Early football preview and predictions: Wake Forest
Observer Sports Staff | Wednesday, April 1, 2020
If our prayers are answered and the 2020 college football season starts on time, Notre Dame should enter this clash against the Demon Deacons 3-0. Many Irish fans will view this game at the home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers as a tune-up for the following week’s Lambeau showdown vs. Wisconsin. Wake Forest’s recent surge to ACC and national prominence under seventh-year head coach Dave Clawson, however, suggests that the Irish would be unwise to look past the second of three neutral site games on Notre Dame’s schedule.
Opponent: Wake Forest
Date: Sept. 26
Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
History of the Matchup
The Irish and Demon Deacons have met four times with Notre Dame coming out on top in each matchup. Their largest margin of victory came two seasons ago in 2018 as they routed Wake Forest 56-27 in Winston-Salem in then-junior quarterback Ian Book’s first game taking over for Brandon Wimbush as starter. The two teams also met the year prior in 2017 at Notre Dame Stadium as a then-Playoff hopeful Irish winning 48-37. The Irish would then see their CFP hopes dashed the following week with a 41-8 loss at Miami.
Wake Forest reached a school-record fourth consecutive bowl game in 2019 and played in the Pinstripe Bowl, where they suffered a narrow 27-21 loss to Michigan State. Finishing the season 8-5, the Demon Deacons climbed as high as No. 19 in the College Football Playoff rankings in early November.
Wake Forest’s offense put the country on notice in 2019. The Demon Deacons ranked 15th nationally in total offense, but the unit now has a lot of holes that need replacing, most notably at the quarterback position. Jamie Newman threw for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2019 in his only full season as a starter, but he left via graduate transfer for Georgia to fill the Jake Fromm-sized void in Athens.
The suspension of spring practices due to the novel coronavirus interrupted an intriguing quarterback battle in Winston-Salem. Sophomore Sam Hartman is the clear favorite for the job, with a clear advantage in experience. Hartman actually started over Newman for the Demon Deacons in 2018 before suffering a season-ending leg injury, and he threw for over 300 yards in a 22-20 win over Florida State last year when Newman was out with a hurt shoulder. Incoming four-star recruit Mitch Griffis and redshirt freshman Michael Kern reportedly impressed in camp while it lasted, though.
Fortunately for Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons return most of their major pieces on the defensive side of the ball, with the exception of the cornerback position. That position poses the most question marks for Notre Dame’s defense as well, but defensive coordinator Clark Lea will again direct what ESPN projects to be a top-15 unit in 2020. Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton and senior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will headline a solid unit featuring a veteran, though perhaps not dominant, defensive line.
New Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees will definitely wish he had a complete session of spring practice, as Ian Book will have to find several new targets in his final year of eligibility. Chase Claypool, Chris Finke, and Cole Kmet are all gone, and Irish fans will be hoping that several standouts in the highly-touted 2020 recruiting class — including ESPN300 wideout Jordan Johnson and four-star tight ends Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman — are able to challenge for playing time. Especially early in the season, it would be unsurprising to see the Irish rely on a strong running game. Chris Tyree, the 30th ranked overall recruit in the 2020 class, will likely join Jafar Armstrong and C’Bo Flemster in a three-pronged rushing attack led by Armstrong.
Jimmy Ward — Associate Sports Editor
Although the Demon Deacons had a standout season in 2019, I doubt that the Irish will not be able to handle them easily heading into Charlotte coming off what should be two consecutive wins at home to Arkansas and Western Michigan.
Although this will be Wake Forest’s biggest matchup of the year save their hosting of ACC powerhouse Clemson late in the season, the Irish should be able to get the job done easily. Wake might be able to put up some points against a somewhat unproven Irish defense, but the Irish should handle this one
Final: Notre Dame 31, Wake Forest 17
Gregory McKenna — Sports Writer
I would normally consider the Demon Deacons a very dangerous opponent, but I do not believe this will be one of Notre Dame’s quintessential trap games. Wake Forest’s offense will still be finding its footing, and the home field advantage the Demon Deacons would have enjoyed at tiny BB&T field will likely be nonexistent over an hour away at Bank of America Stadium, where there will be plenty of Irish fans in attendance. I would not be surprised if Ian Book and the offense start slow, but they should have too much talent to be stifled by a defense that gave up almost 30 points per game last year. Notre Dame’s defense will get the job done, and I think the Irish will win by more than two touchdowns.
Final: Notre Dame 31, Wake Forest 13