The good: the Blue Devils did break their losing streak. Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis' 246 passing yards led Duke to a 20-14 road victory over Northwestern. The bad: that's the only win the 1-9 Blue Devils have earned on the year. A week after the Wildcats triumph, Duke appeared to be on its way to a victory at Navy. However, the Blue Devils squandered a 11-point fourth quarter lead and let the Midshipmen escape with a 46-43 win.
Head coach Ted Roof's record in four years at the helm is 6-43. On Saturday, Roof will try to earn victory No. 7 when Duke visits fellow 1-9 Notre Dame. Kickoff is set for 2:43 PM and NBC will have the national television broadcast. Both of these teams have had struggles on offense so points might be at a premium. Despite the records, a win for the Blue Devils on the road at Notre Dame would be a welcome sign for the floundering Duke football program. Roof is going into the contest with a full belief that the Blue Devils will return to Durham with a victory.
"I go into every game – and I think our players do, too – believing that we're going to win," Roof said on Tuesday. "Sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn't. It's the next team and it's an opportunity for us to play on national television and to showcase Duke football. It's great exposure for our program. It's a game that if we were to play well and win, it could do a lot of good things and really help us. Also, when you play in a league and you go out league, you want to represent your conference well."
Duke might be catching Notre Dame in the right year to pull an upset. The Irish have struggled mightily this season in many areas of the game. Notre Dame has lost nine games for the first time in school history and been defeated by two service academies in the same year for the first time since 1944. Roof doesn't have a clue as to why the Irish are 1-9.
"They're very talented and for whatever reason, it just hasn't gone their way," Roof said. "They play extremely hard and they're talented. They're well-coached. I guess it's just one of those years."
One of Roof's assistants will be making a return trip to familiar territory. Offensive coordinator Peter Vaas was hired before the 2007 season after not being retained by Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis as the quarterbacks coach. Weis decided to go with Ron Powlus instead of Vaas.
As the play caller and quarterbacks coach, Vaas' offense has had mixed results. Lewis is playing well, ranking in the top four in the ACC in both touchdowns passes (19) and passing yards (2,090). Wide receiver Eron Riley is third in the nation in yards per catch (21.5). But the group is dead last in rushing offense, 116th in total offense and 108th in scoring offense. Vaas' greatest ability on Saturday will be the knowledge of Weis' offensive system and the familiarity of the players.
"Studying tape, you get a feel for personnel," Roof said. "When you coach kids every day of the year and you're around them, I think that he can help us with some insight on personnel. Any time you've been on a staff, you know your team's personnel. I'm hoping that gives us some insight."
A win for Roof would be huge. The defense will have to play better, as the group has allowed 40 or more points in four of the past five contests. The differences between the two programs couldn't be more different. Notre Dame is rich in both history and tradition while the name Steve Spurrier, who as head coach led Duke to an ACC title in 1989, is one of the few that come to mind. Roof wants his players to concentrate on the contest and not on Touchdown Jesus.
"We're playing at a program with a rich tradition and I want our guys to get excited about that and the opportunity to play on national television," Roof said. "At the same time, [I want them to] focus on playing with great effort, doing their assignments and getting after it after they're lined up, not on what's happened at Notre Dame in the past. We certainly have a lot of respect for their program, but I don't want their past history and tradition to make any tackles or score any touchdowns. I want us to stay in the now and stay in the moment."
***The Duke Sports Information Department contributed to this report.