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Containing Riley Leonard

Written by Elias Joyce|Contributor|@eliasjoyce7 X/Twitter

Photo by Duke Athletics


Although most Notre Dame fans are still mourning the loss to Ohio State, it is time to turn the page and look into the next opponent. On Saturday, September 30th the Fighting Irish will head to Durham, North Carolina to take on Riley Leonard as he has led this Duke Blue Devil squad to be the number 17 ranked team in the nation.


Through the first 4 games of his Junior season, Leonard has led the Blue Devils to be unbeaten including a week 1 upset over Clemson. He has thrown for 778 yards, and 2 touchdowns, with a 67.7% completion percentage. These numbers seem modest until you look at his rushing stats. Riley Leonard has run the ball 29 times for 238 yards and 4 touchdowns. He's averaging 8.2 yards a carry, for reference the Irish's Audric Estime is averaging 7.7 yards a carry. Leonard is a sneaky athlete who is tough to tackle once he hits the open field. He doesn't have the strongest arm and he isn't the fastest man in the land, however, Riley Leonard is a leader and wants nothing more than to win.


Duke Head Coach Mike Elko was the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame a few years back and at the 2023 ACC Football Kickoff said "He's a kid with tremendous work ethic" when asked about his Quarterback. Riley Leonard and the Blue Devils went 9-4 last year with a bowl win over UCF, you can guarantee they would want nothing more than to stun the world and take down the Fighting Irish.


So what can the Irish do to contain Riley Leonard and pick this offense apart? First it starts with the secondary - if we learned anything in the matchup against the Buckeyes it was that Benjamin Morrison, Cam Hart, and the rest of the secondary is one of the best in the nation. If they can eliminate the Blue Devil's wideouts early it will make the rest of that defenses job much easier. But as mentioned before, Riley Leonard can really kill you with his legs.


That's where the three 5th year linebackers come in to play. With JD Bertrand, Jack Kiser, and Marist Liufau, this linebacking core can cause havoc for Leonard. JD Bertrand is the head of this Irish defense and is one of the best tacklers on the field. Marist Liafau might be the best athlete playing for Al Golden and will need to be flying around, making plays, and punishing Riley Leonard for leaving the pocket - unlike last week where he was unable to record s tackle in over 60 snaps. Jack Kiser will need to use his experience to his advantage in being one step ahead of Leonard all game.


With the secondary and the linebackers doing their job, the defensive line has the luxury of playing free. Javontae Jean-Baptiste played outstanding against his former team last week, and will surely build off that for weeks to come. I expect this Irish defense to continue to perform at the level it has all season and be vital in beating Duke this Saturday. My score prediction is 38-6 Notre Dame, GO IRISH!

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