Following a disappointing performance against Clemson, marred by a first-half red card that led to a blowout, the Blue Devils have to regroup to face their third straight ranked opponent. 

With just three games left in the regular season, every game has significance for Duke, not just for ACC tournament purposes, but also for further bolstering its potential seed in the NCAA tournament.

The 15th-ranked Blue Devils will hit the road as they take on No. 12 Notre Dame at Alumni Stadium in South Bend, Ind., at 7 p.m. Friday. It will be an emotional home atmosphere for the Fighting Irish, who will be looking to snap their two-game losing streak on their Senior Night.

“[We’ve prepared] very well,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “Very excited about the opportunity to go to South Bend and play Notre Dame, always a top-class program. They’re doing well again this season, so it should be a good matchup for us.”

The Blue Devils (10-3-1, 3-3-0 in the ACC) came out flat in their last match, allowing the Tigers to score two goals in the first 25 minutes. They recovered to get a goal back, but just before halftime, freshman defender Matthias Frick was sent off with a straight red card, helping Clemson add two more goals with the man advantage. 

With Frick suspended for the final three games of the regular season, defensive cohesion will be crucial for Duke. Before the matchup against the Tigers, the Blue Devils had not allowed more than one goal for six straight games. But Frick's absence will be felt, as Kerr will have to change his back line from the one that has been successful all year to try and stymie the potent Fighting Irish offense.

“[Notre Dame striker Jon] Gallagher is a dangerous boy and his strike partner Jeffrey Farina is very good as well,” Kerr said. “They’re the heart and soul of their team. They’re both older, experienced. Gallagher was the ACC Offensive Player of the Year last year and he’s already scored 10 goals this year, so he’s a definite threat. We’re very aware of him.”

The bigger question for Duke may be how to get its midfield and offense back on track. In their last two matches, both against ranked opponents, the Blue Devils have often been on the back foot, struggling to establish possession and to prevent the midfield from being overrun. 

Even in its upset win at Georgetown, Duke was outshot and out-possessed, needing heroic performances from goalkeeper Will Pulisic and the back line to come away with the victory. 

Kerr is well aware of this, though, and is working to fix his team’s finishing and attacking play entering the final three games of the regular season.

“It’s always been the case so far with us is our finishing,” Kerr said. “Our last pass, our finishing touch, we’re still working on it and we’re going to keep plugging away until we hit all our opportunities, because we’re creating a lot of opportunities. We just need to finish them.” 

Notre Dame (9-4-1, 3-2-1) has been going through a bit of a rough stretch recently, though. After climbing to the No. 7 ranking, the Fighting Irish have dropped their last two games against Pittsburgh and Akron. They also sit just ahead of the Blue Devils in the ACC Coastal Division, standing in second place. Duke will have the chance to put the pressure on division leader North Carolina with a win. 

With the regular season close to wrapping up, the Blue Devils are trying to peak at the right time before postseason play. A win on the road at Notre Dame would be a big step toward accomplishing that goal. 

“We’re getting there,” Kerr said. “There’s still a lot of room for improvement. I feel that we haven’t hit our full stride yet. I feel that we’re making some progress and I like the direction that we’re headed as we head toward the postseason.”

Hank Tucker contributed reporting.