On Sept. 24, Notre Dame faces the Duke Blue Devils for only the fifth time in school history. The Irish currently hold a 3-1 advantage in the series. The most recent meeting between the two teams was in 2007, in which Jimmy Clausen and Robert Hughes lead the way to a relatively easy 28-7 Irish victory. Duke will pose a far tougher challenge this year.
DUKE ON THE RISE
The scariest part of this Duke team is their improved play over the last several years. Duke is no longer the joke football program at a basketball school. The Blue Devils have put together three consecutive winning seasons in a tough ACC. The improvement doesn’t seem to be slowing down either, as the most recent recruiting class is considered by some to be the best in Duke’s history. Under head coach David Cutcliffe, Duke has risen up the ranks in the ACC thanks in part to a much improved offense (the Blue Devils averaged 31.5 points per game in 2015).
THE RETURN OF THE QB
Senior quarterback Thomas Sirk ruptured his Achilles tendon in February, casting uncertainty about his ability to participate in fall camp. But Sirk returned to camp this week, a welcome surprise for Duke fans who expected an offense led by the less experienced Parker Boehme. Sirk threw for 2,625 yards – good enough for third in the ACC – and found the end zone 24 times (16 pass, 8 run). He also led the Blue Devils in all rushing categories.
“That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of room for improvement,” writes Brian Evans of DukeReport.com. “There were times when the Duke offense became very stagnant and predictable and other times when Sirk really struggled to connect on down the field routes. Sirk needs to improve on his 58% completion percentage as well.”
Sirk, who was injured during the Blue Devils’ Coastal Division championship run in 2013, said he wants to lead the team back to ACC glory.
“It means everything to me, coming back for my senior year and being there with the guys I came in with and finishing what we started,” Sirk said. “We want to win an ACC championship. I think we have that caliber of talent on our team. … I feel like I still have unfinished business and I want to make my senior year the best I can for myself and my team.”