In what may have been one of the more surreal atmospheres ever witnessed in Notre Dame Stadium, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Duke Blue Devils 27-13. With the stands sparsely populated by students, parents, faculty, staff, and the band, the buzz wasn’t quite the same for the typical Irish home opener. Nonetheless, the season got off on the right foot with a victory.
The Irish’s play in the first quarter certainly reflected that of a team which had not experienced many live reps since the their bowl game. Duke received the opening kickoff and used its first possession to move from their own 16-yard line to the Irish 39-yard line. However, a 4th and 2 pass was broken up by Kyle Hamilton, providing some early momentum for Notre Dame. The momentum was short lived as the Irish quickly turned in a three and out on offense. Remarkably, this broke a 4 year streak of the Iriish offense scoring a touchdown on their home-opening possession of the season. Following a booming 52-yard punt by Jay Bramblett, Duke took over on their own 10-yard line and went on the move again. Thanks to a 55-yard catch and run by Eli Pancol, Duke quickly moved into the red zone. Yet, as has become a trademark during the Clark Lea years, the Notre Dame defense stiffened and forced Duke into a 29-yard field goal midway through the first quarter. The ensuing kickoff return gave fans their first glimpse of Chris Tyree, and he certainly did not disappoint. Displaying his blazing speed, Tyree bolted 38 yards on the his first touch in an Irish uniform. The Irish tried to establish the run against the Duke defense but were again forced into a quick three and out possession. After trading possessions several times, the quarter came to a close with the Blue Devils holding a 3-0 advantage, and Notre Dame standing on its own 6-yard line. After a few Kyren Williams runs and a pass to Tommy Tremble, the Irish faced a 4th and 8 on their own 21 yard line. Without question this was a time to punt the ball, but Brian Kelly and Brian Polian had other ideas. Jay Bramblett busted off a 14-yard run on a fake punt to move the chains for the Irish. Suddenly, the offense shifted into gear after a Michael Mayer 17-yard reception, and a Williams 11-yard run. After a 15-yard facemask penalty on the run was enforced, Ian Book connected on a screen pass to Jafar Armstrong who motored down to the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Williams found the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown run, moving the Irish into the lead at 7-3.
After a quick possession by each team, Duke put together an 11-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 30-yard field goal for Duke, bringing the score to 7-6. Prior to the field goal attempt, Isaiah Foskey used a quick burst off the edge to bring down Duke quarterback, Chase Brice, for a 10-yard sack as the Blue Devils were knocking on the door at the Irish 2-yard line. Kyren Williams continued to steal the show in the 1st half as he took an Ian Book screen pass 75 yards to the Duke 11-yard line on the next possession. Unfortunately, Book threw high to Tommy Tremble on the next play, which resulted in an interception in the end zone by Lummie Young IV. The defense again forced a quick punt from Duke. Oddly, Brian Kelly let a large chunk of time run off the clock prior to the punt, despite having timeouts at his disposal. Taking over at their own 16-yard line, Notre Dame looked oddly disjointed in their 2-minute offense but were still able to move down the field with relative ease. During the possession, Bennett Skowronek suffered a hamstring injury coming out of a break on his route. While the severity of the injury was not addressed by Brian Kelly after the game, the mechanism of injury certainly seems to indicate that he will be out for several weeks. In Skowronek’s absence, Joe Wilkins Jr. took over the show. Wilkins secured the first reception for an Irish wide receiver at the 0:54 mark in the 1st half and recorded 3 receptions for 32 yards on the drive as he helped move the Irish into field goal range. As time expired in the 1st half, Jonathan Doerer drilled a 48-yard field goal to extend the Irish lead to 10-6 entering halftime.
As the 3rd quarter got under way, the Irish offense continued to look out of sync and punted the ball away after 4 plays. On the ensuing Duke possession, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah forced a fumble. However, tragedy nearly struck on the play when Kyle Hamilton was rolled up on awkwardly by a Duke player. Luckily, Hamilton was able to walk off under his own power and reports last night indicated he suffered an ankle sprain, though nothing has been confirmed by Notre Dame at this time. Following the turnover, Notre Dame put together its most efficient drive of the day. Keeping the ball on the ground, the Irish methodically moved down to the Blue Devil 26-yard line. Facing a 4th and 1, Kelly elected to go for it. After burning a timeout due to the inability to get lined up properly, Kyren Williams took a handoff and bounced outside the left side of the line, taking the ball 26 yards for a touchdown. While the offensive line deserves credit for the push they achieved up front, Williams vision allowed him to cut outside the pile of bodies in the middle of the field and run to daylight. The touchdown provided the Irish some breathing room at 17-6. The defense stonewalled the Blue Devils again on their following possession as the tackling improvement and scheme adjustments from the first half continued to stifle Duke. Of note, junior D.J. Brown took over for Kyle Hamilton at the safety position and played the majority of the snaps during the remainder of the game. Following a quick three and out, Jay Bramblett suffered his first poor punt of the day. His mishit traveled a measly 34 yards. After a 9 yard return, Duke took over with great field position on the Irish 39 yard line. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Duke used a quick 6 play drive to reach the end zone to pull within 4 at 17-13.
Although it never felt the Irish were truly threatened, they suddenly found themselves in a one score game as the clock stood at 2:19 in the 3rd quarter. Needing to answer, Ian Book helped direct the team on a 15 play, 83-yard drive that used up 6:21 of game clock. The drive ended with a Book 17-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Avery Davis in the end zone. Duke would never threaten the rest of the way. The Irish added a Jonathan Doerer 34-yard field goal late in the 4th quarter to push their lead to 27-13. Duke’s final possession of the day ended with a Chase Brice fumble after the ball slipped out of his hands on a pass attempt. The Irish took the field and drained the final 2:51 from the game clock. Although it wasn’t the prettiest game, the team did what it needed to do to claim victory in what figures to be a crazy season.
Kyren Williams-The redshirt freshman accumulated 205 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns in his first career start. Not a bad opening act. Williams’ quickness and vision was something the rushing offense was lacking last year. He hit on several big runs and carried the offense throughout the day.
Questions Moving Forward
What is the status of Braden Lenzy?
One of the most dynamic playmakers on offense did not see the field for a single snap. The lack of playing time became even more puzzling following Ben Skowronek’s hamstring injury in the first half. Brian Kelly declined to address anything surrounding Lenzy following the game. It is a storyline worth monitoring, especially with the lack of production from the wide receivers.
How long will Kyle Hamilton be out?
While the Irish certainly have options to replace Hamilton, I think we can all agree the defense is leaps and bounds better with the talented playmaker roaming the secondary.
What is Michael Mayer’s ceiling?
Let’s overreact to a week 1 performance from the talented freshman. Mayer’s size and athleticism was quite evident during the game, and he certainly looked like a dangerous receiving threat on offense. Due to the uncertainty of the wide receiver position, Mayer could be in line for a larger role moving forward.