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Film room: Notre Dame will provide Duke football with its biggest test of the season thus far

Junior quarterback Riley Leonard already has 778 passing yards on the year.
Junior quarterback Riley Leonard already has 778 passing yards on the year.

After a big victory against UConn, Duke football returns home Saturday to take on Notre Dame in its biggest challenge of the 2023 season so far. The Blue Zone is here to break down the Fighting Irish before the primetime kickoff:

Just when things could not seem to get better for the Duke football team, ESPN College GameDay announced on social media that they would be traveling to Durham Saturday as the 17th-ranked Blue Devils take on No. 11 Notre Dame in what looks to be a game for the ages. Coming off a dominant 41-7 victory against UConn, Duke aims to extend its win streak against a Fighting Irish team that just suffered a heart-breaking loss against then-No. 6 Ohio State in the final seconds of the matchup. Although head coach Mike Elko’s team has home court advantage in front of a sold out crowd, Notre Dame will be determined to bounce back from a disappointing loss in South Bend, Ind., and regain their status as one of the supreme threats in college football. 

The Irish will pose a new kind of challenge for the Blue Devils when they come to Wallace Wade Stadium. For one, Notre Dame has more talent and experience than Duke’s previous opponents, which starts with the man under center. Fighting Irish quarterback Sam Hartman is poised to bounce back after struggling offensively against an aggressive Buckeye defense Saturday. Starting his career at Wake Forest, the graduate student has only improved with time. Coming off an excellent year in 2022, where he accumulated 3,701 passing yards, 129 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns, the veteran quarterback provides a dual threat with both his arm and his feet. Watch as he dives to reach the end zone against Tennessee State Sept. 2.

While Hartman gives Notre Dame a consistent quarterback it can rely on every contest, the Irish’s running game cannot be ignored. Running back Audric Estime has been nothing short of incredible for the Notre Dame offense this season. Already with 591 rushing yards on 77 attempts, the junior will give the Blue Devil defense a hard time if they do not close the line gaps. Characterized by his shiftiness and speed, watch as Estime tears the Navy defense apart to give the Irish their first win of the season Aug. 26.

Just as important for the Notre Dame offense is star left tackle Joe Alt. Poised to be a draft pick this season, the 2022 All-American has been crucial for the running game this year. Listed at 6-foot-8, the junior is a player very few can guard and is excellent at creating space for running backs. The North Oaks, Minn., native will provide the coverage Estime needs to get substantial yardage Saturday if the Duke defense is not ready to cover him, like he did against Central Michigan.

Defensively, the Irish are coming off a somewhat disappointing performance against Ohio State, but they still have plenty of talent to be successful in Durham. Both defensive tackles – Howard Cross III and Rylie Mills –will be key factors during the game as they come off a 2022 campaign where they had 33 and 24 tackles, respectively. Most notably, however, will be star cornerback Benjamin Morrison, who is looking to have a big impact against the Blue Devils. The Phoenix native’s versatility and quickness make him one of the more elite players in his class for his position. The 2022 Freshman All-American will be tracking Duke quarterback Riley Leonard’s passes and will certainly give the Blue Devil receivers a hard time. Watch as he stops the Chippewas’ drive to push them to fourth down Sept. 16.

This Saturday’s primetime game will headline two teams that are eager to prove that they can compete on an elite level. While Duke has the home advantage and carries momentum, Notre Dame is looking to stay on track and prove that it can still contend for a national title. If the Irish can stop Leonard’s versatility as a dual quarterback and be effective in important moments, the Blue Devils are up for one of their most challenging contests of 2023.


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