Notre Dame has a major advantage over the Duke offense, but the matchup against the Duke defense will be a much stiffer challenge. The Irish controlled the matchup a season ago, but Duke is expected to have one of the better defenses the Irish will face, especially early in the season.
If Notre Dame is going to get its offense off to a fast start it must win three crucial matchups.
#96 Chris Rumph III, #51 Victor Dimukeje vs. #74 Liam Eichenberg, #72 Robert Hainsey
Notre Dame is expected to have one of the nation's best offensive lines in 2020, and the unit will be tested immediately. Duke returns an experienced and talented defensive line, and an argument could be made that the Blue Devils have the best end tandem on the Irish schedule.
Senior defensive end Chris Rumph III was listed as a preseason first-team All-American by ESPN, and Pro Football Focus believes he's one of the nation's best defensive linemen.
The Irish tackles will need to be prepared for this kind of edge speed:
Rumph is more of a speed rusher, while fellow end Victor Dimukeje is a power player. The duo combined for 15 sacks last season, and for all the justified hype about Rumph, it was Dimukeje's 8.5 sacks that led the defense in 2019.
Eichenberg and Joshua Lugg handled the Duke ends relatively well last season, but Rumph still had two hits on the quarterback. Now it's up to Eichenberg and Hainsey to shut down the Duke edge rushers. If that happens the Irish offense should roll.
#28 Mark Gilbert, #31 Josh Blackwell vs. #11 Ben Skowronek, #88 Javon McKinley
Notre Dame is expected to start a bigger group of wideouts against Duke. What we don't know at this point is will the duo of Skowronek and McKinley dominate the reps and targets.
Backup Braden Lenzy is the home run threat, and Duke will need to account for him if he plays. When Skowronek and McKinley lack the explosiveness, but both will need to play well against the big and physical Duke corners.
If the Irish pair struggle to get open and make plays against the talented Duke corners it could stall the offense. Gilbert was an All-ACC corner in 2017, but he's been injured the last two seasons. If he is back to full speed he will be a problem. Blackwell also brings good size to the position.
I have questions about Skowronek in the boundary and McKinley being to the field (he's better suited for the boundary), but the duo will get an immediate opportunity to prove me wrong.
#54 Derrick Tangelo vs. #69 Aaron Banks, #78 Tommy Kraemer
Notre Dame dominated Duke on the ground last season, racking up 288 yards at a 6.9 yards per carry clip. The Irish used some scrambles and quarterback runs to do damage. In 2020, Notre Dame needs to be able to run over Duke in a more physical, downhill manner.
Notre Dame has been saying all summer that they want to run the ball more effectively, and the Duke defensive line will provide a decent test.
Tangelo is Duke's best interior player, and the Irish guards will need to win the battle against him. If Banks and Kraemer have big games the Irish will dominate with its run game, and that will result in them dominating the game.
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