YOUTH IS SERVEDposted by Mike Coffey
“The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.”
Well maybe things aren’t that good yet, but for one Saturday, the Notre Dame Nation was able to enjoy a win. Freshmen Jimmy Clausen & Robert Hughes led the youth movement as the Irish picked up their second win of the season and sent the seniors out with a 28-7 victory over Duke in their final home game in Notre Dame Stadium.
Clausen threw for 192 yards and three touchdowns (for the second consecutive week) and Hughes added 110 yards on 17 carries & a touchdown as the Irish took a 28-0 lead late into the 4th quarter until a late score by the Blue Devils ruined the shutout.
The biggest and happiest story on this day, however, might have been Trevor Laws putting the final stamp on his career at Notre Dame. The Laws-led defense held the Duke offense in check all day and never let them string together any substantial drives. Laws finished the game with 7 tackles and a sack as he capped off what will certainly go down as one of the most outstanding careers for a defensive lineman in Notre Dame history.
The game got off to a sluggish start for both teams as they traded missed field goals and two punts apiece in a first quarter that looked more like a pillow fight than a football game. Notre Dame had a chance to take an early 7-0 lead after a Clausen to John Carlson completion for 41 yards gave the Irish the ball at the Duke five yard line. It was quickly negated as an unnecessary Excessive Celebration penalty was called on Carlson and set the Irish back to the 20 yard line. They failed to move the ball after that and missed a 31 yard field goal to spoil one of their better opening drives this season.
The second quarter was more of the same for both teams as numerous penalties on Notre Dame, including a fooling Illegal Motion penalty on a 4th & 2, stalled an Irish drives. Late in the quarter, Notre Dame took advantage of a Blue Devil turnover to get on the board. After Hughes converted a 4th & 1 with a twenty four yard gain, Clausen hit David Grimes with pinpoint pass between two defenders for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The Irish quickly added to their lead after another Blue Devil turnover. Clausen threw a soft toss to Duval Kumara in the corner of the end zone and the Irish had all the points they would need.
The second half saw the Blue Devils continue to struggle on offense while the Irish ground game began to assert itself. Hughes, Armando Allen & James Aldridge shouldered a mid third quarter drive that saw the Irish gain 68 yards on 11 rushes capped off by a 13-yard Hughes touchdown run.
With the game decided at the start of the fourth quarter, Notre Dame continued to control the line of scrimmage and Robert Hughes added a 32 yard scamper that set up the 3rd Clausen touchdown pass of the game. Clausen hit John Carlson on a 10 yard pass that sent Carlson out with a score in his last home game. Then it was time for a little fun as Coach Weis inserted Tommy Zbikowski at quarterback and he ran a few plays from the Spread offense. A late fumble by Travis Thomas allowed Duke one last chance on offense and they took advantage against a scout team Irish defense. Backup quarterback Zach Asack took it in from six yards out to give the Blue Devils their only points of the afternoon.
Let’s review BillShakespeare’s keys to the game:
Will Weis effectively balance the passing and running attacks? Weis’s commitment to the ground game was something that surely made many Irish fans happy. The ground attack kept Duke on their heels and allowed Clausen extra time to find receivers.
Can the Irish avoid putting Clausen in must-throw situations on third down? The success of the running game combined with some new found mobility from Clausen allowed Notre Dame to find success going 9-18 on 3rd down.
Will Re'quan Boyette wear down the Irish defensive line? Boyette and teammate Justin Boyle never got on track and were never a factor after the Blue Devils fell behind 14-0 at the half.
Can the Irish hold Eron Riley under 100 yards and out of the end zone? The vertical part of the Duke offense was held in check. Riley was limited to 3 catches for 50 yards and was denied a touchdown on a good defensive play by Darren Walls.
Which team will make a big special teams play? Neither teams’ Special Teams were a factor in the game. The missed field goals looked like they may be important early, but the Duke turnovers made them irrelevant.
Overall, it was a good effort and a sorely needed win for a program that hasn’t had many positive things happen for it this season. The penalties and dropped passes were certainly negatives in a game that should have been decided much earlier. Notre Dame handled a team they were expected to so that’s a positive to build on but they must continue to develop for the future.
The Irish travel to Palo Alto next Saturday night to take on a Stanford Cardinal team that upset Southern Cal earlier in the season. While both teams have struggled this season, they will be playing in what amounts to a bowl game. The Irish need a quick start next week to avoid falling behind against a team that won’t lie down like the opponent they played today.