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Notre Dame-Wake Forest: What the Irish Learned

Nov. 6, 2017

By John Heisler

Notre Dame’s seventh straight victory Saturday did not hold a candle to the crazy offensive numbers produced in the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game, but it was close. The Irish allowed 597 total yards and 37 points to Wake Forest–enough to win a lot of football games–but those totals weren’t good enough in the face of a gargantuan Notre Dame offensive output. The Irish finished with 710 total yards of their own–10 short of the single-game school record of 720 from 1969 against Navy–and that was sufficient to carry the day.

Here are some takeaways from Notre Dame’s wet and wild win over the Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium:

1. No Adams, no problem. Irish Heisman Trophy candidate Josh Adams sat out the final three periods Saturday, but that didn’t slow the Notre Dame offense. Adams’ other tailback mates–Dexter Williams, Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh–now have combined for 845 rushing yards in 2017 and quarterback Brandon Wimbush has kicked in 639 more (plus 13 rushing scores). Adams’ 137 carries represent only 33.0 percent of Notre Dame’s rushing plays in 2017. The Irish as a team lead the nation at 7.04 rushing yards per attempt.

2. Wimbush picking good time to get hot. Notre Dame’s first-year starter at quarterback displays continued improvement throwing the football, the Irish offensive line (led by all-star veterans Mike McGlinchey at tackle and Quenton Nelson at guard) paves the way for the running game in a major way–and Notre Dame’s defense mostly has caught everybody’s attention in recent weeks. But it was Wimbush who had the best day against Wake Forest–throwing for a career-best 280 yards and running for another 110 and two scores. The Irish can use that sort of productivity down the stretch, with two of their final three games away from home. Said Irish coach Brian Kelly, “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.”

3. It wasn’t a great day for the Notre Dame defense, but . . . . After two attention-grabbing efforts on that side of the ball in wins over USC and North Carolina State, the Irish looked human Saturday against the Demon Deacons. The Notre Dame offense simply overwhelmed Wake Forest early on in building leads of 31-10 (halftime) and then 41-16. Give the visitors credit for not folding their tent on a wet weather day, as they hung tough to post 12 first downs in the final period alone. Said Kelly, “Wake Forest executed their offense terrifically. They were really, really good. And you saw missed tackles that you haven’t seen all year. You saw some play that hadn’t shown itself at times, and that’s not who we are 75 percent of the way through this season. So let’s go back and look at how we can improve on that.” After nine games the Irish still have allowed only four rushing TDs and only Alabama, Wisconsin and Washington (three each) have done better.

4. The Irish turnover numbers are scary. Notre Dame hasn’t just produced turnovers this season (18 so far), it has turned those opponent miscues into a 108-10 advantage in points scored after those turnovers (no FBS team has scored that many points). Wake Forest only turned it over once Saturday, but Julian Love‘s 25-yard interception return was as big a play as there was in the football game–as it set up a five-yard TD run that made it a two-score game. Notre Dame now ranks seventh in turnover margin (plus-11) and 13th in turnovers gained.

5. Notre Dame needs road warrior mentality . The hype gets bigger after last week’s #3 College Football Playoff ranking combined with this week’s prime-time matchup against old rival Miami (with the longest win streak in the nation at 13) and the appearance of ESPN GameDay. Notre Dame’s overall 2017 schedule ranks second in degree of difficulty according to the NCAA (behind Maryland)–and the remaining slate for the Irish ranks third toughest at .750 (remaining opponents are a combined 18-6 against FBS foes), behind only Auburn and Maryland. The Irish last defeated an unbeaten opponent on the road in the month of November against USC in 1988.