Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 26, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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36 SEPT. 26, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED his Achilles in late August, ending his season before it started. Sirk threw for 2,625 yards and 16 touchdowns plus added a team-best 803 yards and eight scores on the ground. He also guided the Blue Dev- ils to a Pinstripe Bowl win over Indi- ana. The loss of Sirk, though, isn't as significant as some thought. "Sirk's statistics from last season did not tell the full story," McLawhorn said. "His experience will be missed, and he certainly won games for Duke last year, but he was also a liability at times. "Sirk was a below average passer who didn't always make good deci- sions with the football and limited Duke's ability to stretch the field. Though he threw just eight intercep- tions last year, that number could have very easily been doubled. Luck was on his side quite often in that department." Duke is now leaning on freshman quarterback Daniel Jones to lead the offense. The Charlotte, N.C., native completed 31 of 48 passes for 332 yards against Wake Forest, but was unable to connect for a touchdown and threw an interception late in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory for the Demon Deacons. Despite those rookie struggles, McLawhorn believes Duke's offense will be better off with Jones at quar- terback. "With Daniel Jones now under cen- ter, there's no real 'coping' at the posi- tion," McLawhorn said. "Jones is leaps and bounds better than Sirk. His ceil- ing is much higher, and he gives Duke the ability to stretch the field. He has great touch with the football and does a much better job going through his reads and progressions when looking to unload the football. Those are two things Sirk practically never did. "Jones still has a lot of growing to do, and will undoubtedly make fresh- man mistakes — he did against Wake Forest — but he gives Duke a better chance of winning than Sirk." Protecting Jones has proved to be the difficult part. A retooled offensive line struggled against Wake Forest, al- lowing five sacks and five hurries, and failed to open holes for running backs Jela Duncan, a fifth-year senior, and Shaun Wilson, a junior. "I would label the offensive line the X-factor," McLawhorn said. "If it doesn't play well, Duke has no shot to even consider pulling off the upset against Notre Dame. "If it does play well and provides Daniel Jones time to throw the football, and holes for Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson to run through, Duke could be competitive." Defensively, Duke's front seven has been a "mixed bag" early in the season. Redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Giles-Harris and sophomore Ben Humphreys have been bright spots and upgrades over what the Blue Dev- ils had in 2015. In the secondary, fifth-year senior cornerback DeVon Edwards is perhaps Duke's best player. Since transition- ing from safety in spring practice, he's been an impact player. "Although he's not the biggest guy on the field, he is very good against the run and is a threat to rush the quarter- back in blitz packages," McLawhorn said. "He is also a proven defender against the pass." Cornerbacks Breon Borders, a senior, and Bryon Fields, a redshirt junior, are also experienced defenders that have the ability to come up with big plays. So much, however, depends on if Duke can slow down the Notre Dame running game. "If they can't, Duke will be faced with myriad problems in trying to de- fend Notre Dame," McLawhorn said. "With all of that said, I don't think the Duke offensive line will produce enough to allow its playmakers room to work. "On the other side of the ball, I don't foresee Duke being able to make Notre Dame one-dimensional and contain DeShone Kizer." ✦ GAME PREVIEW: DUKE 2016 NOTRE DAME SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Result/Time (ET) Sept. 4 at Texas (ABC) L, 50-47 (2OT) Sept. 10 Nevada (NBC) W, 39-10 Sept. 17 Michigan State (NBC) L, 36-28 Sept. 24 Duke (NBC) 3:30 p.m. Oct. 1 vs. Syracuse* TBA Oct. 8 at North Carolina State TBA Oct. 15 Stanford (NBC) 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29 Miami (NBC) 3:30 p.m. Nov. 5 vs. Navy^ (CBS) 11:30 a.m. Nov. 12 vs. Army# (NBC) 3:30 p.m. Nov. 19 Virginia Tech (NBC) 3:30 p.m. Nov. 26 at USC TBA * at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; ^ at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.; # at Alamodome in San Antonio 2016 DUKE SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Result/Time (ET) Sept. 3 North Carolina Central W, 49-6 Sept. 10 Wake Forest L, 24-14 Sept. 17 at Northwestern L, 24-13 Sept. 24 at Notre Dame (NBC) 3:30 p.m. Oct. 1 Virginia TBA Oct. 8 Army TBA Oct. 14 at Louisville (ESPN) 7 p.m. Oct. 29 at Georgia Tech TBA Nov. 5 Virginia Tech TBA Nov. 10 North Carolina (ESPN) 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at Pittsburgh TBA Nov. 26 at Miami TBA Redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Giles-Harris led Duke in tackles with 21 through the first two games. PHOTO COURTESY DUKE PHOTOGRAPHY

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