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Head to head: Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest

| Thursday, November 12, 2015


Wake Forest’s quarterback situation has been up in the air this year, and not because the Demon Deacons have the luxury of choosing between two good options. Both sophomore John Wolford and freshman Kendall Hinton have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, and the duo has thrown for just 10 scores in nine games this season.

Then again, the Demon Deacons average the same number of yards per game, 229.9, as Virginia, and the Irish secondary struggled in that one, ceding 289 yards and two scores to Cavaliers quarterback Matt Johns — he hasn’t thrown for more since.

The Notre Dame secondary, however, has started to step up the last few outings to win games. They largely shut down one of college football’s best playmakers, Pittsburgh receiver Tyler Boyd, a week go, and they’ve stepped up with big interceptions as of late: KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield hepled secure the USC win in the fourth quarter with interceptions, while Russell stepped up two weeks later to seal the Temple victory. And don’t forget the importance of Matthias Farley’s interception last week in keeping Pittsburgh at bay.



A quick look at the stats suggests an ugly picture for the Wake Forest ground game: they’re a bottom-10 unit, averaging just 110 yards per game this season. Only one “Power Five” school is worse running the ball, and that’s Mike Leach’s Washington State squad. But unlike the Cougars, the Demon Deacons don’t sling the ball around through the air.

If one wants to make Wake Forest’s rushing statistics look any worse, just take out the 203 yards it gained in a September win over FCS foe Elon — it’s averaging just 98.3 rushing yards per game against FBS teams.

While the Irish run defense hasn’t been the greatest thing in the world, it’s been good enough to see Notre Dame run off three straight wins over teams with six or more wins. It’s hard to see it struggling with Wake Forest.



Despite having an offense that doesn’t rank particularly well anywhere, head coach Dave Clawson has kept Wake Forest’s games close by instilling what Irish head coach Brian Kelly referred to as a “ball-control” offense. Three of their losses have been by single digits, and last time out, they lost 20-19 to a more-talented Louisville team.

However, the Irish faced a similar, more-talented opponent last week in Pittsburgh, and by getting significantly ahead, they pushed the Panthers out of the ability to shorten the game.



There’s a fairly evident point of inflection in kicker Mike Weaver’s game: on field goals attempts of 39 yards or fewer, he’s pretty good, posting a 10-for-11 mark. But on field goal attempts of 40 yards or more, it’s a different story; Weaver’s just 1-for-5 with a long of 47. But give him credit for his field goal against Boston College — it won Wake Forest the game, 3-0.

The kickoff return game has been pitiful, averaging just 17.24 yards per return, seventh-worst in the nation, while the punt return unit is amongst the bottom 15 in college football.

On the flip though, the Demon Deacons have one of the best punting games in the country, averaging 41.2 net yards per punt. That’s eighth in the nation, and four-year-starter Alex Kinal could make an impact if the Wake Forest defense can keep it close.


If there were any lingering questions about DeShone Kizer’s ability, he likely answered them a week ago at Pittsburgh, throwing for 262 yards and five touchdowns as the Irish hung 42 on the Panthers. Will Fuller caught three of those touchdowns, running his season total to 12 — only three players have bettered him this year in that department.

Statistically speaking, the Demon Deacons defense has been one of the better in college football this year, conceding just 184.2 yards per game, but opponents have thrown on the Demon Deacons just 222 times, second-fewest in the country.

But Pitt’s defense entered last Saturday’s matchup with the Irish holding similar statistics, and Notre Dame torched the Panthers secondary.



When C.J. Prosise went down at the end of the first quarter last week, there may have been reason for concern about the ground game. Prosise was coming off a weak performance at Temple, and Notre Dame was going to have to turn to a freshman, Josh Adams, to take the carries the rest of the way.

He responded with a 147-yard performance that reaffirmed the strength of Notre Dame’s rushing game when the offensive line is on top of its game. The Irish have a top-20 rushing attack on the year and have only struggled to run the ball twice this year — against their two best opponents.

That should not be an issue this week: Wake Forest’s rushing defense is outside the top 50, paving the way for the Irish line to rule the day.



It took three plays for Notre Dame to take the lead at Pittsburgh last week, and after scoring to go ahead 14-3, the Irish never saw their lead shrink to single digits. DeShone Kizer and Will Fuller connected for three scores despite Kizer overthrowing the junior receiver on two occasions: The game plan was inches away from looking even better.

More important than Kizer’s ability to go deep may be having the right timing to do it — and the Irish certainly did that against the Panthers.

The Pitt win marked a third straight game in which the Irish scored on their opening drive, and while the Wake Forest defense has looked solid on the whole, it’s struggled with higher-octane attacks.



After a rough game at Temple, Tyler Newsome recovered last week in a big way, booting three punts that went for more than 50 yards. When he’s been on his game, he’s been a real weapon for the Irish, and he showed that against Pitt, helping Notre Dame gain 20 yards on an exchange of punts.

There wasn’t too much in the return game against the Panthers, but with the way the offense was playing, there didn’t need to be. C.J. Sanders made good decisions on when to, and when not to, bring kickoffs out of the end zone — and Notre Dame’s punt-block touchdown against USC shouldn’t be forgotten. This has been the best Irish return game in the Brian Kelly era.

After some early-season struggles, Justin Yoon has settled down recently, calming concerns with another perfect outing against Pitt, though he didn’t attempt a field goal. His 52-yard field goal against Navy showed his range and justified Brian Kelly’s faith in his freshman kicker.


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