Notre Dame's season hung by a thread when it took over for one final drive against Virginia Tech. The Irish were trying to avoid a second loss in a row and their first home defeat in more than two years.
They responded with an 87-yard march that catapulted them to a 21-20 win over the Hokies. It wasn't an impressive victory, but the Irish were defiant about the bounce-back performance after getting beaten soundly by Michigan the week before.
“(It's) a little quieter around here,” coach Brian Kelly said Monday. “I don't know why, but it seems like if you win it's a little quieter. We are going to continue to try to do that.”
Kelly expects the No. 15 Irish to build on their victory over the Hokies and gain confidence from it. They have their first chance to prove they've done so when they travel to Durham, North Carolina, to take on David Cutcliffe's Duke Blue Devils tonight.
The Blue Devils (4-4) are in the midst of their longest sustained run of success since the 1950s. Under Cutcliffe, they have played in six bowl games in the last seven years and are within striking distance of doing so again.
“(Duke is a) good-looking team across the board,” Kelly said. “Athletic. Not afraid to pressure you and play man coverage. We're going to have to be on. Offensively, we have not executed at the highest of levels. We are going to have to execute better. The turnovers (Notre Dame committed three against Virginia Tech) have to obviously go away.”
Duke has focused much of its efforts in practice on figuring out a way to stop Notre Dame's wide receivers after the Irish threw the ball 53 times against the Hokies. Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils will try to disguise their coverages and make Ian Book uncomfortable with the pass rush so he doesn't have time to find wideout Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet.
Cutcliffe seemed particularly worried about Kmet.
“I'll tell you what, their tight end is so explosive it's frightening,” Cutcliffe said of the 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior. “He is a great player and such a big target himself he's really hard to deal with.”
To combat Duke's defensive game plan, the Irish will try to establish the run. They've averaged only 2.2 yards per carry over the last two games, but the return of running back Tony Jones Jr., who suffered a rib injury in the first half against Michigan, should provide a boost.
“I think it's perseverance,” Claypool said of Notre Dame's year so far. “Going through adversity, fighting through that. We don't hang our heads and that's something you learn about this football team.”
Note: This game will be on the ACC Network, which is not carried by Frontier and Xfinity/Comcast. Dish and DirecTV do carry the network. To see if your provider has the station, go to www.getaccn.com/
Notre Dame at Duke
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.
Records: Notre Dame (6-2), Duke (4-4)
TV: ACC Network
Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM
Struggling Blue Devils: Duke started this season 3-1, but has lost three of its last four, including two in a row. The Blue Devils are coming off a bye, but before that they'd dropped back-to-back contests against North Carolina (20-17 score) and Virginia (48-14), both of which were on the road. They have to win two of their last four against Notre Dame, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Miami to reach a seventh bowl game in eight seasons.
Dual-threat quarterback: Duke's Quentin Harris, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound fifth-year senior, is completing 61% of his passes for 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns (with seven interceptions) and he is also the Blue Devils' second-leading rusher with 104 carries for 408 yards (3.9 yards per rush) and six touchdowns.
Turnovers: The Irish have turned the ball over five times combined in the last two games, while getting only two takeaways. The play that kept Virginia Tech in the game last week was a 98-yard fumble return for touchdown by the Hokies that turned a potential 21-7 Irish lead into a 14-all tie at halftime. It also broke a streak of more than 1,250 consecutive carries by Notre Dame running backs without a fumble that dated back to 2015. The Irish have put an extra focus on ball security in practice this week.
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Duke 17