The 10th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish entered Saturday’s season opener in South Bend north of 20 points favorites against the Duke Blue Devils.
For head coach Brian Kelly and Co., this represented their first ever conference tilt after the Irish joined the ACC for the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After an incredibly slow start, Notre Dame earned the win going away by the score of 27-13. It wasn’t for a lack of effort from a heavy underdog in that of the Blue Devils. Here’s the biggest winners and losers from Notre Dame’s season-opening victory.
Winner: Michael Mayer, tight end, Notre Dame
Considered by some to be the best tight end in the 2020 recruiting class, 247 Sports had this Kentucky native as the 32nd-best overall player in the nation. The 6-foot-4 Mayer more than lived up to that billing in his first ever college game. He ended up recording three catches for 38 yards with two of those receptions going for first downs.
It’s a rarity that true freshman plays a lot under Kelly. Mayer more than proved he’s capable of handling the expanded role. He could also very well end up being the next great Notre Dame tight end.
Loser: Deon Jackson, running back, Duke
Taking over for Quentin Harris as Duke’s starter, Clemson transfer Chase Brice needs to get some production from his backfield if the Blue Devils are going to be competitive in the ACC this season. Unfortunately for Brice, his starting running back did not provide that Saturday against the Irish.
Jackson went for just 52 yards on 15 attempts for an average of 3.5 yards per rush. Sure Duke’s offensive line didn’t do him any favors. Even then, Jackson needs to up his game. A three-star recruit out of Georgia back in 2017, Jackson averaged a mere 3.7 yards per rush as a junior last season. He needs to perform better. It’s that simple.
Winner: Kyren Williams, running back, Notre Dame
The graduation of Tony Jones Jr. left a void in Notre Dame’s backfield. Like clockwork, this sophomore stepped up for Ian Book and Co. when it was needed the most. It’s not a surprise given that Williams was a four-star recruit out of St. John Vianney High School in Missouri back in 2019.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Williams tallied a whopping 205 total yards on 21 touches for an average of 9.8 yards per touch. This type of balance came in huge for Notre Dame given Book’s early struggles. It also comes after he impressed Brian Kelly and Co. during the offseason.
Loser: Ian Book, quarterback, Notre Dame
Once the competition gets better in the ACC, Book is going to have to step up. He was erratic throughout Saturday’s season opener, only to be saved by some extraordinary runs after the catch from Notre Dame’s skill-position players. In fact, over half of Book’s 263 yards came after the catch.
We saw it at times last season. Book failing to step up when Notre Dame needed him the most against top-level competition. That included throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions in the Irish’ two losses to Georgia and Michigan. He can’t have that happen again this season.
Winner: Chase Brice, quarterback, Duke
We have to give Brice a ton of credit for hanging in there and performing at a high clip against superior competition. Protection just wasn’t there from Duke’s offensive line. The former Clemson three-star recruit completed 20-of-37 passes for 259 yards without an interception in the game.
Brice also found a tremendous connection with top targets such as Eli Pancol and Jalon Calhoun. If he continues to play at this level, the youngster will have the Blue Devils’ offense in a good position moving forward on the season.