Notre Dame football is 3-0 heading into their first road game of the 2018 season. They will be traveling to Winston-Salem, NC to take on the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00pm ET this Saturday, September 22nd.
Despite their record and standing in the latest AP Poll, the first three weeks of the 2018 college football season have not been smooth sailing for Notre Dame football. After entering September with high hopes that were partially validated in week one, Irish fans have been humbled.
This week, the team will leave South Bend for their first road game of the season. Maybe a brief change of scenery will help this team get back on track.
Notre Dame’s opponent this week is Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are an offensive-minded team that likes to play up-tempo. The Irish defense has played well thus far, but they will be tested on Saturday. Here are some key matchups to watch when they are on the field.
Matt Colburn and Cade Carney vs. the Notre Dame Linebackers
Most of the talk about the Wake Forest offense focuses on the passing game. Considering their talent at the wide receiver position, this should not come as much of a surprise. However, the Wake Forest offense has been very balanced through three games this season. The Demon Deacons have passed for 834 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 792 yards and four touchdowns.
The two men spearheading the Wake Forest rushing attack are Matt Colburn and Cade Carney. Irish fans should be familiar with Colburn as he rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame when the two teams played last season. Carney has emerged this season as a very capable number two back that can help shoulder some of the workload in the Demon Deacon backfield.
Colburn and Carney have combined for 496 rushing yards and three touchdowns thus far. Behind that duo, the Demon Deacons are averaging the 15th-most rushing yards per game. This week’s matchup will pit strength against strength as Notre Dame’s defense ranks 22nd nationally in opponents’ rushing yards per attempt.
Linebackers Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill will be put the test this weekend against an up-tempo Wake Forest offense that does not allow you to substitute mid-series. Given how much those two have played thus far, they should be able to handle the pace of this game. Their workload becomes a bit more concerning in the long-term picture.
Greg Dortch and Sage Surratt vs. the Notre Dame Secondary
Even though he missed last year’s game due to injury, almost all Notre Dame fans know the name Greg Dortch. All coverage of this game will cover him in some form or fashion. Dortch currently has the 12th-most receiving yards in all of college football, and he could certainly finish the year in the top ten in that category.
Expectations for Dortch’s 2018 campaign were hedged a bit when news broke that quarterback Kendall Hinton would be suspended for the first three games of the season. However, the Wake Forest offense with freshman quarterback Sam Hartman has not missed a beat.
Through three games, Dortch has 28 catches for 336 yards and a touchdown. While he is not a physically imposing wide receiver, he more than makes up for it with elite speed and agility. Wake Forest’s strategy for easing the transition of their freshman quarterback was to get the ball in the hands of their top offensive play-maker. You can say it has worked out so far.
Lining up with Dortch in the receiving core is standout freshman Sage Surratt. Standing at 6-3 and 210 pounds, Surratt has a more prototypical build for a wide receiver. In his first three collegiate games, he has 18 catches for 263 yards and a touchdown.
Surratt and Dortch compliment each other well within Dave Calwson’s offense. They have accounted for 67.6 percent of all receptions in Wake Forest’s first three games. Despite that market share, the duo only has only combined for two touchdowns. I think that number indicates that both receivers are due to find the endzone over the next few games.
Sam Hartman vs. the Notre Dame Defensive Line
Sam Hartman got an opportunity to win the starting quarterback job at Wake Forest after the perceived favorite for the job, Kendall Hinton, was suspended for the first three games of the season. Hartman has taken full advantage of that opportunity.
Hartman has led the Demon Deacons to a 2-1 start, and their offense is averaging the 15th-most yards per game in the country. His play during that stretch has earned him the starting job for Wake Forest’s week four showdown against Notre Dame.
Hartman may not look the part, but he is a bit of a dual-threat quarterback. He’s rushed for 193 yards and a touchdown in his first three games this season. As is always the case with mobile quarterbacks, containing him inside the pocket is crucial. Notre Dame’s defensive lineman can’t allow Hartman to escape the pocket easily.
If the Irish defensive line can generate a pass rush and keep Hartman in the pocket, the Notre Dame defense will be successful. Hartman has thrown for 834 yards and six touchdowns, but he has done so with a completion percentage of 55.3 percent and with five interceptions. Notre Dame’s best chance at slowing down this Wake Forest offense is to make Hartman uncomfortable and force him to throw.
BONUS: Kendall Hinton vs. the Notre Dame Defense
Heading into this season, Kendall Hinton was the favorite to win the starting quarterback job for the Demon Deacons. However, he was suspended for the first three games for a violation of team rules. His suspension has been served and now he is ready to suit up for Wake Forest.
We know that Hinton will play on Saturday, but we don’t know which position he will play. The junior quarterback spent two weeks during fall camp cross-training at receiver in case one of the other quarterbacks on the roster played well enough during his suspension to claim the starting role. That appears to be the case as head coach Dave Clawson listed Hinton as the backup quarterback on the depth chart this week.
The Wake Forest staff knows that Hinton can still make an impact in this offense even if he is not playing quarterback. Barring any major struggles by Hartman, expect Hinton to take the majority of his snaps at receiver. In addition to that, I am sure the staff has installed specific packages for Hinton to take snaps at quarterback.