Just like that, we’re back! Notre Dame football is here and I couldn’t be more excited. Yes, I am bummed that I will most likely not be at any games this season, but to have the Irish taking the field again is a small feat in itself. This Saturday marks the 2020 season opener against the Blue Devils of Duke. At the time of writing this article, the Irish are 19.5 point favorites (this number has been dropping as game time approaches) and are coming in as the 10th ranked team in the nation. With extremely limited access throughout this offseason, our first glimpse at the Irish team will not only answer a lot of questions, but will give us an idea of how the rest of the season may unfold. Let’s take a deeper look into what to look for this weekend.
As this will be both Duke and Notre Dame’s first game this season, there isn’t a significant amount of knowledge or insights coming from either camp. Duke has recently announced that Clemson transfer, Chase Bryce, will be their starting quarterback in Saturday’s matchup. Bryce has a lot of snaps under his belt and was able to rack up some playing time during his stint with the Tigers when Trevor Lawrence was injured. As Brian Kelly is entering his 30th season of head coaching, and his 11th year with the Irish, he addressed the “virtual” media earlier this week and spoke highly of the Blue Devil’s offense. “You’ve got to be prepared for virtually everything,” Kelly said about Duke. With a very truncated pre-season, Kelly addressed his eye for Duke’s senior tight end, Noah Gray, to be a popular target in the Blue Devil’s offensive scheme. Joining quarterback Chase Bryce in the Devil’s backfield will be senior running back Deon Jackson. Jackson rushed for an average of 53.4 yards per game last year and accounted for six Duke touchdowns in 2019. I would assume that with very limited practices leading up to this first game, both offenses will rely on the running game slightly more than usual.
On Notre Dame’s side of the ball, their preparation has revolved around their off-field discipline. Currently (knock on wood!) the Irish do not have any players in quarantine and have been going through Covid testing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays leading up to this first game. Personally, I have been extremely proud of the Irish player’s discipline and focus on doing everything in their power to make this season happen. As we have seen Covid outbreaks run rampant through other football programs, it will be imperative for the Irish (and all teams competing) to remain as healthy as possible if they want to make a deep run in this rather unusual year.
Saturday will mark the official debut of Tommy Rees as Notre Dame’s new offensive coordinator. As mentioned above, I do believe that both teams will rely on their running games which I am excited to see. Ian Book, in his fifth year, will be leading the Irish offense, but the backfield will have some fresh faces for us to look out for. Sophomore running back Kyren Williams was recently named the week one starter followed by five-star freshman back Chris Tyree as the number two. Realistically, the Irish could feature up to five different backs throughout the game and Kelly addressed that depending on the situation, he will go to any one of them. I am also very excited to see Bennett Skowronek, a Northwestern graduate transfer, make his Irish debut at wide receiver. Skowronek, a former Northwestern captain, averaged nearly 12 yards per catch last season prior to suffering an ankle injury that sidelined him for a good portion of the year. He seems to have built up a great relationship with Ian Book throughout this offseason which I hope will translate to great on field production. Notre Dame has the luxury of returning all five offensive line starters this year and I believe that that is where the Irish success will stem from. If the line is able to provide the push and protection that they are capable of, I expect to see a lot of W’s piling up on Notre Dame’s 2020 schedule.
The Irish defensive line is just about as stout as the returning offensive line with a great majority of the starters returning from last season. Defensive end Darlin Hayes is returning from injury and I think the Irish D line has the potential to wreak some serious havoc this season. With Kyle Hamilton returning for his second season and getting the nod for the free safety start, Kelly addressed his play for the Irish defensive superstar earlier this week: “he’s no longer just a center fielder…he’s going to be doing things that we asked Alohi [Gilman] to do last year.” Kelly also addressed Notre Dame’s depth at the linebacker position, specifically addressing last year’s special teams standout, Bo Bauer. Speaking of Bauer, Kelly said “[he] has had his best camp, bar none.” Bauer, with his flowing locks and over the top enthusiasm, was on display in a limited capacity last season, but Irish fans can expect to see him get more playing time at the mike linebacker position this year. Finally, on the defensive side, Notre Dame faithful should keep an eye out for freshman cornerback Clarence Lewis. Lewis, a six foot, 180 pound corner out of Edison, New Jersey grabbed the attention of the Irish coaching staff during their limited off-season practices and looks to make a splash as this 2020 season progresses.
I am quite jealous of any and all those who will get to watch the Irish in person this year, but am thankful and excited to have the season to watch on TV. This opening game should provide a lot of answers to questions that have come up due to the extremely limited access throughout the offseason. With the returning experience on both sides of the ball, I’m predicting a 38-17 Notre Dame victory. As I will continue to express, let’s hope for a safe and healthy season so that football doesn’t get taken away from us…it’s almost here people! Go Irish, beat Blue Devils!