After watching the offense struggle in back-to-back games against Michigan and Virginia Tech, Notre Dame fans believed the team could break out of their offensive struggle in the matchup against Duke. Notre Dame had defeated the Hokies in the final seconds, and the Fighting Irish faithful hoped that same game-winning drive would carry over and ignite the offense. In a 38-7 rout of the Blue Devils, junior quarterback Ian Book proved those fans right.
Although the game was played in Wallace Wade Stadium on the campus of Duke University, it had the energy of a Notre Dame home game. Irish fans are known to travel well, and they certainly did not disappoint for Notre Dame’s fourth road game of the season. The stadium rang loud with cheers for the visiting team all game long.
All season head coach Brian Kelly emphasized the team’s mentality to start fast and finish strong, and against Duke, the Fighting Irish elected to receive the ball in hopes of scoring a quick touchdown. The offense, however, immediately stalled and was forced to punt after gaining just seven yards.
The defense bailed the offense out on Duke’s first possession, allowing just one first down before the Irish offense got the ball back with a chance to strike first. On the ensuing Irish drive, Book showed some of the promise he displayed during his junior season by completing four passes for 75 yards and a touchdown to senior captain Chris Finke. The Irish took a 7-0 lead — a lead that they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
After forcing another Duke punt, Book capped a five-play, 65-yard drive with a touchdown to senior wide receiver Chase Claypool. After the run game had struggled for two weeks in a row, sophomore running back Jahmir Smith rattled off a 40-yard run to set up the Irish touchdown.
From there, the Irish dominated both sides of the ball and the score going into the half was Notre Dame 21, Duke 7 after sophomore running back C’Bo Flemister added another touchdown with eight minutes to go. The Blue Devils had a chance to cut the lead to just 11 at the half, but kicker AJ Reed missed a 44-yard field goal as time expired. The Notre Dame offense outgained Duke by 150 yards in the first half, and it appeared that they had returned to early-season form.
The Blue Devils received the ball to start the second half, but senior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. recorded his first interception of the season to end a promising Duke drive. Book then completed five of six passes as the offense drove 70 yards down the field for another Fighting Irish touchdown. The drive was capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to Finke for his second receiving touchdown of the night.
The Notre Dame defense continued to live up to their preseason expectations, forcing another turnover, three punts, and two turnovers on downs and not allowing a single point in the second half. In fact, Duke only mustered 74 yards in the final two quarters for a total of 193 yards. This marked Duke’s lowest offensive output of the entire season and illustrated the dominance of the Notre Dame defense.
With just seven minutes to go in the game, Book added his fourth touchdown of the day to sophomore tight end George Takacs to bring the score to 38-7, the final score.
After an explosive performance from the offense and another steady outing by the defense, the Fighting Irish would return home to take on rival Navy in the first ranked matchup between the two this decade.