(Photo credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
Rarely does Durham, N.C., ever feel like the center of the college football universe, but it might on Saturday as ESPN's College GameDay comes to town with No. 17 Duke hosting No. 11 Notre Dame.
Duke (4-0) has never been part of the longtime pregame college football show as a host or opponent. Second-year coach Mike Elko is doing his best to keep the Blue Devils focused on what's happening on the field, not off it.
"With all the noise and the buzz that's around that ... we're getting a lot of congratulations for GameDay coming here. I'd rather wait and get some congratulations for how we play a football game Saturday night and just trying to stay focused on the task at hand," Elko said. "That's going out and having really good practices and getting the game plan down and knowing what we're trying to execute."
The task at hand for the Blue Devils is beating Notre Dame (4-1), a team motivated to get back in the win column after suffering its first loss of the season, 17-14 to then-No. 6 Ohio State at home last weekend.
Notre Dame had only 10 men on the field for the final two plays from scrimmage, the second of which saw the Buckeyes score the go-ahead touchdown on a run up the gut. Second-year Irish coach Marcus Freeman took blame for the mistake and the defeat.
"We tell our players, every play you can't be distracted by the things that don't matter," Freeman told ESPN. "You have to do your job. The same thing applies to coaches. We can't get caught watching the game and not do our job."
Notre Dame boasts the nation's 18th-best scoring offense -- putting up 39.6 points per game -- and a stingy defense, allowing just 12.8 points per game, which ranks 15th in FBS. Duke is 28th in offense and fourth in defense, allowing just 8.8 points per game.
Duke's defense was at its best this past Saturday in the first road game of the season. In their 41-7 win at UConn, the Blue Devils had two sacks, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two recoveries -- one of which was returned for a 26-yard touchdown by defensive tackle DeWayne Carter.
The win over UConn also featured another standout performance by Duke quarterback Riley Leonard, who threw for a touchdown and rushed for one in another efficient performance. Leonard is completing 67.7 percent of his passes this season and has yet to throw an interception through four games.
Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman has faced Duke twice in his career when he was playing for Wake Forest, going 1-1 in those starts. Despite Hartman throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns against the Blue Devils last year, Duke picked him off once and wound up beating Wake 34-31 last season in Durham.
"Listen, you can be living in a cardboard box somewhere and know that Sam Hartman's a really talented quarterback at the college level," Elko said. "He's really good. We're going to have to figure out how to control them as best as we can."
Duke is 2-5 all-time against Notre Dame. The last time the Blue Devils beat the Irish in Durham was in 1961.
--Field Level Media