Newly ranked as the #3 team in the country, Notre Dame can no longer fly under the radar. It’s pretty odd to say a program with its own national TV contract could fly under the radar, but that was the case for the Irish after their loss to Georgia. However, winning the next six games by 20 points or more including three wins against ranked teams has put Notre Dame squarely in the spotlight. Now, with the #3 ranking Notre Dame has to play the rest of the season with a massive target on their backs and much higher expectations.
The first chance for the Irish to validate their lofty ranking comes Saturday as they host the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. While many pundits are already looking past the Demon Deacs, the Irish cannot afford to do the same. Wake Forest is coming in with a 5-3 record and an offense that averages 31 points per game. Plus, Wake will be motivated playing against their former defensive coordinator, Mike Elko. Head Coach Dave Clawson will have his team ready to compete in South Bend, the question is will the Irish be up for what could be a trap game? Let’s take a look at the matchups in this one.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Wake Forest Defense
Notre Dame has been an elite rushing team all season and that should continue on Saturday. After shredding the #6 run defense in the country last week, the Irish will now face a Wake Forest defense ranked 87th against the run. Josh Adams needs to put up eye popping numbers to stay in the Heisman race, and he should be able to go for at least 150 yards and a couple TDs. In the passing game, the Irish will be without tight end Alize Mack. However, Durham Smythe has been playing well lately and Mack’s loss shouldn’t impact the offense too much. The emergence of Kevin Stepherson has greatly aided Brandon Wimbush and should also help Equanimeous St. Brown. Now that St. Brown will have chances against single coverage, I see him getting into the end zone on Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Demon Deacons, they’ll be without their leading tackler safety Jessie Bates who was injured earlier in the week. That could spell trouble for a relatively young secondary. Up front, Duke Ejiofor has been impressive already racking up 7 sacks and 14.5 TFL. However, the rest of the Demon Deacons line is not as imposing. I expect Notre Dame to isolate Ejiofor similarly to their plan against Harold Landry of Boston College. This defense could be playing with a chip on their shoulder facing their old coach, but the injury to Bates gives them little chance to slow a rolling Notre Dame offense.
Edge: Notre Dame
Wake Forest Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
John Wolford is having a tremendous senior season at QB for the Deacs. Wolford has 15 touchdown passes compared to just 2 interceptions. However, the passing game could struggle due to the season-ending injury to receiver Greg Dortch. Dortch had already piled up 53 catches and 9 TDs. Wake will need Scotty Washington and Tabari Hines to step up in Dortch’s absence. The injury bug also hit the Demon Deacons at running back. Cade Carney, who averaged 8 carries per game will also sit this one out. Carney’s absence could force Wolford to run more than he already does. Already averaging over 10 carries per game, expect Wolford to be somewhere in the 15-20 range. The RPO element of this offense makes it dangerous, but the loss of Dortch could slow this offense to a halt.
This game could be difficult to coach for Mike Elko. Elko will forced to scheme against players he recruited, developed, and had relationships with for three years. While that may be difficult, it also gives Notre Dame a slight advantage. Elko will know Wake Forest’s offensive personnel and strategy better than any opposing coordinator on Wake’s schedule. On the other hand, Wake Forest will also have a good idea of Elko’s defensive playbook. Perhaps it’s a wash, but I believe Elko will take greater advantage of this unique situation. On the field, one concern for Notre Dame is the nagging shoulder injury that has been bothering Nyles Morgan. With Morgan in pain, expect Te’von Coney to take on even more snaps. Another interesting development for the Irish comes in the secondary. Troy Pride has taken on a larger role in the nickel package and the track star should contribute on Saturday. The Irish defense played perhaps their best game of the season against NC State and that momentum should continue on Saturday.
Edge: Notre Dame
Special teams seems to be the only area where Notre Dame has lacked consistency this season. Tyler Newsome, and the coverage and return groups have all struggled at times. Justin Yoon has been solid, but could be rusty this week as he has not attempted a field goal since the North Carolina game.
For Wake Forest, Mike Weaver is 11/13 on the year in field goals, but has also missed two extra points. Dom Maggio has punted for a solid 43.5 yards per boot. With Greg Dortch out, the Deacs will lose some of the excitement in their return game.
Edge: Wake Forest
While I could still see Notre Dame coming out a bit flat in this one, I don’t think it will matter. The Irish already had a substantial talent advantage, and the injuries to Dortch and Bates only expands that gap. Similarly to last week, this game could be close at halftime, but should be over by the 4th quarter.
Notre Dame 38 Wake Forest 14
Tailgate Song of the Week
In honor of Josh Adams Heisman campaign #33Trucking, this week’s tailgate song of the week is The Grateful Dead’s “Truckin”.