Another Saturday of college football and another string of late-night, Notre Dame induced conniptions.
Let me be clear, I’m not down and out on this team but the last few weeks have been tough. The Irish walked away from Durham with a 21-14 victory over the Duke Blue Devils but for some reason felt it necessary or appropriate to take things down to the last second. Against Ohio State, I’m ok. Against Duke, not so much.
So let’s run through the numbers from this game.
Notre Dame extended its football winning streak against Duke to 3 with last night’s win. The point margin was the second lowest for the Irish’s six victories. But hey, the job got done.
Through five weeks of play in 2023, Notre Dame is 5-1 and taking its one game win streak into the Louisville matchup next. The Duke game was the second lowest scoring outing for ND, with Ohio State laying claim to the lowest to date. As Notre Dame got deeper into this year’s tough schedule, a downtick in points was to be expected. But the offense’s performance on Saturday does start to make me worry if it’s just better competition or something else going on with the program.
Offensive struggles were kind of the name of the game for Notre Dame against Duke. Tons of false starts, lack of production by the receiver corps and struggles with the ground game made for a tough day through the scoreboard lens. And that’s not even bringing up the field goal kicking situation. The Irish defense shut Duke out in the first half and allowed the offense to bring us into the half with a 10-0 lead that could’ve at least been 1-2 touchdowns larger.
Once again, the third quarter is where things started to get shaky. Duke scored the only touchdown of the quarter, a 1-yard touchdown run from Duke that capped off an 11 play, 75-yard drive. ND tallied up a 45-yard field goal for all of its efforts in the 3rd.
In the 4th quarter, Duke drove eight plays and 80 yards for a touchdown pass to Jordan Moore which put them up by 1 (14-13). After that touchdown, I spent the rest of the game hunched over and gripping my forehead hoping that somehow the offense and/or special teams would break whatever affliction they’d picked up along the way and not completely ruin my weekend. In the end, a ten play, 95-yard drive would result in a 30-yard touchdown from Audric Estime to seal the game. It shouldn’t have come down to being that close. But hey the job was completed.
Key Team Comparisons – Ball Movement
Moving the ball, especially through the game’s first 3 quarters, was big struggle for the Irish offense. Duke had notable advantages in two key areas, 3rd down conversions (40% - 20%) and time of possession (31:45 – 28:15). Both teams had fifteen 3rd down conversion attempts.
Better than last week, though, Notre Dame went 3-3 for 4th down conversions.
Key Team Comparisons – Offense
Notre Dame edged out Duke in terms of total yards (381 – 323). Overall offensive production was well below what both teams had been putting up in 2023 prior to this weekend.
It wasn’t a particularly great passing outing for the Irish. The team completed a season low 48% of passes. A lot of it can be attributed to the decimated receiver corps so as much as I want to rant about it, we all knew this game’s ceiling was going to be lower.
Unfortunately, ND’s rushing group didn’t fare much better. The Blue Devils had the advantage in terms of total rushing yards (189 -159). Things just couldn’t seem to get going, even though moving the ball on the ground was the key to winning the game (on the offensive side).
Key Team Comparisons – Extra Stats
Fortunately, Duke helped out Notre Dame by giving up two turnovers. Both the fumble and interception came at key moments and the game could’ve likely turned in an ugly way for the Irish had they not happened.
The penalty monster also reared its head again. The Irish walked away with 12 penalties for a total of 70 yards, compared with two penalties for 28 yards for Duke. A lot of these were self-inflicted, offensive line errors and there was the very odd targeting call. After looking at it a few times, I get the defensive player safety aspect but if that’s the new status quo things could get crazy out here.
Mitchell Evans was the undisputed star of the Irish passing game against Duke. He tallied up a total of 134 yards, six receptions and averaged 22 yards per reception. The passing game didn’t produce any touchdowns this weekend which was probably the biggest surprise for all of us, even with the wide receiver injuries.
Audric Estime was the biggest factor on the ground for Notre Dame. He tallied up 81 yards, 18 carries and two touchdowns. Jeremiyah Love also played a big role with five carries, 44 total yards and a longest run of 34 yards.
This was a pretty unpleasant game to watch. Things just seemed to be off from start to finish.
Over the last 2-3 games we’ve seen the Irish offenses and defenses seemingly growing in opposite directions. Against Ohio State and Duke, the defense played full games that weren’t perfect but really impressive to watch. During that same time span, we’ve watched the offense struggle to find that balance of explosiveness and consistency we’d gotten used to early in the season, though.
And the team kind of hit an inflection point this weekend about how much this trend can sustain before it starts to put games that we should win in real jeopardy. It’s not to say that all is lost but we’ll need both sides of the ball (as well as reliable kicking) to finish out this season strong. Based on how they played this weekend, I’d say that USC and Louisville are very beatable but the ND will have to make a change and quickly.
Cheers and Go Irish!!