The last three matches Duke played against Notre Dame have been decided by a total of three points. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, Duke came up short on each occasion.
This year, the Blue Devils aim to turn their fortune around.
No. 12 Duke will host the No. 4 Fighting Irish Sunday at 12 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium. This will be the Blue Devil’s third top-five matchup in their past four games and their seventh top-25 matchup of the season. After losing in heart-breaking fashion to then-No. 4 Syracuse by a 15-14 margin and keeping it close with then-No.1 Boston College in the first half of play, eventually losing 20-12, the Blue Devils hope to flip the script against Notre Dame and finally achieve their first top-10 win since 2016.
“The biggest thing for us is that we know we’re close,” said Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel. “We’ve been in a position to win games and now we just have to find a way to finish those games strong...that’s where our mentality is right now. We know we're close [and] we believe that we can do it.”
The Blue Devils (9-5, 2-3 in the ACC) certainly have reason to believe they can do it, as Duke has already surpassed its win total from the past two years. The Blue Devils are coming into the match with a lot of offensive momentum after posting their highest scoring output of the season at East Carolina, easily winning 22-9. And, as is often the case for the Blue Devils, much of that offense was generated off the draw.
Duke ranks No. 1 in draw controls in the country, but it'll be facing one of its toughest tests at the draw this season against Notre Dame (12-2, 4-2), who ranks No. 3 on the draw and No. 8 in scoring offense. When the Blue Devils went up against the No. 2-ranked draw control team in Boston College earlier in the season, they struggled at the X in the first half but began to regain their rhythm in the second half. To beat Notre Dame, they will have to stay in rhythm all afternoon.
“[Notre Dame] really relies heavily on one kid [on the draw],” said Kimel. “And it just so happens to be someone that our two draw-takers played with in high school on the same team. So I think they’ll have success trying to get in a rhythm against her versus having a team that is switching the draw up constantly [like Boston College]. A lot of people kinda throw everything at us on the draw because we have been so strong in that area this year.”
But, while the Blue Devils should go into Sunday confident, they would be amiss to underestimate the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has only lost two matches all season—the first to Syracuse who, like Duke, they lost to only by one, and the second to Boston College. Since their loss to the Eagles, the Blue Devils won two straight with their most recent win being one goal short of a clean sheet.
Notre Dame's offense is one of the top in the country, ranking at No. 8 in assists, No. 7 in points and No. 3 in scoring margin. It has three players on the season with around 50 points and an additional four hovering around 30 points. In a match against the Pirates that saw the Blue Devils make no saves the entire game, Duke will have to be sharper on defense against the Irish if they want to pull off the upset.
“They have a lot of kids who can make plays for them so for us it’s going to be about playing really strong team defense and knowing what their looks are,” said Kimel. “They're a very methodical offense—we know who they’re looking for. And we just need to do a great job of playing great team defense and be ready to limit the looks that they want.”
On the offensive side of things, Duke will have to take better care of the ball—the Blue Devils are ranked 49th in the country in turnovers per game, compared to Notre Dame who ranks 9th in turnovers per game and 10th in caused turnovers per game.
“We need to really work on wearing their defense down,” said Kimel. “I think their defense is excellent and their goalkeepers [are] excellent so for us it’s going to be about being really precise in our execution and doing a great job finishing our shots.” And, as long as the Blue Devils stay true to themselves, this shouldn’t be a problem as they rank 5th in the country in shot percentage.
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Up next on the docket for Duke are its Tobacco Road rivals Friday, April 19 at Koskinen—the last game before the start of ACC Championships.