No. 10 Notre Dame beat Duke 27-13 in the teams' season opener on Saturday in a game that was not the prettiest of victories for the Fighting Irish but was nevertheless the team's first official conference game as a (temporary) member of the ACC. The game played a lot like one would expect, given the windy conditions and rain, as well as the fact neither team had a typical offseason to properly prepare for big-time college football.
Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams was the bright spot for the Irish. The team's new starter rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns, catching two passes for 93 additional yards in his debut. Quarterback Ian Book completed 19-of-13 passes for 263 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
For Duke, it was a mixed bag. Chase Brice, who transferred to the Blue Devils from ACC rival Clemson, completed 20-of-37 passes for 259 yards. Unfortunately for Duke, it couldn't get any movement going on the ground, rushing for only 75 yards as a team and averaging 2.4 yards per carry. The Blue Devils were also let down by two turnovers, including a fumble by Brice on the team's last possession.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Week 2 showdown.
1. Williams looks poised to be Notre Dame's breakout star: A four-star prospect out of St. Louis in the 2019 class, Williams' offer list didn't look as impressive as you'd expect. While Notre Dame came in with an offer to lure him away, most of his Power Five interest came from programs outside the elite tier. Still, I had coaches from two different schools recruiting Williams tell me that they believed recruiting sites and other programs underrated him. Those coaches just might have been right.
Not only has Williams impressed Notre Dame coaches enough to earn the starting job this season, but first glimpses at him in action against Duke suggest he's going to lead some coaches to regret their decision. It wasn't just the production on Saturday (205 total yards and two touchdowns on 21 touches) but the way Williams moved with the ball. He did an excellent job of reading his blocks, finding lanes and accelerating through them. Once he was in the open field, he proved to be very elusive.
Notre Dame hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher in a season since Josh Adams totalled 1,430 yards in 2017. Based on what I saw today, the only thing that will stop Williams from getting there in 2020 will be a shortened schedule or injury. He looks to be the real deal.
2. Tight end Michael Mayer might live up to his nickname. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a coaching staff refer to a young tight end as "Baby Gronk" just because of their size, well, I'd have a couple of hundred dollars worth of spending money that I don't otherwise. So when the NBC broadcast mentioned that Notre Dame coaches had been referring to Mayer as "Baby Gronk," all I could do was roll my eyes.
But then a crazy thing happened.
Mayer made some plays that seemed Gronk-esque! There was the third-and-7 when he caught a short crossing route, discarded a potential tackler with a violent stiff arm, lowered his shoulder into another tackler just short of the sticks and pushed through for the first down. That was some Gronk-like stuff! Still, Mayer finished with only three catches for 38 yards and no touchdowns. Also, he didn't pancake any defenders in the run game. So, he's not quite Gronk just yet.
3. Tommy Rees' debut as offensive coordinator seemed promising: The former Notre Dame quarterback is now running his alma mater's offense at the tender age of 28. There was plenty of skepticism about Rees' move as OC outside of South Bend, Indiana, but Brian Kelly seemed confident in the decision. It's only one game, but I had a hard time finding fault with anything Rees opted to do on Saturday. Notre Dame's offensive problems were more about execution than they were playcalling. Even with the struggles, the unit still averaged 6.2 yards per play.
4. Duke's red zone failures were its doom: It wasn't a great day for the Duke offense overall (334 total yards, 5.0 yards per play, two turnovers), but it had chances that it was unable to convert. The Blue Devils had three red-zone possessions, including three first-and-goal situations. The first two ended with field goals before the Devils finally broke through to the end zone on the third. Still, 13 points out of a possible 21 loom large in a 27-13 game. If Duke had managed touchdowns on those first two attempts, things might have looked a lot different in the fourth quarter.
5. Notre Dame is the only team in ACC history with a perfect record: 1-0 all-time.