Things go so much smoother when everyone does the assigned reading and comes prepared for Book Club, eh? It was never really in question that if the Irish were treated to Good Ian that they’d leave Durham with a victory, but Chip Long was smart to lean into a nü-Wimbushian offensive gameplan and have his quarterback run all over a Duke defense that was out of sorts all night. Gashing Duke is actually marginally more impressive than it sounds, because remember, this was a top 30-40 defense that was playing in the friendly confines (not that the home crowd offered all that much support). Irish fans should be happy trading one bad interception and one arm punt for how good Book otherwise looked against a solid (Power 5!) defense, all the while gaining a career-high total on the ground.
Chris Finke finally broke out and deservingly took home the game ball, though it’s a shame his near-field length long romp was negated by a questionable holding call. The ACC Network programming was morbidly entertaining in a “wow, this barely qualifies as broadcast television” kind of way (did you know Chris Finke was a walk-on??? did you know Duke beat Notre Dame three years ago???), but at least they caught Finke doing a mean sideline Macarena.
The Irish run game remains an enigma from week to week, but it’s hard to complain about 288 yards at 6.9 YPC, regardless of where the bulk of those yards came from. The line did a great job in pass protection yet again, with Josh Lugg and Trevor Ruhland holding down the right side admirably. Good to see Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister back doing some cool things on a night where the top two backs were pretty quiet.
It’s easy to hyper-focus on the offense in such an up and down year, but let’s not take Clark Lea’s guys for granted, as they suffocated the Blue Devils and were in control of the game for a full 60 minutes. 102 yards through the air and 95 on the ground translates to 3.3 yards per pass attempt and 3.2 per rush. The Dukies squeaked their way to 10 first downs and coughed the ball up a couple times in the process. Not a banner day when you resort to benching your senior captain quarterback — credit is due to the entire squad, but the secondary looked as good as they have all season.
Of course, a stress free win never comes without a cost. It was a huge relief to see Chase Claypool back on the field having his way with the Blue Devil defense after an awkward landing, but Brian Kelly confirmed today that the team will be without Julian Okwara and Jack Lamb for the rest of the year. Okwara’s senior campaign obviously didn’t pan out as planned, but he was still playing solid football and giving opposing staffs headaches on a weekly basis, so this stinks. Let’s hope the injury isn’t a limiting factor in terms of his pro payday.
Ending with a quick diatribe: if you watched that game and found yourself complaining, criticizing players, or generally feeling unhappy: might you consider, just…not tuning in for the rest of the season? I found myself at a watch where the prevailing attitude was that the team (Book and Finke in particular) had no right to be happy about that dominating win. What, then, are they to do? Cover their faces in ashes and trade jerseys for sackcloths? Turn to the camera after every positive gain and say they’re still sorry about Michigan? These kids only get so many chances to wear blue and gold. They’re correct to savor those moments.
You have every right to be upset about losing the two biggest games of the season, as do I. Nothing that happens the rest of the way is going to change those results. But if you find yourself bemoaning the state of the program watching a 31 point road demolition, its seventh win of the year and another decidedly positive step towards another 10 win season…you might be a masochist! You chose to watch, and to complain. Old habits die hard, sure. But at a certain point it’s on us to realize this isn’t a playoff team, because not every team is a playoff team. There’s joy in between wins six and ten and fourteen. This team, right now, is doing a pretty good job providing it, and I’d advise everyone to value what we’ve got.
Photo via James Guillory, USA Today Sports