After a tough victory against Vanderbilt, the number 8 Fighting Irish go on the road for the first time in 2018.
Notre Dame football plays its first road game of the 2018 season today against Wake Forest. Here’s what you need to know.
Opponent: Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2-1)
Last week: Lost to Boston College, 41-34
Today’s Game Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina (BB&T Field at Groves Stadium)
Forecast: Clear skies at kickoff, thunderstorms rolling in late. High of 86, low of 63.
Time/Channel: 12:00 pm ET, ABC
Last week was not ideal for Notre Dame, but a win is a win. It’s better than what can be said for Wake Forest’s Week 3, after suffering their first loss to Boston College and the suddenly explosive Eagle offense.
Although not a “rivalry game” the Irish and Demon Deacons are no strangers to each other. The two programs have matched up 4 times since 2011. The most recent meeting was last season, when Wake Forest gave the Irish defense all it could handle.
It could be much of the same this season, although some key Demon Deacons are gone. But don’t be mistaken — just because one of he best quarterbacks in program history is no longer on the team, don’t think this will be a walk in the park.
When Wake Forest has the ball…
One of the biggest keys to the Wake Forest offense isn’t a player — it’s the playbook.
Wake Forest runs an up tempo offense, which Notre Dame was tested by in a near 100 play effort from Ball State in Week 2. This time, Wake Forest brings far superior athletes.
Gone is quarterback John Wolford, who threw for 338 yards last season against the Irish. In his place is freshman Sam Hartman. Hartman has 834 yards and six touchdowns through the air, although he also has five interceptions.
Even though Hartman did tear up Tulane and Towson, he was far from impressive last week against the first Power 5 defense he’s seen. He completed just 20 of 45 pass attempts with two interceptions. He’s also somewhat of a threat on the ground, as he’s accounted for 64, 64 and 65 yards in each game respectively. That’s just about as consistent as you’ll see.
Kendal Hinton, who was thought by many to be the starter in the preseason, is back following a three game suspension. He’ll be Hartman’s backup.
The primary run threats from the Demon Deacons come from Matt Colburn and Cade Carney. Carney has never rushed for more than 589 yards in a single season, but he already has 300 to go along with two touchdowns.
The other half of this tough tandem, Matt Colburn, is one of those classic college football players where it feels like he’s been at the school for 10 years. After a 120 yard performance last season against the Irish, Colburn has already shown he can handle a tough Irish defense. Colburn is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, and although on pace for under 1,000 yards, he’s more than capable of a breakout game at any time.
Sage Surratt (18 receptions, 263 yards) and Alex Bachman (nine receptions, 3 touchdowns) are two popular Hartman targets. Although both are talented enough to make a huge impact, there’s one receiver that could (and likely will) make an even bigger impact.
Wide receiver Greg Dortch is the key receiver, leading the team with 33 catches and 336 yards. Although Dortch is the top receiving threat, he’s also a huge special teams threat. Dortch is both the kick returner and the punt returner.
Dortch has six kickoff returns for 164 yards. He also has 10 punt returns for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He could present a problem all day long for the Irish.
When Wake Forest is on defense…
The biggest headline about the Wake Forest defense is the news that starting safety Cameron Glenn may not play this week due to an undisclosed injury. A redshirt senior and team captain, Glenn has 187 career tackles and 4 interceptions. Losing Glenn would be a huge blow to the secondary.
Wake Forest doesn’t exactly bring one of the best defenses in the country to the table. They’re currently ranked No.107 in total defense while giving up 26 points per game — tied for 77th in the nation.
The Demon Deacons are also 65th in rushing yards allowed per game and 120th in passing yards allowed. They’ve only force two turnovers this season as well, with both being fumble recoveries.
They also only have 4 sacks this year, with the team leader having 1.5. That distinction belongs to linebacker Justin Strnad, who also leads the team in tackles with 17. A redshirt junior, Strnad had 51 tackles last year without starting a single game.
Defensive tackles Zeek Rodney and Willie Yarbary are two linemen to watch, combining for 21 tackles and 4.5 for loss. Both will be looking to create havoc while likely matching up against Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher.
Under the radar Wake Forest player to watch: Quarterback Kendall Hinton
Although Hinton will be the backup this week, it would not at all be surprising to see him on the field, especially if Hartman struggles like he did against Boston College. Given how good the Wake Forest staff thought Hinton would be prior to suspension, he could be an unexpected X-factor in Wake Forest’s upset bid.
Under the radar Notre Dame player to watch: Wide Receiver Michael Young
Young may not be as under the radar this week as he was last week, but he still won’t get the attention that Mack, Claypool and Boykin get. Last week, Young had a key block that lead to an early touchdown for the Irish on offense. On special teams, he had two kick returns for 66 yards. This week, he’ll be splitting duties with Jafar Armstrong.
Matchup to watch: The Special Teams Battle
More specifically, the Notre Dame punting/kicking game vs the Wake Forest punt/kick return. The Irish special teams hasn’t been all too great so far in 2018. Tyler Newsome has been unbelievable this season, especially last week, pinning Vanderbilt deep in their own territory late in the game on multiple occasions.
The problem is Notre Dame ranks No. 118 (out of 130) in kickoff return defense, giving up 27 yards per return and one touchdown. They also rank a better (but still concerning) 70th in punt return defense.
Greg Dorich is arguably one of the best returners Notre Dame will face this season, and he gives Wake Forest a chance to turn a great Newsome punt into great Demon Deacons field position — or worse.
This should be the toughest test Notre Dame has faced all season. Wake Forest is one of those teams that’s not great at anything, but good to very good at almost everything.
Wake Forest’s hurry up offense is worth worrying about, given Ball State’s ability to tire out the defense. As stated earlier, Wake Forest does bring far superior athletes and more speed which will be an issue. I do think the Notre Dame defense can handle Wake Forest’s offense, but the hurry-up may throw a wrench into it.
I think this game comes down to the “matchup to watch,” with special teams resulting in field position.
I realize field position is such a basic go-to, but it may be more pivotal this week than in any of the past three. Given the ability of Dortch and, at times lack of ability on Notre Dame special teams, it’ll be a huge battle.
I do think this is another Notre Dame win, but it would not at all shock me if Wake Forest can pull the upset. To borrow a quote from Lee Corso, “this game will be closer than the experts think.”
Notre Dame 31, Wake Forest 27