The Duke football team got arguably the toughest break when the ACC announced their 2020 football schedule at the beginning of August. Traveling to South Bend to play 10th ranked Notre Dame – the league’s temporary boo – after a tumultuous and unpredictable offseason would be a true test for a Blue Devils squad looking to rebound from a tough 2019 season.
Ods makers had the Irish winning by 20.5 points, but Duke didn’t get that memo – remaining within 4-point striking distance through 3 quarters before Notre Dame scored 10 unanswered points to close the game. Moral victories don’t exist in the black and white, win/lose world of sports, but if they did Duke got a one Saturday.
Heading into the matchup, head coach David Cutcliffe talked about embracing the challenge of opening the season on the road against a top-ten opponent and his defense impressed from kickoff – holding a talented Irish offense to just seven total yards in the first quarter. It’s the type of performance defensive tackle Derrick Tanglo says will give the Blue Devils momentum moving forward.
“It definitely helps us going forward. With the first game, to see what you’ve got, see what you’re doing good and seeing what you need to work on, I feel like it was a good day for us. It showed us that if we show up and work hard, we can compete. I definitely feel like it gave us a little momentum.”
Chase Brice, who’d just got the starting nod less than a week prior, played a game that wasn’t perfect, but had a lot of positives.
“I thought Chase played really well under difficult circumstances. You’re playing a really good team with a lot of challenging front pressure coverage and he made some great throws,” Coach Cutcliffe said during a Monday press conference. “Right now he’s starting to feel ownership of the offense. That’s what you have to do as a starting quarterback. It has to become yours. You’ve got to be the owner. And I think he’s well on his way to becoming that. He played like a quarterback. He made big-time throws and made some great decisions.”
“On the road at Notre Dame is a tough first game,” Duke quarterback Chase Brice told media Tuesday. “We’re going to build so much off of what we saw on film. A lot of improvement comes from your first to you second game. That’s going to be the goal moving into this week”
There’s no question that the ultimate objective for any team when they take the field is to win – it doesn’t matter who they’re playing. But if you do lose, especially to an opponent considered to be one of the best in the nation, competing and showing fight the whole game is something you can live with. It’s something you can build on.
“Top to bottom we played well enough to win,” Cutcliffe said. “I think the second half we fatigued a little bit. As we get in better shape we’ll be better offensively. For the most part I was very pleased with our talent, our physicality and our ability to make plays.”
“I like the fact that we had fight,” defensive end Chris Rumph II said after the loss. “If you can fight for four quarters, no matter who you’re playing against, you’re going to be in the game.”
If Duke builds on their season-opening performance, they’re going to do more that be in the game, they’ll win quite a few.