The Notre Dame Fighting Irish open their football season against the Duke Blue Devils in South Bend on Saturday. Notre Dame is known for being an Independent in the College Football world. However, this season the Fighting Irish will be playing in the ACC. Last year Notre Dame beat Duke 38-7 in a very one-sided outing. This year has the potential to be different with a rejuvenated Blue Devils defense. Let’s take a look at the Notre Dame season opener with an offensive preview.
Notre Dame vs Duke: Fighting Irish Offensive Preview
The Fighting Irish offense will have to contend with defensive end, Victor Dimukeje, and safety Michael Carter leading the way on the Duke defense. A season ago Dimukeje tallied eight-and-a-half sacks, nine-and-a-half tackles for loss, and forced a fumble. Carter will look to improve on a junior season where he racked up 53 total tackles, two for loss, and one interception. These two seniors highlight a defense that is returning seven starters from a season ago.
Returning for the Irish
First and foremost, returning for the Irish is quarterback Ian Book. Book was the leading rusher against Duke a season ago and has returned for his redshirt senior year. In 2019 Book threw for over 3000 yards, 34 touchdowns, and had only six interceptions. Further, against Duke, last season Book threw for four touchdowns and accounted for 139 rushing yards on 12 carries. Unfortunately, Book lost his top targets, including Chase Claypool, for the 2020 season, but the third-year starter should still have a good outing against the Blue Devils.
Leading offensive line. Struggling receivers?
Book is not the only returner on the Irish offense, six former starters return on the offensive line. This is the offensive line that allowed just two sacks a season ago. In addition, the Irish offensive line was one of the best pass-blocking o-lines in the country. Notre Dame will have Zeke Correll at the center position. Josh Lugg will be at tackle and guard, depending on movement on the line. Finally, another notable yet new lineman, Dillon Gibbons at guard. Correll saw action in four games as a true freshman in 2019. Lugg played in all 13 games last season, cementing himself as a starter for the final five games. Further, Lugg did not allow a sack on 263 pass blocks in 2019 and conceded only three quarterback hits. His performance ranked him one of the best tackles in college football.
Even though Book will be without Claypool, there are several receivers returning for Notre Dame this season. Javon McKinley, Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys, and Avery Davis highlight the returners at wide receiver. Head Coach Brian Kelly has reiterated his confidence in these guys over the last week. “Those guys aren’t rookies,” Kelly said. “This was just a matter of just trying to find their spots. Even though you lose your top player in Chase Claypool, these guys have played football and they know the offense…”
As a redshirt junior, McKinley played in five games and tallied four touchdowns in 2019. Lenzy totaled four touchdowns as well in 2019, two rushing and two receiving. Keys had 103 receiving yards last season in nine games. Finally, Davis started 2019 as a corner before moving to a receiver and tallying 124 receiving yards and two touchdowns. All four receivers are upperclassmen, hopefully leading the way with their experience.
Notre Dame Offensive Newcomers
Next, the Notre Dame offensive preview moves to the newcomers. The Fighting Irish won’t only have new faces in the running back and wide receiver groups, but at Offensive Coordinator as well. Tommy Rees was promoted from Quarterbacks Coach to Offensive Coordinator this offseason, but most notably, he was the Notre Dame quarterback from 2010-2013. Rees spent the last three seasons with Book, but before that, he was an offensive assistant for the San Diego Chargers. Rees is very smart and understands Kelly’s system, but he is relatively inexperienced. We will have to wait and see if Rees’ understanding of the game will outweigh that inexperience in his first season at the helm of the offense.
Technically, lead back, Kyren Williams is a returner from last season, but he only touched the football a handful of times. Therefore, he is essentially a newcomer in the backfield for Notre Dame. Williams only saw action in two games and only carried the ball four times for 26 yards. He will lead a group of five running backs into 2020, directly behind him is freshman speedster, Chris Tyree. Tyree was a five-star recruit according to 247Sports. Further, he was also ranked the number one all-purpose back in the 2020 class. In just nine games during his senior season, Tyree ran for 655 yards on 71 carries and totaled nine touchdowns.
The Notre Dame wideouts will likely have their hands full with a strong Duke secondary. They are tall and talented, but the skill of Book and the strength of the offensive line in pass protection should be enough for the Irish to defeat the Blue Devils on Saturday. Now that we have looked at a Notre Dame offensive preview, we will look at the defensive side next.