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Football: Dealing with the Deacons

By Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, November 13, 2012

After dispatching Boston College, No. 3 Notre Dame will face its third and final ACC foe of the season when it welcomes Wake Forest on Saturday.

Last season, the Irish (10-0) pulled out a 24-17 win over the Deacons (5-5, 3-5 ACC) in the first-ever meeting between the schools. Notre Dame had to overcome a 17-10 halftime deficit to beat Wake Forest.

Deacons redshirt junior receiver Michael Campanaro led Wake Forest with six receptions for 74 yards in last year’s matchup and has 65 catches and 618 yards in 2012. Junior quarterback Tanner Price has 1,965 yards through the air and 12 touchdowns while redshirt junior running back Josh Harris leads Wake Forest with 607 rushing yards.

Irish coach Brian Kelly said Notre Dame is aware of Wake Forest’s key players on offense.

“Campanaro on offense gave us fits last year,” Kelly said. “Tanner Price is very elusive in the pocket, can make plays, extend plays. Harris is the veteran running back.”

The secondary is the strength of the Deacons’ defense, starring redshirt senior Chibuikem Okoro and redshirt sophomore Kevin Johnson. The pair has combined for four interceptions and 16 pass breakups.

Kelly said the Irish may shade away from Okoro, who has 29 career pass breakups, in the passing game.

“It’ll be part of our game plan to attack a particular side,” Kelly said. “But there is going to be opportunities where you’re going to have to throw the ball against those guys and going to have to make plays.”

Kelly also said the Irish will need to be prepared for a variety of pressures from Wake Forest. The Deacons have 68 tackles for loss this season, including 8.5 by redshirt junior Justin Jackson, who has four sacks.

“You’re going to get blitzed from every formation,” Kelly said. “We have to do a great job of making sure that we protect our quarterback, find ways to get after them on the offensive line and running the football.”

Perfect at home

With a win, the Irish can finish undefeated at home for the first time in 14 years.

“Well, one of our goals, a tangible goal for us, was to protect our home field,” Kelly said. “We felt, I felt, I think everybody in the program felt that if you want to take that next step in terms of success, you got to win at home.”

Before Notre Dame topped Oklahoma on Oct. 27, the Sooners had lost just four home games since 1999. Kelly said the Irish aspire to attain that reputation.

“We want to have that kind of legacy,” he said. “We want to build that kind of dominance at home. The first step is winning all your games at home, which hasn’t happened in a long time.

“If you can stay in one place long enough you’ve got to a chance to do that. I think we’ve won 18 out of our last 20 regular season games. We’re toward that direction. Now just need to keep doing that.”

Russell and Nix to play

Freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who missed the end of the Boston College game, has been cleared to practice after suffering a head injury.

“He passed a number of his tests, his ACSM test, which is the software test for the last hurdle for any concussions,” Kelly said.

Junior nose guard Louis Nix will not miss any time following his ejection late in the fourth quarter last Saturday.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]