Yesterday we previewed the Notre Dame offense against the Duke Blue Devils. Today we will be going through a Notre Dame defensive preview against an emerging Duke offense. Chase Brice will be making his debut for the Blue Devils after transferring from Clemson. Playing behind Trevor Lawrence for the last two seasons, Brice really only saw action when the Tigers clearly had the game in the bag. During his freshman and sophomore year, Brice tallied nine touchdowns and four interceptions. In addition to the newly acquired Brice, there are two players leading the Duke offense, running back Deon Jackson and tight end Noah Gray. So, let’s look at how the defense will fare against this new Duke offense in a Notre Dame defensive preview.
Notre Dame vs. Duke: Defensive Preview
Duke’s offense was not very good last season. The Blue Devils averaged just four yards per pass attempt a season ago. Further, the run game averaged just over four yards per carry. That could be different this season though with Brice at quarterback. He will need a strong performance from Jackson in the run game and with a, hopefully, updated offensive line all eyes will be on the Notre Dame defensive front.
The Blue Devils lost their best player on the offensive line, Jack Wohlabaugh, to injury. The All-ACC center will be replaced by redshirt junior Will Taylor. Taylor and Brice are familiar with each other, playing together at Grayson High School. This will likely help Brice transition to a new system. While Duke’s interior line will look very different from last season, the Notre Dame defensive line is made up of experience. Two seniors and a junior make up three key defensive tackles playing for the Irish. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Kurt Hinish, and Jayson Ademilola will have the main task of stopping the Jackson on Saturday. If they can get an inside push against an inexperienced Duke line, Brice will have to do a lot more, which the Blue Devils likely don’t want for his first start.
In addition to the interior, the linebackers and even the ends will have the giant task of containing Gray. Gray scored three touchdowns last season on 392 receiving yards. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but if you watch him play you can see his athleticism as a receiver. With a better quarterback, Gray will be a legitimate threat in the passing game. He will likely be watched closely by Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Shayne Simon. In 2019 Owusu-Koramoah tallied 80 total tackles, 13.5 for loss, and five-and-a-half sacks. Further, the linebacker defended four passes and forced and recovered two fumbles. Simon, on the other hand, only played in five games as a sophomore last season. Both will need to be spot-on in the pass rush and keep Gray in check early.
Notre Dame Secondary
Outside of Gray, Brice’s biggest receiver target will be Jalon Calhoun. The sophomore led the Blue Devils in receiving yards as a freshman with 420 a season ago. This doesn’t seem like a lot and he didn’t score a touchdown, but, like Gray, that says more about the quarterback a season ago than it does the receiver. Calhoun is a shifty receiver that can make people miss, so with the right quarterback, he could be a threat. Calhoun will have to contend with Irish safety Shaun Crawford. The fifth-year senior has much more experience than the young wideout and will have help in transfer cornerback Nick McCloud. The North Carolina State transfer only played in one game a season ago due to injury but started 20 games over four seasons, his best coming in 2018. As a junior in 2018, McCloud had 51 total tackles, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. The graduate transfer will look to make an immediate impact on Saturday.
It shouldn’t be an overly tough start to the ACC season for the Fighting Irish, but Notre Dame can’t take this new Duke offense lightly. Head Coach David Cutcliffe is seen as a quarterback whisperer and Brice is already a talented quarterback. Don’t expect as big of a blowout as last season, but this shouldn’t be too difficult for the Irish.