Y’all, it’s officially Thursday — and I think you know what that means.
You guessed it, it’s time to stop crying about last weekend’s devastating collapse and move forward, because the 11th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has yet another big game coming up on Saturday when they travel to Durham to take on the undefeated, 17th-ranked Duke Blue Devils under the lights at Wallace Wade Stadium.
For the second week in a row, Marcus Freeman’s squad will be playing in the host game for ESPN’s College Gameday, and hope to this time pick up a solid resume-building win against what’s shaping up to be one of the top teams in the ACC this season. It won’t be easy, though, as this could be the best team Duke’s fielded in a LONG time, and they’re led by a very good head coach in Mike Elko who knows Notre Dame pretty intimately, considering his time there in 2017 as defensive coordinator, turning around the mess made by Brian VanGorder.
So, what do we as ND fans need to know about Elko’s program and 2023 team heading into this pivotal matchup for the Irish’s season, seeing as a strong response to that tough finish vs. OSU will be necessary to deliver a successful second half of the season?
For that knowledge, I’ve once again turned to an old friend of these weekly Q&As, Donald Wine II of Duke Basketball Report. Donald and the DBR crew obviously provide top-notch coverage of one of the most successful basketball programs in NCAA hoops history, but they also serve as SB Nation’s go-to source for everything Blue Devils football, and they’re having a heckuva time covering this fantastic start to the season for Duke.
I asked Donald questions about that start, Mike Elko, starting QB Riley Leonard, the Blue Devils defense, and of course your fan-submitted questions on Twitter regarding why life is so painful, how Duke is prepping for Al Golden’s 10-man defense, and even a question about the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl between Duke and IU.
Donald, per usual, provided an excellent array of answers with tons of great insights, quips, and lots of valuable knowledge on the upcoming matchup. So, let’s go ahead and jump into all that, to ensure we all are more mentally prepared for yet another big night game on a national stage.
1. Duke is undefeated, ranked 17th in the country, about to host College Gameday, and already has a win over a powerhouse program under their belts with that 28-7 beatdown of Clemson in Week 1. Do any prior moments/seasons compare to how promising the future of Duke football looks right now? And how has Mike Elko managed to make this happen so quickly?
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): We haven’t had a season like this where we thoroughly looked this good early against a highly ranked opponent. 2013 was more of a gradual buildup to us beating ranked teams on our way to winning the Coastal division (RIP).
It’s incredibly awesome to be a team that has looked good and continues to improve each week. Coach Elko’s biggest win is having these players believe that every opponent is one they can beat and instilling the confidence that this team had been missing for much of the previous few years. That confidence has guys flying to the football on defense and the offense moving the football downfield.
2. Talk to us about Riley Leonard — what makes him so good, and where does he struggle or have any weaknesses that the Irish defense could exploit?
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): He’s been terrific with his accuracy and his decision making so far this season, both in the air and on the ground. What makes him great is that he’s a dual threat every time the ball is snapped, and it keeps defense on their toes.
He’s done a great job of managing the offense, getting first downs, and then capitalizing on scoring opportunities, and again, his confidence has him making some key throws and knowing that he can beat a team on the ground if he needs to as well.
He has some sneaky athleticism, but what Notre Dame would want to focus on is jamming the wideouts to where running is the only option.
3. Who are the key skill position names to know on the Blue Devils offense, and how has the Duke offensive line looked so far this season? Do you think they’ll struggle with the Irish front seven?
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): Other than Riley Leonard on the ground, Notre Dame’s going to have to contend with Jordan Waters and Jaquez Moore. Each of them have led the ground attack and gotten some big plays with the ball in their hands. When Riley Leonard airs it out, Jalon Calhoun and Jordan Moore are his primary targets.
The offensive line has been terrific so far this year. They have only allowed 2 sacks on the season, and both came against Northwestern. That’s in part due to Riley Leonard being able to get out of the pocket and run when necessary, but Duke’s O-Line has helped the rushing game rack up 200 yards per game.
This will be a huge test for them against the Irish, but if they continue to get big plays rushing, that will allow for more holes in the defense for Leonard to throw the ball, as we saw at times when Notre Dame played Ohio State.
4. Defensively, this looks like a classic Mike Elko group who can really put the clamps on people. Which position groups on that side of the ball are strengths and weaknesses, and which specific players are most likely to give the Irish offense problems on Saturday night?
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): They FLY to the football. Guys like Chandler Rivers and Jaylen Stinson are going to give Notre Dame fits, and you have guys like Aeneas Peebles, DeWayne Carter, and Al Blades Jr. to worry about as well.
What has really been the difference this year is the secondary really clamping down on opposing receivers. Only Northwestern has managed to get more than 7 points against Duke’s defense, so if Duke can maintain the ability to not give up the big play and get a turnover or two, Notre Dame’s going to have a tough time.
5. FAN QUESTION:
Why is life simply an unending carousal of pain?— Joe Hughes (@JoeHughes7012) September 25, 2023
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): I dunno, but notice that even the aliens keep coming around like “whoa, those humans are going through some things…we’ll come back later.”
If life’s gonna continually hand out lemons, the least it can do is also distribute some alcohol so we can make some hard lemonade.
Is Duke prepping to play against a 10-man defense?— Chris Gaines (@bertinbertin) September 24, 2023
How will Freeman and Golden perfect the 10 man defense against Duke?— Joe (@JoeIrish13) September 24, 2023
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): It’s a bold strategy if Marcus Freeman decides to employ the 10-man defense. There aren’t a lot of coaches willing to do that in college football, and it shows bravery. I don’t know if we’re quite ready to handle that, haha.
In all seriousness, I’m expecting there to be a renewed emphasis on ensuring there are 11 men on the field for every down from Notre Dame’s coaching staff this week, so I don’t think Elko has any plans to switch to Section 10 of the playbook to run any plays against the 10-man defense.
Better tell Al Golden to focus!
7. FAN QUESTION:
Can we get elko back at DC?— IrishHawk (@LeroyK25) September 24, 2023
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): Let me put this as clearly as I can: No.
If that wasn’t clear, let’s say it in Spanish: No.
Oh wait, my bad, y’all are the Irish, so let me give it you in Irish: Níl.
8. FAN QUESTION:
Is Duke campus ready for College GameDay given the basketball program has gotten such attention and highlights over the years or is this different?— NDFanatics (@FanaticsNd) September 24, 2023
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): Oh, it’s ready. The backdrop of the Duke Chapel behind the College Gameday set is going to be absolutely beautiful, and the campus and fanbase is ready for our moment.
To have the football version on our campus is something we’ve aimed for as a fanbase, and the excitement is at fever pitch. This feels and hits different because it’s a testament to the fact that our program has finally come back to some relevance.
9. FAN QUESTION:
If Coach K decided to unretire but come back as a football coach for Duke, how many games would he win in the next 5 years?— Pat C (@iamthetweeter) September 24, 2023
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): Look, Coach K is the greatest coach ever born and I’ll always believe that. He’ll probably rattle off a few wins, but where he would excel is getting a great staff. College football is about having a terrific staff to complement the head coach and players, and that’s where he would be the most effective.
I think he could maybe have us bowling once, but it’s just a different animal to coach 100 players than it is to coach 15.
10. FAN QUESTION:
Why won’t you admit that Indiana’s FG in the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl went in? Why do you insist on living a lie? pic.twitter.com/z9gNji5MJT— Ryan Kennedy (@RyanKWrites) September 24, 2023
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): First of all, why are we bringing up old stuff? That was years ago!
Second of all, I thought this was about Duke and Notre Dame? But, if you really gotta ask, run the tape. It’s pretty clear that the ball did not go inside the upright. I’m a huge soccer fan, and if the ball hits the crossbar or goalpost, it doesn’t even count as a shot on goal.
Even if the field goal hit the upright, it would still have to go through them to count. It didn’t, so the Hoosiers gotta just sit there and think about that for the rest of eternity, it seems.
11. Alright let’s get down to it: who wins this game, what’s the final score, and how do you think it happens?
Donald Wine II (Duke Basketball Report): It’s going to be a magical night at Wallace Wade. It’s one of the biggest games this stadium has ever seen, and it hosted the 1942 Rose Bowl. Notre Dame will keep it close, but I’m going to put this out there:
Duke 23, Notre Dame 17. Let’s go Devils!
Okey dokey artichokies, I want to give a massive shout-out to Donald for all his time and wisdom and humor he offered in answering our wide range of inquiries — we’re blessed here at OFD to get interviewees like him on a weekly basis to help us preview each game.
I recommend you all head over to Duke Basketball Report to check out what Donald and the team are doing over there, and also suggest you toss both Donald himself and the DBR Twitter some follows in order to gain visibility into any late-breaking Duke news, analysis, etc.
With that said, that’s gonna be it for this week, you guys. Per usual, GO IRISH, BEAT BLUE DEVILS, AND PLEASE COUNT THE NUMBER OF PLAYERS ON THE FIELD AT ALL TIMES!!!