2020 Game #1 Duke Blue Devils
HERE COME THE IRISH
Did I have some great stories and predictions for Navy, Western Michigan, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Stanford, and USC. Primed and ready to be circulated, the vote of the BIG 10 presidents to make football a Spring sport ruined all of that prepared discussion. I have deleted all of that work but will tease you with my prediction for the Navy game, even if played at Annapolis rather than in Ireland. “Yes, readers, ‘sure and begorrah’ the Irish will sink the Navy by a score of 55-3!” How coincidental? That was the Middies score in their game with BYU. So back to the computer key board to again overcome that writer’s block!
Knute Rockne coached his first game for Notre Dame at Van Horn Field in Cleveland, Ohio. The date was September 28. The year was 1918. The Irish (although some may assert the ND moniker then was the Rovers or the Ramblers) won, 26-6. The next game played was on November 2 against Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, a 67-7 win.
What happened to October? The Spanish Flu Pandemic returned with a vengeance. On October 11, Dr. Emil (Not Emil T!) G. Freyermuth, South Bend city heath officer, ordered all schools, theaters, clubs, churches, and other religious institutions to close.
Twenty million Americans were infected with the Spanish Flu, 675,000 died. 500 million were infected worldwide, nearly 1/3 of the entire human population of the planet and an estimated 50 million people died.
Football resumed on the Notre Dame campus on November 2 with a 7-7 tie with Great Lakes Navy. Rockne’s team finished with a 3-1-2 record. The 1918 Irish included George Gipp, Hunk Anderson, and Curly Lambeau. I was so looking forward to the Badgers at Curly’s namesake Lambeau Field this year, but not to be. And, here is the 1918 Notre Dame Football Team.
Looks like not much depth and a whole bunch of two-way players.
So now we have another pandemic. And, now we have another football season to be played during the pandemic. Let’s hope (and indeed pray) that the pandemic begins to abate, the dangers begin to lessen and a sense of some normalcy begins to return. And, most importantly, let’s hope (and indeed pray) that no one has “bet the ranch” on my 2020 predictions; even though my prediction of an undefeated 2020 season, a prediction I have not yet published, will materialize.
But, first things first. The Duke Blue Devils are foe #1. They will be Irish 2020 victim #1. The only other #1 Duke will be associated with will be the first digit of the two-digit place they will end the season in the 15 team Atlantic Coast Conference.
By contrast, 2020 is a #1 for the Irish as it is the first time they will compete for a football conference championship. As a member for 2020 in the ACC (the “Achieving College Championship” conference), Notre Dame can rely on winning a Conference Championship game as a springboard to the 4-team College Football Championship.
Despite the slanted, ill-considered comments of Desmond Howard (“I don’t need Notre Dame-Clemson three times.”) and Kirk Herbstreit (“Looks like Clemson and North Carolina at the top of the ACC.”), the Irish will have a 2021 game. This one in January not September, October, November or December! And shall I point out the Desmond’s Maize and Blue and Kirk’s Buckeyes will just be watching during 2020!!
Hell, even that all-knowing, great guy, boy scout-type, football coach guru, TV football analysist, play only by the rules, look the other way at some juvenile indiscretions (even some adult indiscretions), the type of guy you would want for a son-in-law, Urban (not urban-guerilla) Meyer is all in on the Irish.
Let’s focus on the Duke Blue Devils coached by David Cutcliffe and coming off a 5-7 2019 season. Want some stirring reports about the 2020 Blue Devils? I am glad you asked and here are two to consider. “Duke Co- Defensive Coordinator Ben Albert runs a system that allows young players to get on the field quickly and make an impact. While the team faces a lack of depth and experience, this youth could be a strength in the upcoming season alongside the core four returners.” Translation – While Duke has 7 returning starters on defense, only four are any good and Ben has seen enough of our seniors, juniors, sophomores and redshirt freshmen to know our true freshmen had better be really good.”
And how about Coach Cutcliffe’s comment that “some redshirt freshmen and true freshmen have caught my eye.” Translation – “These are football players?!?!?”
The 2020 Duke football team has 8 QBs. All are 6’2” or taller and in excess of 205 pounds. By contrast Ian Book is 1.893 meters tall (for you non-metric folks that is 6’0”). The likely starter is Chase Brice a graduate transfer from Clemson where he filled in admirably when Trevor Lawrence was injured in 2018 against Syracuse and he led the Tigers to a last-minute win. Brice did that once, not twice nor thrice so as a graduate transfer he has played about as much as those redshirt freshmen and true freshmen who caught Coach Cutcliffe’s eye.
Duke does have some players whose names you will likely hear. Two good defensive ends in Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje. Vic had 8.5 sacks last year although none came against the Irish. Their best offensive lineman is 5th year senior center Jack Wohlabaugh. Unfortunately, Jack will not be “front and center” against the Irish as his season ended with an August ACL tear.
Duke has a nice running back in Deon Jackson, a good Tight End in Noah Gray, a talented wide receiver in Jalon Calhoun and a wide receiver with a really wonderful name – Jake Bobo. If Jake lines up offside, I will be waiting to hear if Mike Tirico might say “That was a Bobo Boo-Boo.” And there is no truth to the report concerning Jake’s home town. He is not “Jake from State Farm”!
In the 13 seasons since Coach Cutcliffe took over, the Duke program has had success based on a common foundation of early season, winnable nonconference games. The decision of the “Achieving College Championship” conference wrecked that plan for 2020. In 2020 the Blue Devils have only one “Patsy” of a game, and that does not happen until their sixth game when they entertain “Miss” Charlotte.
But do not overlook the 2016 Duke 38-35 win over the Irish at ND Stadium after falling behind 14-0. That Duke win came as a 22-point underdog and the 2020 game point spread has Duke as a 19.5-point underdog. Oh, lest you forget, that Irish defense was coached that forgettable Saturday by Brian VanGorder, he of the “bend and then break” defense who found himself unemployed before completion of the tailgate debris clean-up on Sunday.
What to look for from the Irish? A solid running game behind the complete returning offensive line – Eichenberg-Banks-Patterson-Kraemer and Hainsey, a potential “Joe Moore Award” winning group. Carrying the mail will be Kyren Williams and true freshman #25 Chris Tyree. Historically #25 has been worn by some speedy Irish players. For example. It was worn last season by Braden Lenzy who chose new uniform number “0”. You will recall, I am confident, that when Braden turned the corner last season on the “Jet Sweep”, it was safe to say “He Gone!” Yet, might Tyree be the fastest player to wear #25 since The Rocket? Very well could be.
While one top receiver Kevin Austin is out for a few games with a broken foot and Braden Lenzy is not a starter probably because he was out for a while (perhaps a COVID-19 quarantiner), look for the top receivers to be Northwestern Grad Transfer Bennett Skowronek, Javon McKinley, Lawrence Keys III, Tommy Tremble and true Freshman Michael Mayer.
Among the keys to a Notre Dame victory will be slowing the Duke pass rush with an effective running game (check), discipline on defense to counter the Duke propensity for double-moves and trick plays (check), allow no big plays on special teams (check), do not let QB Chase Brice get comfortable (keep CHASING Chase) (check), and a truth for every game, limit, if not eliminate, turnovers (check).
When the game is over there will still be some truths. Blue “Devils” is an unusual sports nickname for a school founded in 1841 as Union Institute Academy by Methodists and offering free education for Methodist ministers. And Duke graduates will still include former President Richard Nixon, current Apple CEO, Timothy Cook and Les Brown who had his Band of Renown. And the Irish will assemble in front of the students (perhaps scattered throughout ND Stadium) and we will hear “. . . and our hearts forever, love thee Notre Dame”. This year sung A Capella unless there is recorded music from the Notre Dame Marching Band that ain’t gonna be marching this year.
Wait, that cannot be, this does not represent SOCIAL DISTANCING!!
So, when all is said and done, I predict:
IRISH – 41
Duke - 14