Notre Dame kicks off the season with the Duke Blue Devils. While Duke wasn't impressive in 2019, head coach David Cutcliffe still has some talent returning in 2020.
The defense has actually held up well given the circumstances of the last few seasons. Duke had 35 sacks in 2019 which is a 10-year high for the Blue Devils. Now the offense needs to get on board and they could have a few pieces to move in the right direction.
#4 DEON JACKSON, RUNNING BACK
2019 stats: 172 attempts, 641 yards, 6 TDs / 21 catches, 192 yards, 2 TDs
Jackson is the lead back in what will be a two-headed attack for Duke. He was the leading rusher for the Blue Devils last season and received the most carries. He only averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 2019 due to a porous offensive line. In 2018, Jackson averaged 5.3 yards per carry while racking up 847 yards.
However, Duke had an abysmal passing attack that finished 125th nationally in passing yards per completion in 2019, but the arrival of Clemson transfer quarterback Chase Brice should help it improve.
2020 should look a bit different for Jackson with some new additions joining the Blue Devils. Duke brought in offensive tackle Devery Hamilton, a grad-transfer from Stanford. He joins three returning starters up front for the Blue Devils. It should give them one of the more experienced offensive lines in the ACC.
Jackson measures in at 6-0 and 215 pounds, and has some breakaway ability when given time to get up to speed. He also has the ability to catch passes out of the backfield with 442 career receiving yards and four career receiving touchdowns. A similar comp that Notre Dame fans will be familiar with is Tony Jones Jr.
Mataeo Durant will be the second part of the running back duo. Durant was more than capable last season with 97 attempts for 461 yards. With Jackson leading the way, Duke will be able to keep him fresh as they rotate back and forth.
#87 NOAH GRAY, TIGHT END
2019 stats: 51 catches, 392 yards, 3 TDS
Gray had a good, solid season when you compare him to the rest of the country. However, given the quarterback circumstances he faced, you could argue Gray had a great year. He is a preseason second-team All-ACC player according to Athlon Sports and looks primed for a breakout year.
Gray comes in at 6'4 and 240 pounds which could cause some serious trouble for the Notre Dame linebackers. During the last meeting with Notre Dame, Noah Gray finished the game with four receptions and 28 yards. He was the team leader in receptions and was two yards behind the team leader in receiving yards.
The biggest upside for Gray will be the change at QB. While inexperienced, Brice should be an improvement in the passing game because. I mean, things really could be worse. With the running back combo of Jackson and Durant, an experienced offensive line and Brice, Gray will have a much-improved supporting cast. The offense is building around multiple weapons. If Brice can find some success, it could limit how much attention Notre Dame can give to the talented and big-bodied tight end.
#51 VICTOR DIMUKEJE - #96 CHRIS RUMPH III, DEFENSIVE END
Dimukeje 2019 stats: 41 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks
Rumph 2019 stats: 47 total tackles, 13.5 TFLs6.5 sacks
You simply cannot discuss one of the ends without talking about the other. A strong case could be made that Duke will have the best edge combo that Notre Dame will face all season. Both return after a strong 2019 campaign and look to once again cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks
Rumph is looking like he could play himself into being one of the best defensive linemen in the entire ACC if he builds off of last season, and Pro Football Focus already ranks him as one of the best edge players in the entire country. Dimukeje has a clear knack for finding the QB. Both played a major role in Duke having the most sacks in the program in the last 10 years. Dimukeje came on late in the season. He also didn't record a sack in the first four games. Then, finished the season with multiple sacks in four of six games.
Notre Dame was able to hold both players in check for the most part in 2019. Rumph only had two tackles on the day to go with Dimukeje's five. Neither player registered a sack against the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame returns their entire offensive line and was able to move the ball at will against the Blue Devils. However, leaving these two on an island could result in them making their presence felt in the backfield.
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