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David Cutcliffe On Duke’s Trip To Notre Dame

Looks like at least one game is going to be played. We’ll see after that.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 Notre Dame at Duke
DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 09: Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Chase Claypool (83) goes up for the pass as Duke Blue Devils cornerback Leonard Johnson (33) defends during the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Duke Blue Devils on November 09, 2019 at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, NC.
Photo by Michael Berg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Duke opened its 2019 football season with a game against blue-blood Alabama. The Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta technically was a neutral-site game but the Roll-Tide atmosphere in Mercedes-Benz Stadium made it fell very much like a road game for Duke.

Duke opens its 2020 season on the road against blue-blood Notre Dame.

The same-ol’ same-ol’, right?

Hardly. Duke was originally scheduled to open last weekend at home against Middle Tennessee State. Duke was scheduled to play at Notre Dame on November 9.

COVID-19 changed all that. Not only is Duke opening with Notre Dame, they will be Notre Dame’s first ACC conference-game opponent, a 2020 change that may or may not have staying power.

And about those fans. Notre Dame is limiting attendance to 20 percent of stadium capacity, which amount to about 15 thousand people, with students, faculty and staff taking priority.

Many people thought this game would never happen and I was one of them. I’m still a skeptic when it comes to finishing the season. But unless something really, really unexpected happens between now and Saturday Duke will make its fifth trip to fabled Notre Dame Stadium this weekend.

One thing hasn’t changed. Notre Dame is loaded. The Irish are ranked 10th in the AP poll, a poll which includes three teams that aren’t playing this fall.

Duke hosted Notre Dame last season. It was Duke’s first game after that horrible loss at UNC and Duke played like it had a hangover.

Or maybe the talent differential was that great.

Duke dug itself an early hole, trailing 14-0 after 11 minutes, 21-0 early in the second period. The final was 38-7 and the final score was indicative of how the game went. Notre Dame had a 469-to-197 total yards chasm and a 21-to-10 advantage in first downs.

What does Duke have to do to be competitive this time around?

“We’ve got to be aggressive on both sides of the ball,” David Cutcliffe told the media today. “ We can’t be afraid, we can’t play on our heels. I thought we got on our heels a little bit on both sides of the ball last year. They are talented, they are outstanding and well-coached. I think you have to match that with an aggressiveness, with a nature that you’re going to compete at the highest level. . . .and we have to play extremely well in the kicking game. We’ve got try to blend some phases. That’s when we’re at our best. We got a stop on defense we have to take advantage of that with our return game and take advantage of it offensively. That’s how you get started in games and make yourself competitive.”

Notre Dame has a new offensive co-ordinator, 27-year-old Tommy Rees, a former Irish quarterback.

Cutcliffe says that doesn’t complicate game preparation, not much anyway.

“Brian Kelly’s offenses always have elements that they’re going to execute well. They’re going to be physical. I don’t think you’ll see Ian Book doing anything different than what he’s done in the past, not with that offensive line and their experience they’re going to stay on the same path. Everybody puts in new wrinkles here and there but the bottom line is to prepare the best you can on what you expect.”

Ian Book? He’s a incumbent at quarterback, a senior who passed for 34 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards last season.

Book threw four of those touchdown passes against Duke last season. But he completed a pedestrian 18-of-32 (56.2 percent) for 182 yards and threw two of his six interceptions against Duke. Shaka Heyward and Michael Carter had the picks.

But he also picked up a game-high 138 yards on 12 carries, many of them when Duke pressured him out of the pocket and he broke containment and took off down field.

That can’t happen again.

“A year ago they dominated and his running ability was on display,” Cutcliffe acknowledged. “But he can throw it and he can throw it well and there’s not a weakness on their team. I would expect them to blend both pass and run. I know what his capabilities are.”

Cutcliffe added some depth-chart updates. Chase Brice won the staring quarterback spot more than Chris Katrenick or Gunnar Holmberg lost it. Brice is playing at a high level and making plays downfield.

If you’re wondering about a Brandon-Connette-run-specialist-off-the-bench role, Cutcliffe said that limited practice time has precluded putting anything like that into the system.

Cutcliffe said that starting center Will Taylor is playing the best ball of his Duke career. True freshman Addison Penn was running behind Taylor but he’s banged up which prompted Duke to move true freshman Graham Barton from tackle to center. Barton is second-team center.

Charlie Ham is hale and hearty and is the place-kicker. Porter Wilson and Jackson Hubbard have both had solid camps punting and Duke will decide their punter in the next few days.

Let me finish with a house-cleaning note. From time immemorial Duke has had a Tuesday media availability for coaches and players. This year Duke has spread things out. David Cutcliffe’s ZOOM media conference has been moved to Monday, with the players staying on Tuesdays. Also by ZOOM. Additional opportunities might arise later in the week.

So, we’re moving with the times. Expect two Duke Football notes, one on Monday, one on Tuesdays, virtual game-day coverage on Saturdays.