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Third and goal: Hot start, maintaining control of the game essential for No. 17 Duke football

No. 17 Duke's offensive line and quarterback Riley Leonard will be key in the team's bout against No. 11 Notre Dame.
No. 17 Duke's offensive line and quarterback Riley Leonard will be key in the team's bout against No. 11 Notre Dame.

The 17th-ranked Blue Devils will look to stay undefeated against No. 11 Notre Dame at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday night. The Blue Zone outlines three keys to a Duke victory:

Containing Sam Hartman

The Blue Devils are no stranger to the former Demon Deacon, who, since transferring to Notre Dame, has passed for 1,236 yards and 14 touchdowns in just five games. Duke’s defense has four interceptions this year, while graduate student quarterback Sam Hartman has not thrown a single pick this season. If they are to contain the Heisman-hopeful signal caller, the Blue Devils must make Hartman uncomfortable in hopes of forcing a takeaway. Duke is tied for fourth in the country in both points allowed per game, with 8.75, and passing yards allowed, giving up only 143 yards through the air per game this season. Averaging 247.2 passing yards per game, there is no question that the battle between Sam Hartman and the Blue Devils’ secondary will be a key factor to a win.

Controlling the line of scrimmage

Along with a formidable passing game, the Fighting Irish come in with a strong ground game led by junior running back Audric Estime — who has been averaging 7.7 yards per carry this season and leads the nation with 591 rushing yards. Stopping the rush was Duke's biggest point of contention in its Week 1 win against Clemson. However, after dominating performances over Northwestern and UConn, allowing just 104 and 89 yards on the ground, respectively, the Blue Devils’ defensive line has shown a capacity for strength. Led by redshirt senior defensive tackle DeWayne Carter, the defensive front will look to disrupt Estime and the Notre Dame rush game and add to its eight total sacks this season.

On the other side of the ball, junior quarterback Riley Leonard will look to orchestrate Duke’s balanced offensive attack. Running the ball efficiently was key in the upset against the Tigers and is clearly a huge part of the Blue Devil offense. The running back duo of graduate student Jordan Waters and junior Jaquez Moore has combined for 442 total rush yards and nine touchdowns. This prolific rush attack has been made possible in part by the efforts of offensive linemen senior Graham Barton, one of the nation’s best blockers, and graduate student captain Jacob Monk. 

Duke’s ability to efficiently run the ball behind the O-line allows for the extension of long drives, both tiring out the defense and keeping Hartman off the field. Aside from lengthening drives, establishing the run opens the possibility to call play-action and incorporate the pass game. Coming off a 248-yard passing game against UConn, Leonard will use the Blue Devils’ strong run game to bait the Fighting Irish’s secondary and open up his receivers downfield.

Starting quick and remaining aggressive

Duke has scored 24 points in the first quarter this season while allowing only seven. On top of that, the Blue Devils have scored a combined 71 points in the first half while allowing just 21. Excluding the season opener against Clemson, both the offense and defense have started games quickly, resulting in early leads. Notre Dame is coming off a loss to Ohio State where its offense was uncharacteristically held to 0 first-half points. One of the keys to winning this game will be starting off strong and trying to emulate that, whilst putting points on the board as fast as possible.

Along with scoring early, Duke has been able to sustain leads throughout full games. Trailing by one point for only about 15 minutes against the Tigers, the Blue Devils have been excellent at keeping their guards up and not allowing teams to cut into large leads. Regardless of what the score may be at any point in the game, Duke must maintain a strong energy level from start to finish to pull off the upset win.


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