The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team debuted at #15 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night, which seems about right considering their 2 losses, lack of a marquee win, and near-loss to a Virginia Tech Hokies team that lost BADLY to this week’s opponent, the Duke Blue Devils.
Now, the Irish have to travel to Durham, North Carolina to take on coach David Cutcliffe’s 4-4 squad, and so I reached out to Donald Wine II from Duke Basketball Report to get the lowdown on what we can expect from the opposition this Saturday.
Here’s what Donald had to say.
1. The Blue Devils have started out the season 4-4 and haven’t looked great, save for an absolute beatdown of the Virginia Tech Hokies in Blacksburg. What’ve been the driving forces behind how the first 2/3 of the season has gone, and how do you expect the rest of the season to go?
Donald: Inconsistency has been the theme for the season so far. Our defense has played pretty well for the most part, but the offense has struggled to move the football throughout the season. They also have turned the ball over and not had great execution on 3rd downs, which gets them off the field.
They’ll have to be way more consistent down the stretch to get the 2 wins necessary to get to a bowl game, and we’re all hoping they find that consistent play for the next 4 weeks.
2. This is David Cutcliffe’s 12th season at the helm of the program, and God knows that at a huge hoops school like Duke, he’s done a pretty damn good job in turning in winning seasons in 5 of the past 6 years and being nearly .500 overall. Does Cutcliffe have this job until he retires, or will there be a point when Duke proactively moves on from him and tries to get someone who can build on what he started?
Donald: I think he’s here for the rest of his career. He has built Duke into a place that top recruits consider and we’ve even started to get some of them to commit to the program. I don’t know how long he will continue, but whenever he leaves, I think it will be on his own terms and with a plan in place to keep the program’s trajectory going onward and upward.
3. QB Quentin Harris looks like a pretty talented QB who can do damage with his arm and his legs -- what are his biggest strengths, and in what aspects of his game does he struggle? How should the ND defense try to shut him down?
Donald: He’s got a terrific arm, and that is his biggest asset. He can also come at you with the run, but that’s set up by his ability to find any receiver on the field with the ball.
He’s been inconsistent this year, especially in taking care of the football, and that’s likely what the Irish focus on to create takeaways.
4. Who are the most dangerous skill position guys on the Blue Devil offense, and how do you think this Duke offensive line will hold up against the Notre Dame defense?
Donald: Deon Jackson is an explosive running back and is dangerous with the ball in his hands at all times, whether on the run or on the pass. Get him into open field, and he’s trouble. Scott Bracey has also been dangerous downfield and can catch the football, and he’ll be one to look out for when Harris goes deep.
The biggest matchup will be Duke’s offensive line against Notre Dame’s defensive line. If the O-line can hold on and keep Harris’ jersey clean, that will mean he has time to hit open receivers and move the ball down the field.
5. Which position groups are strengths and which are weaknesses on the Duke defense, and who are the X-factors who will need to bring their A-games in order to upset the Irish on Saturday?
Donald: Our linebackers have been pretty solid, and they’re the main strength on the defense. The secondary will need to bring their A+ games on Saturday night. The cornerbacks and safeties will have their hands full, but if they complete their mission, they have a couple takeaways and give up no really big plays.
6. Notre Dame has a sophomore RB named C’Borius Flemister. What are the best/funniest/most ridiculous names on the Blue Devils roster, and do any of them measure up to my guy C’Bo?
Donald: We have Gunnar Holmberg, which is a terrific name for a quarterback, and we have Xander Gagnon. I mean, when you have XXX on your team at linebacker, you have to like your chances. But, we haven’t had any truly ridiculous names since Tyroil Smoochie-Wallace transferred to Miami and Hingle McCringleberry went to the NFL.
7. Dance-off between Brian Kelly and David Cutcliffe - what song(s) does each coach dance to, who has the better stage presence and charisma, and who ultimately wins?
Donald: I don’t know what Brian Kelly is dancing to, but Coach Cut is definitely dancing to some Motown. He’s got the moves, and he will win without even breaking a sweat.
In fact, I move that we forego the football and just proceed right to a dance-off if we make it to overtime, because we’re definitely bringing it home there!
8. If you had to choose a handful of current Duke football players/coaches to invite to Thanksgiving with your family, whom would you choose, and what would they each contribute to the party?
Donald: Coach Cut is providing the music, Deon Jackson is cutting the turkey, and Quentin Harris is saying grace. My family throws down a mean Thanksgiving meal and it’s my favorite time of the year, so I can’t bring in any lineman who will eat more than I will!
9. Prediction time: give me the final score for ND at Duke, who wins, and your reasoning why.
Donald: This is going to be a contest that opens up in the 3rd quarter and goes right down to the wire. Duke went up to South Bend a few years ago and pulled off the upset, and I think it happens again this time. Duke wins 36-33 in overtime, only because the NCAA turns down my request for a coaching dance-off.
I want to give a massive shout-out to Donald, who managed to travel to NYC for the Duke-Kansas hoops game at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night and then the next day compose and send over answers to all of my questions. He rocks, despite the fact he picked ND to lose to Duke again.
For any and all Blue Devils updates heading into this weekend’s tilt, please be sure to go to the Duke Basketball Report site, as well as follow Donald and the site on Twitter for any late-breaking news.
See y’all in my game preview!