Notre Dame at Wake Forest

The Sports Xchange

September 19, 2018 at 5:43 pm.

KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C.
SERIES: Notre Dame leads 4-0 and won 48-37 in 2017.
RANKINGS: Notre Dame No. 8

Fighting Irish

–RB Tony Jones Jr. enters the week with momentum after rushing for 118 yards on 17 carries in his first start of the season last Saturday against Vanderbilt. Jones has 224 rushing yards this season, which leads the team.

–CB Julian Love has 31 pass breakups in two-plus seasons and could set the program record against Wake Forest. He needs only two more pass breakups to pass all-time record holder Clarence Ellis, who went on to become a first-round NFL draft pick in 1972.

–LB Drue Tranquill has been a tackling machine in the first three games, and he will look to maintain his frenetic pace against the Demon Deacons. Tranquill is averaging seven tackles per game, which is fourth in the nation.

–P Tyler Newsome is coming off a record-setting performance in which he averaged 59.6 yards per punt in a 22-17 win over Vanderbilt. That is the second-highest average by a punter with at least five punts in a game since 1996.

Demon Deacons

–QB Sam Hartman didn’t look poised at times against Boston College in the ACC opener, and the stakes will be big again with No. 8 Notre Dame arriving. Plus, veteran QB Kendall Hinton is eligible after a three-game suspension, so the Demon Deacons have other options.

–RB Cade Carney eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in the past two games, but the rushing lanes could be congested against Notre Dame’s defense. The junior has four career games with 100 or more yards rushing, but none came in 2017.

–WR Greg Dortch was rather quiet for segments of the Boston College game after coming off a three-touchdown game when he scored twice on punt returns and another time on a reception against Towson. Still, he managed 93 receiving yards on nine catches. The Demon Deacons will look for him to help spread out the Notre Dame defense.

–K Nick Sciba has made six consecutive field goals. The freshman missed his first attempt of the season but has been good on those kicks ever since. Yet five of his field goals have come from less than 30 yards out, underscoring the team’s offensive struggles in the red zone.


After three solid wins at home, No. 8 Notre Dame take to the road for the first time Saturday at Wake Forest in the first of five matchups with ACC teams this season.

Kickoff at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, N.C., is noon ET. ABC has the telecast.

“We have a challenge on the road,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We know we have to play at a high level to win on Saturday.”

It’s important, Kelly said, for his players to understand that momentum likely will be working against them. But, he said, “Those things don’t generally decide the game. It’s still about your execution and your preparation.”

Kelly’s Fighting Irish (3-0) have won their first three games in a season for the fourth time in seven years and are one of nine teams nationally with unbeaten records with a schedule exclusively against Football Bowl Subdivision competition.

This could be a chance for the Irish to get their offense cranked up given Wake Forest’s mishaps in pass coverages. The Demon Deacons (2-1) gave up five passing touchdowns in a loss to Boston College last week.

“Defensively, right now, we’re not playing well in the secondary,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “It’s just all explosives.”

Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush blistered Wake Forest with 280 passing yards and 110 rushing yards in last year’s 48-37 win in South Bend, Ind. Yet Wimbush has been mistake-prone at times this season, with four interceptions compared to one touchdown toss in three games.

Part of Wimbush’s issues might come from a youthful receiving corps.
“Growing pains. We’re still growing,” Kelly said. “We’re all trying to look for that consistency in performance.”

Wake Forest linebacker Justin Strnad said the defense has been hindered by biting on play-action fakes, leaving the secondary vulnerable.

On top of Wake Forest’s woes in giving up big plays, Notre Dame has scored in the first four minutes of games in eight different games covering a two-season span. Last Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt was the fifth straight victory for Notre Dame in which it held the opposing team to fewer than 20 points.

The biggest clash could come when Wake Forest’s rushing attack meets Notre Dame’s defensive front. Wake Forest has gained 264 yards per game on the ground, while Notre Dame has allowed 107 rushing yards per outing.

The Irish defense that hasn’t given up a rushing play of 20 or more yards this season but could be tested by Wake Forest. Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Harman has passed for an average of 278 yards a game.

“A prolific offense,” Kelly said. “They’re starting a true freshman quarterback in Hartman, but he’s really comfortable in the offense. He’s supported with a really good offensive line.”

Wake Forest running back Cade Carney has reached the 100-yard mark the past two games, but Matt Colburn was the team’s leading rusher in the Boston College loss with 117 yards (compared to Carney’s 116).

Notre Dame didn’t have to deal with dynamic receiver/punt returner Greg Dortch last year because the Wake Forest standout was injured. he has 170 yards on 10 returns this season.

“He can take over a football game, an electric player,” Kelly said. “He’s someone we have to keep an eye on as it relates to special teams.”

Wake Forest’s offense had done plenty to get Kelly’s attention. For the first time in school history, the Demon Deacons have racked up 500 or more yards of total offense in four consecutive games.

Yet the Demon Deacons often slumped in the red zone with only 10 touchdowns on 20 trips inside their opponent’s 20-yard line.

“We continue to have red-zone struggles,” Clawson said. “We end up kicking field goals. Anytime you don’t score a touchdown down there, they’re just points you’re leaving off the board.”