Following a lackluster record of 5-7 in 2019, the Blue Devils open the new season against the 10th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish are a new, temporary addition to the ACC and are now in contention to win the conference. While it is apparent that all of Duke’s position players will have to perform at a high level, look for these players to have make or break plays during the matchup this Saturday.
Duke: Cornerback Leonard Johnson
Leonard Johnson will play a key role in stopping the highly touted Notre Dame offense. The redshirt junior, who accounted for 48 tackles and two interceptions last year, is one of three returning cornerbacks for the Blue Devils. During the season opener in 2019, where Duke faced then ranked No. 2 Alabama, Johnson stepped up to make a season high eight tackles.
Johnson’s experience on the field will serve him well come Saturday. While the Fighting Irish may be talented, they are fairly young. Especially true for the first game of the season, inexperience turns into inconsistency and inconsistency may lead to upset. If the Blue Devils can catch the Irish off guard and stifle an otherwise powerful offense, the door will be left open for the Blue Devil offense to swing the game in their favor. Look for Leonard Johnson to lead this much needed defensive attack.
Notre Dame: Wide Receiver Braden Lenzy
Braden Lenzy will assume the role of slot receiver, where he will be a deep ball threat against the Blue Devils. A 5-foot-11 junior, Lenzy has had limited playing time in years past, being used primarily as a member of the special teams and the occasional offensive play. Most of his limited stats come from blow out games, such as against New Mexico and Boston College. However, with the Irish redesigning their offense with speed in mind, look for Lenzy to become a fundamental part of the Irish offense and a key matchup against the Duke secondary.
Come Saturday, the presence of Lenzy as a wide out could create some strain on the Blue Devil defense. They must respect the speed of the Irish’s lethal receivers, but this could leave the defense more susceptible to the Notre Dame run game. In order to stay in this game, head coach David Cutcliffe and others must find a way to create a strong defensive balance before it’s too late.