Notre Dame-Duke Notebook: Top Five Topics
No. 15 Notre Dame (6-2) will play at Duke (4-4) this Saturday for the first time since 1961. The game will be telecast on the ACC Network with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Here were some of the prime topics from head coach Brian Kelly’s press conference on Monday afternoon:
1. Book Report
After enduring a brutal week of noise following the Michigan defeat, the dramatic 87-yard touchdown drive in 18 plays, capped by senior quarterback Ian Book’s seven-yard run with 29 seconds left in the 21-20 victory, could be a seminal moment for Book and the team as far as regaining internal and unified joy again.
“He’s gone through the worst of it,” Kelly said. “This should be the best of it for him. This should be a great launching pad for him to go out and really be excited about playing and play with great confidence.”
Part of recruiting quarterbacks is not just assessing running and passing skills, but personality traits that include how fragile one’s psyche can be. The spotlight at Notre Dame can be overwhelming at times, especially after a loss, so dealing with that is a crucial intangible.
“If you lose your confidence here as a quarterback, you can't play quarterback at Notre Dame,” Kelly stated. “There is just so much noise. So in the recruiting process, it’s like ... making sure that you vet that out in the process in terms of what kind of personality does he have, what are his traits, his makeup. Can he handle the noise?
“Those are absolutely crucial. Watching a guy throw the ball around in seven-on-seven is one thing. Can they handle all that is encompassing with this position here at Notre Dame is much more important. In the recruiting process, we felt like he could handle all those things.”
Also noted is that while sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec had his confidence rattled last spring, he matured through the summer and in August camp to the point where he is “showing that he’s capable of leading this football team,” per Kelly.
2. Running Game Woes
The right side of Notre Dame’s offensive line now features fifth-year senior Trevor Ruhland at guard and junior Josh Lugg at tackle.
That is because two weeks ago a sprained MCL sidelined senior right guard Tommy Kraemer for a projected four to six weeks, while last weekend’s fractured ankle on the second series by junior right tackle Robert Hainsey will knock him out from contact work through the spring.
The good news is that the team’s top two running backs — senior Tony Jones Jr. and junior Jafar Armstrong — could both be relatively healthy for a full game for the first time since the opening series at Louisville Sept. 2.
However, the running game the past two games has been several flights below average. In the Michigan game, Irish running backs carried 18 times for 35 yards. Versus Virginia Tech it was 23 times for 58 yards.
The approach to improve the ground game remains the same, even without two starters up front.
“I don’t think you can ever go and say, ‘All right, these two guys are recruited on scholarship to Notre Dame — we can't run the football because of that,’” Kelly said. “We’ve got to go in there with the confidence that these guys can get the job done.”
3.Turning A Corner
The veteran cornerback trio of seniors Troy Pride Jr. and Donte Vaughn, plus fifth-year senior Shaun Crawford, had roles against Virginia Tech exactly as anticipated in the preseason by the coaching staff.
Pride played all 66 snaps on defense, while Vaughn had 63. Both used their prime assets — Pride his speed and Vaughn his 6-3 length — well, while Crawford was able to fill in with 34 snaps in a nickel-like capacity.
All excelled in the man-coverage-oriented defense while limiting the Hokies’ offense to 240 total yards and 13 points. It’s full speed ahead in particular with Vaughn. There was thought of redshirting him this season, so he could apply for a fifth season in 2020, but winning in the present is the priority and Kelly has been encouraged with Vaughn’s urgency.
“He knows he’s running out of time,” Kelly said. “He’s got the physical ability to do it, and I think it just seems in my experience of being a head coach that those guys start to think about I want to play and I’m not going to hold myself back because of wondering and worrying about what happened in the past.”
Good health has aided Vaughn after needing to undergo shoulder surgery in the winter. Also uplifting is how the cornerbacks have played the ball in the air that puts them in the right positions.
“Once you give yourself a chance — and we’ve done that in the way we're using our technique, playing our guys in a position where they can go up and play the football,” Kelly said. “Once you do that, I think our guys are good enough athletes they can go play the ball.”
4. By The Bye
Duke will be the second of four straight Notre Dame opponents in November that will have a bye the week before playing the Irish. Virginia Tech was the first last weekend, and fellow ACC member Boston College (Nov. 23) also will have one, as will Navy (Nov. 16).
As a partial member in football in the ACC, the Fighting Irish have been able to get some benefits, including a bye in mid-October, which is their preference. However, there is a give and take involved.
“Everything seems to be an add-on to the contract, right?” Kelly said. “Officials, replay officials, things of that nature. Then it's bye week … it’s the life of an independent. You get what you get. Get on the plane, we’ll play you.”
5. Injury Update
Other than the right side of the offensive line, one other injury of note is sophomore reserve linebacker Jack Lamb, a regular in the nickel package, will be out at least for the Duke game while tending to a hip injury.
Sophomore Shayne Simon and junior Jordan Genmark Heath are projected to take on that role if necessary. Lamb has taken 87 snaps on defense this year, while Simon has 67 and Genmark Heath 43. All also have been on special teams.