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Head to head: Wake Forest

| Friday, September 21, 2018

Observer Sports Staff | The Observer

Irish Passing

While Brandon Wimbush may have made a sluggish start to the season, Wake Forest’s secondary hasn’t done much to impress either. Against Boston College last week, the Demon Deacons surrendered 304 yards and five touchdowns, all over 25 yards, to Anthony Brown, who had a career day. Wimbush has only thrown one touchdown compared to four interceptions this year, and Brian Kelly may turn to Ian Book if things start poorly, but regardless of who plays, the Irish quarterback and wide receiver corps are primed for a breakthrough. There may be no better opportunity than Wake.

EDGE: Notre Dame


Irish Rushing

Between sophomore Jafar Armstrong and junior Tony Jones Jr., the Irish have proven their rushing game has not suffered all that much with the loss of Josh Adams to the NFL Draft, even as expected starter Dexter Williams has yet to see the field this season and likely will not this weekend. The Deacons have only given up one touchdown on the run so far this season, however, which has been Notre Dame’s main means of attack, so something’s going to have to give. The Irish are averaging 164 yards rushing per game, just over Wake Forest’s opponents’ average of 146 per game. Overall, it appears to be pretty evenly matched here.

EDGE: Even


Irish Offensive Coaching

When these two teams met last year, Chip Long and the Irish offense put up 48 points against the Demon Deacons and defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel, who was in his first year of replacing former-Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Long won his battle with Sawvel last year, but will things change in Winston-Salem this Saturday?

Evidence shows it likely will not. Offense and special teams are the strengths of this Wake Forest squad, not its defense. The Demon Deacons surrendered 41 points in their loss to Boston College last week, and if Chip Long figures out how to effectively balance the offense while utilizing senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s strengths, then the Irish should be in good shape offensively.

EDGE: Notre Dame


Irish Offensive Special Teams

The Irish better hope that their detail-oriented refocusing of the special teams unit produces results because this Wake Forest team is not to be overlooked. Averaging nearly 60 yards on kickoffs, compared to the dismal 25 yards Notre Dame has posted through 3 games, the Demon Deacons have the potential to put the Irish punt returners, averaging just over four yards per carry, deep in the backfield, and could thwart many opportunities for a struggling Irish offense to gain ground.

Wake Forest also blocked a punt last week against Boston College and recovered it for a touchdown. While the Demon Deacons have remained relatively untested in defending field goals, Irish senior kicker Justin Yoon has had his share of struggles recently.

EDGE: Wake Forest


Demon Deacon Passing

True freshman Sam Hartman has managed to lead the Demon Deacons’ passing unit to a solid start, and will be aided by the return of junior Kendall Hinton, who was expected to be the starting quarterback this year for Wake Forest but was suspended for the first three games of the season. As we’ve mentioned, Wake Forest’s offense poses a unique threat in its high-tempo style of play, averaging 93 plays per game, which currently ranks second in the nation. This high tempo, combined with a solid offensive line and a receiving corps which boasts two receivers who placed top-ten in marginal efficiency in 2017, makes the Wake Forest passing unit a legitimate threat, especially for an Irish defense that has struggled to pressure the quarterback as of late.

It’s hard to imagine the Deacons have the edge here when you consider the talent Notre Dame has on defense, but the Irish just have not lived up to their skill potential as of late. It should be a solid matchup, but based on recent trends it’s reasonable to give Wake Forest the edge here.

EDGE: Wake Forest


Demon Deacon Rushing

Cade Carney and Matt Colburn have been productive for Wake so far this season, combining for 496 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Sam Hartman also has running ability with 196 yards and a touchdown on the year. But the Irish defense is particularly stingy against the run, giving up just over 100 yards per contest, good for the upper half of all of college football. Notre Dame has the depth and the talent up front to contain the Deacons.

EDGE: Notre Dame


Demon Deacon Offensive Coaching

The Wake Forest offense, run by offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero, has a unique look to it with its extremely fast tempo, something Notre Dame has not seen yet this year. However, Notre Dame’s defense is deep, strong and, most importantly, good. Led by veterans in Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill, who will more than likely not see much time off the field Saturday, the Irish will bend, not break against Ruggiero’s quick-paced offense that aims to get off over 100 snaps per game.

EDGE: Notre Dame


Demon Deacon Offensive Special Teams

Wake Forest has a bonafide weapon in this area of the game in slot receiver Greg Dortch, as the redshirt sophomore is among the national leaders in punt returns (14th at 17.0, with a nation’s leading two TDs), and kickoff returns (18th at 27.3). The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder missed last November’s game with an injury, but will need to be a priority for the Irish special teams defense to stop.

However, the Irish haven’t been great at defending punts and kickoffs this season, having already let one go for a touchdown. If Dortch gets a chance to return the ball on Jonathan Doerer’s kickoffs or Tyler Newsome’s punts, watch out.

EDGE: Wake Forest

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