With everything that’s happened in 2020, it doesn’t quite feel real, but it is — the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team opens its season this weekend, hosting the Duke Blue Devils at Notre Dame Stadium in front of a very limited — but hopefully spirited, thanks to the students making up the majority of it — home crowd on Saturday at 2:30 PM ET.
So, considering we are just a couple days away and the 2020 Duke squad is likely not quite the same as the 2019 version that lost to Ian Book and co. by a score of 38 to 7 last year, what should we expect from the Irish’s opening day opponent in their one-year, full-ACC schedule?
To get a good feeling, I reached out to Donald Wine II of Duke Basketball Report, and he valiantly answered all my questions on the hardest-hitting of topics, discussing David Cutcliffe’s future, how Chase Brice can lift up the Duke offense, Damond Philyaw-Johnson’s play-making abilities, what a Cutcliffe/Coach K karaoke duet would look (and sound) like, and much, much more.
So, with all that in mind, let’s dive into it to arm ourselves with Duke knowledge heading into college football Saturday!!!
1. Duke is coming off a 2019 season where they lost 6 of their last 8 en route to a 5-7 finish. Is there optimism heading into 2020, or do you expect a similarly less-than-mediocre season this year?
Donald Wine II: There’s definitely optimism entering the season. Duke Football fans are realistic when we say that we’re not going to be challenging for any national titles, but we do think that this team has what it takes to get above .500 and be in the top half of the ACC standings.
It’s all about execution, but while some games for us will be major tests, this weekend being the first one, we have hope that Duke can overcome some of those tests and get to 6 wins.
2. This will be David Cutcliffe’s 13th season at the helm for this Duke program, and despite all of the challenges of trying to find football success with a basketball blue blood, he’s done alright for himself with a 72-79 overall record and a few bowl wins.
How is he viewed by Duke football fans, and is there a point where Duke will proactively move on from him, or does he essentially have this job until he retires?
Donald Wine II: Coach Cut is a legend here at Duke. Before he arrived, you had to beg people to go to games (I know firsthand…I worked as a video assistant for the team for 3 seasons and was a season ticket holder for several years even while living 4 hours away).
Now, Duke Football is a program that we think can perform at the level required to compete for ACC titles and big time bowl games. He’s brought that belief to Durham and he’s left an impact on the program that will be forever felt. I think that Duke will be Cutcliffe’s last job (he turns 66 on September 16th), and he’s earned the ability to walk away on his own terms.
3. Chase Brice was just named the starting QB for the opener. What does the Clemson transfer bring to the table, and how much of a boost do you think he brings to Cutcliffe’s offense for this season?
Donald Wine II: We’re incredibly excited to see what Chase Brice can do, and we think he’s going to thrive in Cutcliffe’s offense. He obviously already has a great relationship with Cut, who is taking control of the play calling this season. Brice has the tools to be a quarterback that plays on Sundays in the NFL, so that can help Cutcliffe not be conservative with the play calling and allow Brice the freedom to take some shots downfield.
4. Senior running back Deon Jackson has been a mainstay in the Blue Devils backfield for a couple seasons now — what are his strengths as a back, and how do you see him faring against this ND defense? Is the Duke o-line up to the task of helping clear the way for him?
Donald Wine II: Deon Jackson has had some big moments in a Duke uniform, but now in his senior season, we need him to become a play-maker. He’s inconsistent at finding the holes to run through, but when he gets through them, he can burn people to the end zone. He needs to establish control from the opening series, because that’s going to give the offense room to breathe.
He’s still going to have his struggles, particularly against a solid ND defensive line. Last season when the two teams played, he had 52 yards on 14 carries. But, we’re hoping he can be a back that gets closer to 100 yards per game and helps us keep our defense fresh.
5. What other Blue Devils offensive players should Irish fans know about heading into this match-up?
Donald Wine II: Damond Philyaw-Johnson will be an impact player on special teams. The junior is on the Preseason All-ACC First Team at kick returner and is one of the best in the country. He also can make an impact at wide receiver and stretch some defenses.
Sophomore Jalon Calhoun led the team in receiving yards and receiving TDs last season, and he’s poised to take his game to new heights with Chase Brice throwing him the ball this year.
6. ND has a lot of unknowns at the skill positions but returns a top-flight offensive line and Ian Book. How do you think Duke’s D matches up, and who are the X-factors for the Blue Devil defense?
Donald Wine II: Duke’s defense needs to be better at two things: stopping the run and eliminating the big play. That’s what killed them last year when the Irish came to town and that’s what they need to be much better at on Saturday.
The two X-factors on defense are two guys that can help with that run and pass defense: our two defensive ends, Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje. Both of these guys are electric and among the best at their position in the entire country.
We’re stoked to have them back and if they perform at the level we are expecting of them, the run defense will be among the best in the country once again. Mark Gilbert is back at cornerback and that means we have a guy who can be an elite pass defender.
7. Notre Dame has a junior running back named C’Bo Flemister. What are the best names on this year’s Duke roster, and do any of them measure up to my guy C’Bo?
Donald Wine II: We have a linebacker named Rocky Shelton II. Y’all have seen the movies…you never count out Rocky!
8. You’ve been tasked with producing the next live-action Disney movie remake using exclusively Duke football players/coaches as the cast. What classic Disney film do you choose to remake, and what Duke football players/coaches will play what key roles? Please exclude The Lion King and Mulan from consideration, considering their recent live-action remakes.
Donald Wine II: For obvious reasons, we’re going to avoid The Hunchback of Notre Dame and go with Cars.
Now, I’m not sure which players and coaches would play which car, but that movie is symbolic of what we think our team can be. In a college football landscape that’s shaky right now with all that surrounds us, people need to understand that we got some fast motors in the garage too. Saturday, we’re looking forward to putting them on the field and seeing what they can do, so don’t count them out!
9. Karaoke Question, Football/Basketball Duet Edition: if Brian Kelly/Mike Brey were to face off against David Cutcliffe/Coach K in a karaoke duet sing-off, what song does each pair sing, do they have any specific dance moves or fun flair they add to the performance, and who wins the fan vote to take home the trophy?
Donald Wine II: Here we go! You probably haven’t seen David Cutcliffe dance to Motown and other old school R&B, because if you had, you wouldn’t have asked this question, haha. Cutcliffe will destroy just about any Power 5 football coach with his dancing skills. He’s got that Motown sound backing him up, which is something Coach K knows about as well.
Brian Kelly and Mike Brey (Brey we will always consider a part of the Duke family) should know better about challenging Cut and K to a duet challenge, because we’re gonna carry the championship belt for a long time with those two in Duke Blue!
10. Alright, let’s get to it — give me your best prediction for the game. Who wins, what’s the score, and why do you think that will be the ultimate result?
Donald Wine II: Last time Duke traveled to South Bend in September 2016, they upset the Irish much to the shock of all of college football. Duke faces a tall task going on the road to face a national title contender to start this weird 2020 season, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Duke answers the bell in a big way.
The big shock of the college football season is in Week 1. Duke 35, Notre Dame 33. Notre Dame gets a late TD, but can’t get the 2-point conversion, and Duke holds on to once again leave Notre Dame Stadium with a W.
I wanna give a massive shout-out to Donald for answering all the questions I tossed at him, and want to encourage you all to head over to Duke Basketball Report for any and all Duke football info and insights prior to Saturday.
That’s all I’ve got, so until next week...GO IRISH!