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Five observations and more from Duke football's first half against Notre Dame

Deon Jackson had a big first half against Notre Dame's defense.
Deon Jackson had a big first half against Notre Dame's defense.

Duke opened up its 108th season of football at Notre Dame, looking to win its eighth season opener in nine years. It's been a close, low-scoring affair so far, as the Blue Devils trail 10-6 heading into the locker room.

Five observations:

1. Fans in the stands

The Blue Devils will not play in front of anyone in Wallace Wade Stadium to begin the season. However, Notre Dame has taken a different approach, letting 15,000 fans in attendance for Saturday’s game in Notre Dame Stadium, with only students, faculty, staff and parents of players allowed entry. 

2. Aggressive out of the gates

On the seventh play of Duke’s opening drive, head coach David Cutcliffe rolled the dice and left the offense on the field for a fourth-and-2. While Chase Brice’s pass to tight end Jake Marwede fell incomplete, the decision indicated a willingness to put the pressure on the Fighting Irish early. If it were not for a superb play on the ball by Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, the gamble likely would have paid off with a conversion.

3. Getting Brice comfortable

Considering the fact that Brice was making his first career start in an unfamiliar road venue, it would have been wise for Cutcliffe to dial up some manageable throws early for the redshirt junior signal caller. The first two drives featured a steady dose of roll outs, screens and slants, giving Duke’s new starter the opportunity to build confidence. 

Noah Gray and Jalon Calhoun were given chances to operate in open space, but it was Eli Pancol who turned a short reception into a substantial gain in the first quarter. On a third-and-five on their own 37, the Blue Devils turned to Pancol to pick up the first, but a couple broken tackles resulted in the sophomore receiver taking it all the way down to the Notre Dame eight-yard line. 

4. Duke defensive line holding its own

One of the major headlines going into today’s contest was how Duke would fare against the Fighting Irish offensive line. So far, the Blue Devils have held the Notre Dame rushing attack in check and have brought the heat on quarterback Ian Book. Derrick Tangelo and Drew Jordan have performed admirably at the point of attack with three and two tackles, respectively. 

5. Notre Dame’s misdirection posing issues

Tommy Rees is entering his first full season as the Notre Dame offensive coordinator, and his first-half performance showed a creative tendency for the former Fighting Irish quarterback. A heavy diet of motion appeared to give the Blue Devils some trouble at the second level, and Ian Book was eventually able to find a rhythm after a difficult start to the ballgame. 

By the numbers:

  • 47.8 yards/punt for Porter Wilson: In his first action as a Blue Devil, redshirt freshman punter Porter Wilson was called on three times when Duke could not keep drives going, showing impressive leg strength.
  • 4.3 yards/carry for Deon Jackson: Senior halfback Deon Jackson was a key component of Duke’s offensive game plan throughout the first 30 minutes. The Atlanta native carried the ball 11 times for 47 total yards, with a long of 12 yards. 
  • 10.9 yards/attempt for Ian Book: A 75-yard screen near the end of the half is inflating this value. Despite some success in the second quarter, the Fighting Irish passing attack was unable to connect on any deep shots. Book was forced to check it down numerous times in the first half. 

A moment that mattered:

Through 15 offensive snaps, the Fighting Irish could not seem to get anything going. However, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly had a trick up his sleeve with approximately 12 minutes remaining in the half in the form of a fake punt from his own 21-yard line. Punter Jay Bramblett took the snap and raced toward the first-down marker immediately, catching the Blue Devils off guard.

The fake seemed to flip the momentum completely for the Notre Dame offense, as six plays later, Kyren Williams found the end zone to put the Fighting Irish ahead for the first time. 

Evidently, Kelly felt that a spark was needed for his team, and the risk clearly proved worthwhile. Duke will need to stay attentive for any special teams trickery during the rest of Saturday’s matchup.

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