Wimbush shines as Irish outlast Demon Deacons
Michael Ivey | Saturday, November 4, 2017
Notre Dame, after being ranked No. 3 in the first announcement of this year’s College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, defeated Wake Forest 48-37 under a rainy grey sky Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium.
It was the fourth time in the last seven years the Irish (8-1) and the Demon Deacons (5-4, 2-3 ACC) have played each other.
Notre Dame elected to receive the opening kickoff, but its opening drive stalled near midfield. After the ensuing punt, Wake Forest drove 82 yards during a 14-play drive that resulted in a field goal to give the Demon Deacons an early 3-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, junior C.J. Sanders returned the kick 52 yards to give the Irish good field position at the Wake Forest 48-yard line. Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush capped off a seven-play drive with a six-yard touchdown run to put Notre Dame up 7-3 with 6:26 left in the first quarter.
Wake Forest would respond with a nine-play drive that ended at the Notre Dame 43-yard line when they were forced to punt on fourth down.
On the ensuing Irish drive, sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson recorded a 35-yard rush to put Notre Dame at midfield. A nine-yard Wimbush run ended when the ball was stripped free, but Notre Dame freshman right tackle Robert Hainsey managed to come up with the loose ball.
Junior running back Josh Adams exited the game after the play and did not return for the remainder of the game. Irish head coach Brian Kelly clarified after the game that Adams’ exit from the game was purely precautionary, and that the junior did not undergo concussion protocol, as some were speculating.
“ … [Adams] was not ruled out of the game other than him not just feeling right. He had a busy week. He made all those hats by himself this week, stayed up late,” Kelly joked. “No, he had a busy week with exams. He was a bit rundown this week. He wasn’t feeling himself.
“So we were really conservative with him in terms of not putting him in the game, but he wasn’t in our concussion protocol. We didn’t have to move him through with a head injury per se, so, you know, hopefully he’s feeling better tomorrow with some rest.
After a 16-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool and a 15-yard rush by sophomore running back Tony Jones Jr. ended the first quarter, the Irish drive stalled on the Wake Forest 17-yard line. Junior kicker Justin Yoon was brought in and kicked a 34-yard field goal to extend Notre Dame’s lead to seven.
On the first play of the ensuing Wake Forest drive, Deacons’ senior quarterback John Wolford’s pass was intercepted and returned to the 5-yard line by sophomore cornerback Julian Love — his third interception of the season. Jones, Jr. rushed five yards for a touchdown on the next play to give Notre Dame a 17-3 lead.
Kelly had nothing but praise for Love after his interception.
“First of all, physically [Love is] head and shoulders above most of the defensive backs in terms of — other than [senior linebacker] Drue Tranquill, if you count him as a defensive back, which I don’t know if you do or not — but his physical strength and pretty amazing,” Kelly said. “He’s up there with numbers that are hard to believe for a defensive back.”
After a Wake Forest punt, Notre Dame drove 45 yards in five plays to the Wake Forest 27 before Wimbush lost three yards on a third down run. Notre Dame decided to go for the first down, but Wimbush’s pass to junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown fell incomplete.
On the ensuing Wake Forest drive, Wolford completed a 37-yard pass to junior wide receiver Alex Bachman. Wolford would rush 20 yards for a touchdown on the next play to cut the Irish lead to seven points.
The score wouldn’t remain that close for long, however.
Notre Dame just needed 1:35 of game time to get its lead back up to 14 points after Wimbush rushed for a 50-yard touchdown on the following drive, giving the Irish a 24-10 lead.
After another Wake Forest punt a few possessions later, Notre Dame looked to extend its lead before halftime. Sophomore running back Deon McIntosh rushed 45 yards to the Wake Forest 29-yard line, and Wimbush ran 28 yards on the next play in an attempt to score but was unable to reach the endzone.
Wimbush went down on the play with an apparent injury and was escorted to the locker room by trainers. Sophomore quarterback Ian Book came in to throw a one-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Nic Weishar on the next play to give Notre Dame a 31-10 lead going into halftime.
Notre Dame recorded 423 total yards of offense during the first half, having gained 258 of those yards on the ground and another 165 through the air on 48 plays. Wake Forest recorded 242 total yards of offense during the first half, with 136 of those yards coming through the air and another 106 on the ground.
After a Wake Forest three-and-out to begin the second half, a 12-play, 52-yard Notre Dame drive ended with a Yoon 22-yard field goal to give the Irish a 34-10 lead. A nine play, 54-yard Wake Forest drive ended with a field goal attempt by redshirt-senior kicker Mike Weaver that flew wide right.
After Notre Dame failed to convert on fourth down to end its drive, Wolford threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to make the score 34-16 Notre Dame. Wake Forest failed the two-point conversion attempt.
Notre Dame just needed 50 seconds of game time to respond, however, as Wimbush threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Claypool to extend Notre Dame’s lead to 41-16.
Wake Forest responded by driving 75 yards in six plays, and capped off its drive with a 24-yard touchdown run from junior running back Matt Colburn II to make the score 41-23.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Book, who took over under center with the comfortable lead, recorded a 43-yard rush to the Wake Forest 32-yard line. McIntosh would finish off the Irish scoring drive with a two-yard touchdown run to give Notre Dame a 48-23 lead.
Wake Forest would not give up, however, and scored two more touchdowns before time expired, one with 8:45 left in the game and another with 51 seconds remaining to make the score 48-37.
Wimbush finished 15-for-30 passing and threw for 280 yards and a touchdown. Wimbush also rushed for 110 yards on 12 carries, while scoring two touchdowns with his feet. Book finished 8-for-8 with 50 yards and a touchdown in relief of Wimbush. McIntosh rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
After the game, Kelly had high praise for his quarterback.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Brandon Wimbush tonight,” Kelly said. “I think the narrative of him being able to throw the football should change dramatically. He had a couple of drops out there that he would have easily thrown for close to 300 yards, so hopefully that has been put to rest. I loved his grit, his toughness, gets hit pretty hard, right before the half, and, you know, I try to keep him out of the game in the third quarter, but he had no thoughts of that. He wanted to get back in the game, so put a pad on his hand and went back in the game and showed great grit and great leadership. Great game by Wimbush and, again, the ability to run for over 300 yards again, and obviously we’re pleased that we were able to throw for over 300.”
Kelly noted that Wimbush had left the game to have his left hand X-rayed, which had come back negative.
He also said he loved the next man up mentality he saw from players like Book and McIntosh.
“I think I said this last week, before he we know it, Deon McIntosh is going to have 1,000 yards,” Kelly said. “He just keeps coming in and doing a nice job for us. … He did a great job coming in there. Ian, as we all know, has already won a Power-5 game. We have confidence in him, so our offense moves pretty good when he’s in there.”