Chase Brice help turn the offense around. Brice can't be worse than what Duke had at the position a season ago, but can he go from being a career backup to being a signal caller that can get the Duke offense back on track? That remains to be seen.

If Brice can give the offense a spark with his arm, Duke could see a significant jump this fall. Duke has talented weapons, with Jackson being a legit weapon out of the backfield, and tight end Noah Gray is one of the better tight ends in the ACC.

Wideouts Jalon Calhoun, Jake Bobo, Darrell Harding Jr. and Eli Pancol are quality weapons.

Duke doesn't have the weapons to gash Notre Dame enough to win, at least they shouldn't, but this will be a good first test for a revamped Irish secondary.


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When you look at this matchup on paper there is no doubt the Notre Dame defense should dominate the Duke offense. That's certainly what happened in the 38-7 Irish victory in 2019, when Notre Dame held the Blue Devils to a season-low 197 yards of offense.

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