DURHAM, N.C. — Duke thrived it its last prime-time, nationally televised game against a marquee opponent. The 17th-ranked Blue Devils have the chance to do it again.
Duke hosts No. 11 Notre Dame on Saturday night, a game that quickly grew in magnitude after the Blue Devils blew out preseason Atlantic Coast Conference favorite Clemson in its 4-0 start. The immediate challenge is stopping the Fighting Irish's long regular-season winning streak against ACC teams, though it also includes managing the hype that includes luring ESPN's “CollegeDay” for its first appearance in Durham for a football game after multiple stops there for basketball.
“I told the guys this morning: we're getting a lot of congratulations for ‘GameDay’ coming here," second-year coach Mike Elko said. “I'd rather wait and get some congratulations for how we play the football game Saturday night.”
Duke has a chance to reach 5-0 for the first time since winning the first seven games of the 1994 season. That comes just two years after Duke closed a three-win season with eight straight losses, seven of which coming by at least 25 points.
“There's so much more we have in us,” linebacker Dorian Mausi said. “When you take a step back and look at it, yes, we can be proud of how far we've come. But it's still an innate sense of knowing we have so much more to get to and so much more to accomplish.”
The most notable change this year has been the play of Duke's defense, which has allowed just five touchdowns in four games. The Blue Devils will need another strong showing from that unit against the Fighting Irish (4-1), which boasts a strong offense behind quarterback Sam Hartman and cracked the 40-point mark in its four wins before a last-second loss last weekend to No. 4 Ohio State.
“The thing that you respect is how hard they play,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said. “They’re aggressive. They play extremely hard and they’re sound. They’re not exotic. They don’t do crazy things on defense, but they play fast and they play hard and they tackle well.”
Notre Dame has won 29 straight regular-season games against ACC opponents since losing at Miami in 2017. The Fighting Irish play an average of five games annually against league teams as part of a scheduling arrangement for a football independent that is an ACC member in all other league sports. The streak includes a win at North Carolina State on Sept. 9.
Notre Dame and Duke rank second and fourth nationally in team pass efficiency defense, respectively.
Preseason Associated Press All-America second-team pick cornerback Ben Morrison leads the Irish secondary. He played a crucial role in holding Ohio State’s superstar wideout Marvin Harrison Jr. to three receptions for 32 yards last Saturday.
Overall, Notre Dame has limited opposing quarterbacks to a national-best 47.4% completion rate for two touchdowns compared to five interceptions. And the Blue Devils are allowing a national-best 4.4 yards per pass attempt.
Duke’s dual-threat quarterback Riley Leonard had a big passing game in last week's romp at Connecticut, but he's generated his biggest plays with his legs. Leonard is the team's No. 2 rusher by averaging 59.5 yards per game and he's already found the end zone four times, including a blitzer-shedding 44-yard sprint in the Clemson win.
“All offenses go through the quarterback, but the things he presents in the run game: he’s a big, physical tough runner, too," Freeman said, adding: "It’s a huge challenge for our team, the biggest one yet.”
The Blue Devils know plenty about Hartman. He played previously at Wake Forest, which was an every-year instate ACC opponent for Duke in the league's former cross-divisional scheduling model. Hartman had played against Duke in each of the past two seasons, winning a blowout at home in 2021 but losing at Duke last year.
“We're very familiar with sam and who he is as a quarterback and what he's capable of doing,” Elko said.
BEEN A WHILE
This is the first time a ranked Duke team has hosted a ranked opponent since the 23rd-ranked Blue Devils beat No. 13 Virginia in November 1994.
AP freelance writer Andrew Mentock in South Bend, Indiana, contributed to this report.