SOUTH BEND, Ind. — ACC logos on the field, a young running back getting a chance to impress and only 10,097 fans in the stands; gold on their helmets, an inconsistent offensive showing and two years added onto Brian Kelly’s contract. The more things change at Notre Dame, the more they stay the same.
The Irish defense stood firm enough in scoring situations to provide the backbone of a 27-13 Notre Dame victory against Duke, with sophomore Kyren Williams scoring the first two Irish touchdowns. He finished the day with 112 rushing yards on 19 carries, a 7.6 yards per rush average, as well as two catches for 93 yards.
Williams with room to run! ☘️
— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) September 12, 2020
As the game moved along, the sputtering offense found a slight bit more rhythm, though that was a low bar to clear after the first quarter included all of seven yards. All the same, Notre Dame (1-0, 1-0 ACC) used the break between quarters to announce a two-year contract extension for head coach Brian Kelly, a deal originally reached in December but not announced until the Irish could return to the football field.
“When the University transitioned to remote learning in March, we decided to wait to make this announcement until we were able to return our attention to football being back in action,” Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said.
Saturday’s rust should hardly color the reaction to that extension. The delay in its announcement comes from the same source as fifth-year quarterback Ian Book’s rust did. Attention was not on football — assuredly Book’s was, but far from the usual structures of spring practices, offseason conditioning and preseason practices sans distraction.
“A lot of rust on us in the first half, but again, that’s what we expected,” Kelly told NBC immediately after the game. “We hadn’t played a lot of football. … They played much better in the second half. A lot to build off of.”
An inconsistent offensive showing made sense, just as it made sense an athletic specimen made two decisive defensive stops to keep the Irish afloat in the first half. Twice the Blue Devils got within feet of the goal line, once looking for the afternoon’s first score and once looking to retake the lead. Twice sophomore defensive end Isaiah Foskey got into the Duke backfield to curtail the drive, forcing a field goal on each occasion.
Foskey’s play gave Book and the offense time to find footing beyond Williams. Once they did, two fourth-quarter scores followed, furthering the thinking that their initial struggles stemmed from the nine-month layover between even mildly competitive snaps.
That layover finally ended. That fact alone brings some renewed stability to Notre Dame, just as Kelly’s contract extension will for the program as a whole.
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) September 12, 2020
7:01 — Duke field goal. Charlie Ham 29 yards. Duke 3, Notre Dame 0. (10 plays, 79 yards, 3:53)
10:39 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kyren Williams 1-yard rush. Jonathan Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Duke 3. (12 plays, 96 yards, 4:37)
3:20 — Duke field goal. Ham 30 yards. Notre Dame 7, Duke 6. (11 plays, 80 yards, 4:12)
0:00 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 48 yards. Notre Dame 10, Duke 6. (9 plays, 54 yards, 1:13)
7:57 — Notre Dame touchdown. Williams 26-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Duke 6. (7 plays, 59 yards, 3:32)
2:19 — Duke touchdown. Chase Brice 2-yard rush. Ham PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Duke 13. (6 plays, 39 yards, 2:24)
10:58 — Notre Dame touchdown. Avery Davis 17-yard pass from Ian Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 24, Duke 13. (15 plays, 83 yards, 6:14)
5:21 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 34 yards. Notre Dame 27, Duke 13. (6 plays, 40 yards, 3:45)