The Notre Dame football program has the Duke Blue Devils in its sights for Week 5 of the 2023 season. The team will look to rebound from its loss to Ohio State as well as preserve what most of us are hoping will still be a pretty strong season overall. The buzz that’s surrounding the Duke game is what you’d usually expect for a basketball matchup but here we are getting nervous about a Blue Devil’s football team and national eyes being on Durham in late September. I guess odder things have happened.
So let’s dig into the numbers.
Notre Dame football’s first matchup dates back to 1958 and the two teams have played a grand total of seven times. In that first win, ND came out the victor with a +2 win margin. They would drop the next game (1961) by a -24 point margin and pull out a major victory in the 1964 matchup, shutting out the Blue Devils 64-0.
There was a big gap in the series history, with the next ND-Duke game taking place in 2007. The Irish won the 2007 matchup with a decisive +21 margin but dropped the 2016 game by 3 points. That 2016, 35-38, loss came as a part of the horrific package deal of a 4-8 season that no matter how much I try to forget keeps on rearing its ugly head. Notre Dame is coming into Saturday’s contest with an overall series record of 5-2 and on the heels of a two-game win streak (2019 and 2020).
When Notre Dame faced off against Duke in 2019 and 2020, things weren’t looking so hot on Durham’s football fields. David Cutcliffe was the head coach and the team finished 5-7 and 2-9 in 2019 and 2020, respectively. In 2021, the program went to finish 3-9. Mike Elko took the program’s reigns in 2022 and we’ve seen things turn around significantly.
The Blue Devils finished the 2022 regular season 8-4 with losses coming at the hands of Kansas, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. The 27-35 loss to Kansas was the most decisive and the other three came with 2 to 3 point loss margins.
For 2023 the team is 4-0, with a marquee season opening 28-7 win over Clemson. That victory is one of the main reasons the team has so much buzz coming into the Notre Dame game (hence the College Gameday appearance) but they’ve been pretty decisive against all of their opponents. In sum, Duke has outscored its opponents 149 to 35 and won its games by an average of +28.5 points.
Total Offense Summary
Between Elko’s 2022 and 2023 seasons, Duke has averaged 422 yards of total offense per game. Their highs of offensive production have come in spurts. Their biggest showing in 2022 came against Temple, North Carolina and Wake Forest. In 2023, they’ve hit offensive highs against Lafayette and Northwestern. The Blue Devils put up 374 total offensive yards in their win over Clemson and a season low of 322 yards in Week 5 against UConn.
Duke’s offensive strategy has fluctuated notably over the last couple of seasons. Generally speaking, the run game has carried the load of offensive production. The air raid dominated their strategy in the 2022 Temple win and Kansas loss. Towards the end of the season (Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest), passing yards accounted for 61-82% of total offensive production.
In the 2023 season’s first 3 games, rushing yards accounted for between 51-55% of Duke’s offensive production. The UConn game was a big outlier in offensive strategy with the balance between passing and rushing yards being 248-74.
Duke’s passing efficiency and production has been a bit all over the place. Between the 2022 and 2023 seasons it has ranged from 49% up to 95%. That 49% completion percentage came in their 20-23 loss to Georgia Tech (2022) and they passed at a 95% completion rate against Lafayette (2023). During the 2023 Clemson win, the Blue Devils came out with a 50% pass completion rate, topped out in Week 2 but have been trending downwards since. This general trend also holds true for average yards per completion in 2023.
The Blue Devil’s 2022 rushing game was pretty systematic in terms of attempts. They averaged around 36 rush attempts per game with a general downtick in attempts on the season’s back section. They tallied up 30 attempts against Clemson and tied for a 2022-2023 season low of 27 attempts last week against UConn.
During the 2023 campaign, Duke has gotten decent efficiency and production out of its ground game. They’ve averaged between 5.8 and 6.7 yards per carry in the first 3 games. Rushing efficiency took a sharp decline in the UConn game. They only tallied up 2.7 yards per carry in that Week 4 matchup.
Turnovers haven’t been a big problem for Duke during the Mike Elko tenure. They’ve averaged around 1.2 per game and tallied up zero in their last two games. For 2023, fumbles have been the main turnover culprits and interceptions have accounted for zero of the season’s three turnovers to date.
I know there’s a lot of razzle and dazzle going around about this year’s Duke football team. And I don’t want to discount any of it because their 2022 and 2023 numbers justify it in a lot of ways.
A key point too is that both programs are somewhat kindred spirits in the college football football universe. Both Mike Elko and Marcus Freemen (to a much lesser extent) took over their teams in 2022 with rebuilding mandates and aspirations of doing something special. Both coaches have been successful so far and now we get to see them meet up for a College Gameday, nigh-time showdown in Durham. It’s the stuff that college football lore is made of and an angle we’ll undoubtedly heart more about going into and coming out of the game.
I give the edge to Notre Dame. The fandom and media’s Ohio State hangover narrative has been annoying deep into the week but what I saw from ND’s defenses in holding the Buckeyes (novice QB or not) gives me a lot of reason to believe that they will be able to slow down the Blue Devil’s offensive game plan. Whether they choose to focus on passing or rushing.
And the Irish’s offense has been tested enough by the NC State and Ohio State defenses to the point that I can’t help but imagine they’re wanting to come back out and remind everyone they are who we believed them to be season open. No knock to the Blue Devil’s defense, they’ve held opponents to pretty low scoring outings, but they haven’t met up against a team with Notre Dame’s offensive depth this season. It’ll be a competitive game but I’m optimistic that Notre Dame will brush off last week and utilize their strengths and depth on both sides of the ball to return to full game team we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing.
Cheers and Go Irish!!