Duke is 4-0, and they are ranked 17th in this week’s AP poll. Last week they took out winless UConn 41-7. They pulled off one of the the biggest surprises of week one when they defeated Clemson 28-7. In that game Clemson actually held its own statistically but missed their red zone opportunities and committed untimely turnovers.
ND defensive coordinator for one season in 2018, Mike Elko took over this program in 2022 and the Blue Devils have shown significant improvement since. Duke had gone 2-9 in 2020 and 3-9 in 2021. Then last year Elko was able to turn things around to 9-4 and now in his second season has the Blue Devils in the top 20 and undefeated.
6-4 212-pound Junior quarterback Riley Leonard is a dual threat guy who last year emerged as one of the top QBs in the ACC accounting for 20 passing TDs and 13 more on the ground. He passed for 2,967 yards and led the Blue Devils in rushing yards with 699. Thus far in 2023 he is completing 67.7% of his passes good for 778 yards but has only thrown 2 TD passes against no interceptions. Through four games, he has rushed for another 248 yards and one score. Leonard has been sacked just twice this season.
Leonard’s primary receivers are a pair of upperclassmen in Jalon Calhoun and converted quarterback Jordan Moore. Each has 20 catches, neither is a particularly big receiver at 5-11 and 6-0.
Running the ball so far in 2023 is where the Blue Devils have really made their money. As a team they average 5.6 yards per carry, and 200.5 yards per game, the 27th best mark in the nation. Along with the running threat of their quarterback, 6-0, 220 lb Sr, Jordan Waters is the top rusher, with 39 carries for 258 yards and 7 TDs.
Mike Elko cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator, so it should not come as a big surprise that Duke has been tough to score on thus far in 2023. They are currently 4th nationally in allowing just 8.8 points per game and in pass efficiency defense. Duke has not allowed a point to be scored on them in the second half this season. Against Clemson their talented secondary limited Cade Klubnik to just 209 yards on 43 attempts.
Of note, Duke’s Punter, Porter Wilson, a monster at 6-5, 231, is tops in the nation with a net average of 48.8 yards.
Besides Elko other Notre Dame connections to this Duke team include defensive tackle Ja’Mion Franklin, and defensive coordinator Tyler Santucci. Santucci was a defensive analyst on the Irish staff in 2017.
Duke’s win over Clemson was their first against a ranked team since 2016. This is a program that has not seen a lot of big moments, but playing the Irish at home is an opportunity for a huge moment. Mike Elko is a rising star in the coaching profession and there should be little doubt that the Blue Devils will be mentally and physically prepared for the task of the Irish in their own stadium.
Overall Notre Dame once again boasts overall better talent in this game, but the Irish must guard against a hangover from the beyond emotional and physical Ohio State loss.
Notre Dame is a 5.5 point favorite and the over/under is 52.5
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: ND 27 Duke 20