Notre Dame gets what matters against Wake Forest: A win, 48-37

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Its first two offensive plays of Saturday’s second half netted Notre Dame a loss of one yard, yet those two plays turned a pyrrhic victory into a prototypical 48-37 victory over Wake Forest.

Sophomore running back Deon McIntosh’s four-yard gain was quickly negated by a false start penalty on fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey. Then junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush missed a deep connection with sophomore receiver Chase Claypool.

The dropped pass counted as a good thing. The deep shot showed Wimbush was still healthy, at least as far as football is concerned. Instead of the needed win costing Notre Dame its offensive keystone to a left hand injury, the sloppy victory fit in line with what has become a usual Irish offensive performance, though this one exceeded even those expanding norms.

“I’d say offensively, they’re certainly up there with the caliber of Clemson,” Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson said. “They’re a really good football team. They’ve beaten a lot of good teams. They beat us today and we’re a good team.”

The Irish rushed for 384 yards, led by Wimbush’s 114 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back and Heisman-hopeful Josh Adams took only five carries for 22 yards, sidelined for all but the first quarter after a hit to the head prompted concussion concerns. Kelly said Adams was cleared to return, but the exercised caution caused no harm. Notre Dame averaged 8.53 yards per carry. It gained a total of 710 yards. For now on, let’s just call that “a lot” of yards, because 710 is a somewhat difficult to fathom.

Most of them were necessary, though. After being held to 10 points and 242 yards in the first half, Wake Forest managed 27 points and 345 after halftime.

“Winning is hard, especially in November,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Anytime that you find a way to win football games when teams are executing at a high level, which Wake Forest executed their offense extremely well today, you’re pleased.”

Wimbush played a key role in the offensive showcase, adding 280 yards and a touchdown through the air to his rushing totals. All that was nearly rendered a footnote when just before halftime he took a hit at the end of a 28-yard run. Though he did not score, Wimbush remained down in the Notre Dame Stadium north end zone for a few minutes. From there he went straight up the tunnel to the locker room, emerging after the break with a padded glove protecting his non-throwing hand. A large bandage covered the hand in post-game interviews.

Wimbush said the injury did not bother him much in the second half, and it should not moving forward, either, then admitting taking snaps from center was difficult.

“But we don’t do that too much and we were able to do the things we do under center out of the gun or out of the pistol, so it didn’t affect much in terms of the throwing game,” Wimbush said. “Maybe handing it off, as well, but everything is good and I’ll be good to go next week.”

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
For the second consecutive game and the third time this season, sophomore cornerback Julian Love jumped a route and saw clear passage to the end zone in front of him. This time Love ended a Wake Forest drive early in the second quarter with the Irish leading 14-3. A touchdown would grant Notre Dame both a three-possession lead and an abundance of momentum.

Unfortunately for Love’s stats, Deacons senior quarterback John Wolford had an angle on him and knocked him out of bounds at the five-yard line. No matter, sophomore running back Tony Jones took the next snap into the end zone for the aforementioned lead and momentum.

It was one of Wolford’s few mistakes, finishing the day with 331 yards and two touchdowns on 28-of-45 passing. As well as the Irish defense has played this season — and it has — Wolford knows the scheme well. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko spent the last three seasons in the same role at Wake Forest.

“Their quarterback was playing against this defense for three or four years now,” Irish senior captain and linebacker Drue Tranquill said afterward. “He’s obviously very experienced in that. His eyes were in the right place at every point in the game and ours weren’t necessarily.”

Despite the defensive lapses in the second half, forcing a miscue early and immediately capitalizing on it set Notre Dame toward the eventual win. Love is beginning to make a habit of such.

OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
The Irish defense had yet to relax when the Deacons marched 54 yards in three minutes midway through the third quarter. That was simply a good offense, and if it went the final 23 yards to the end zone, the Notre Dame lead would have been cut to 34-17 with six minutes left in the third quarter. Wake Forest might have started to wonder about the realm of possibility.

Instead, Irish senior defensive end Jay Hayes forced Wolford to rush a pass and then Love made a tackle in the backfield to bring up third-and-12. When the Deacons could not convert, they turned to their field goal unit.

Missing the field goal was an added bonus for Notre Dame. The real task had been to keep Wake Forest out of the end zone. The 24-point deficit was not going to be overcome in 21 minutes relying on field goals.

PLAY(S) OF THE GAME
This could qualify as another overlooked point of the game. Tossing superlatives on it may seem out of place. One should not usually praise spin moves that lead to unnecessary fumbles and injured running backs.

Toward the end of the first quarter, Wimbush took to a scramble, attempting to make something happen with a mere 7-3 lead. As he spun from a tackle, Deacons linebacker Kalin McNeil poked away the ball. It bounced around for a moment. Somewhere in this sequence Adams took the hit that knocked him out for the day.

Irish senior left guard Quenton Nelson saw the ball, already on the ground having physically completed a block. He climbed over a Wake Forest defensive lineman to get to it.

Of course he did. Nelson does whatever he wants on a football field.

The drive resulted in only a Notre Dame field goal and a 10-3 lead, but that was far preferable to the Irish than gifting the Deacons a short-field and a chance at their second lead of the day.

PLAYER OF THE GAME
To produce 390 total yards and three touchdowns in only three quarters is to stake a claim to this space, and thus Wimbush did. He also received the game ball from Kelly.

“The narrative of him [not] being able to throw the football should change dramatically,” Kelly said. “He had a couple of drops out there or he would have easily thrown for close to 300 yards, so hopefully that has been put to rest.”

Kelly apparently did not want to play Wimbush in the second half. As much as Adams is the star of the Irish offense, Wimbush is the headache for opposing defensive coordinators. Kelly wanted to protect that asset.

“How many scrambles did he have?” Clawson asked rhetorically. “How many third-and-long scrambles did he have that we couldn’t tackle? … We’d get after the passer, get a little bit of a pass-rush, get them fleshed, but couldn’t get [him] on the ground.”

Wimbush insisted to Kelly he would play, and with that cushioned glove he did.

“I loved his grit, his toughness,” Kelly said. “Gets hit pretty hard, right before the half, and … he wanted to get back in the game. Put a pad on his hand and went back in the game and showed great grit and great leadership.”

STAT OF THE GAME
Josh Adams deserves to be in the Heisman Trophy discussion. He deserves it because he is a complete running back achieving great individual success this season. He deserves it also because Notre Dame’s offensive line is making that success quite possible. Consider the individual rushing totals Saturday:

Wimbush ran for 114 yards on 11 carries, adjusting for a sack.
Sophomore Deon McIntosh ran for 63 yards on nine carries.
Jones gained 59 yards on 10 rushes.
Sophomore quarterback Ian Book took three carries for 54 yards.
Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson had two end-arounds for 42 yards.
Junior Dexter Williams gained 33 yards on three carries.
And Adams managed 22 yards on five rushes before his injury.

“You could put a lot of running backs behind that offensive line and anybody will produce,” Wimbush said. “The rest of the backs did a great job of preparing throughout the week, and when they have the opportunity, they are able to take advantage of it, and obviously it’s a testament to up front continuing their dominance and opening up holes for the guys.”

QUOTE OF THE EVENING
“A little sloppy today, but the message is a win is a win.” — McGlinchey.

On a day where many of the nation’s elite did not do enough to issue such an abbreviated cliché, McGlinchey’s point rings strongly.

A win is a win is a [insert four-beat pause] win.

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
8:46 — Wake Forest field goal. Mike Weaver 34 yards. Wake Forest 3, Notre Dame 0. (14 plays, 82 yards, 4:11)
6:26 — Notre Dame touchdown. Brandon Wimbush six-yard run. Justin Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Wake Forest 3. (7 plays, 48 yards, 2:20)

Second Quarter
14:18 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 34 yards. Notre Dame 10, Wake Forest 3. (9 plays, 70 yards, 3:38)
14:00 — Notre Dame touchdown. Tony Jones five-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Wake Forest 3. (1 play, 5 yards, 0:05)
10:13 — Wake Forest touchdown. John Wolford 20-yard rush. Weaver PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Wake Forest 10. (3 plays, 69 yards, 0:40)
8:38 — Notre Dame touchdown. Wimbush 50-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 24, Wake Forest 10. (5 plays, 65 yards, 1:35)
0:22 —Notre Dame touchdown. Nic Weishar one-yard reception from Ian Book. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 31, Wake Forest 10. (9 plays, 99 yards, 2:47)

Third Quarter
9:19 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 22 yards. Notre Dame 34, Wake Forest 10. (12 plays, 52 yards, 4:00)
2:54 — Wake Forest touchdown. Alex Bachman 30-yard reception from Wolford. Two-point try failed. Notre Dame 34, Wake Forest 16. (6 plays, 63 yards, 1:32)
2:04 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chase Claypool 34-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 41, Wake Forest 16. (4 plays, 78 yards, 0:50)
0:30 — Wake Forest touchdown. Matt Colburn 24-yard rush. Weaver PAT good. Notre Dame 41, Wake Forest 23. (6 plays, 75 yards, 1:34)

Fourth Quarter
11:39 — Notre Dame touchdown. Deon McIntosh two-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 48, Wake Forest 23. (9 plays, 85 yards, 3:51)
8:45 — Wake Forest touchdown. Jack Freudenthal 11-yard reception from Wolford. Weaver PAT good. Notre Dame 48, Wake Forest 30. (12 plays, 70 yards, 2:54)
0:51 — Wake Forest touchdown. Isaiah Robinson two-yard rush. Weaver PAT good. Notre Dame 48, Wake Forest 37. (14 plays, 90 yards, 4:36)

Notre Dame adds another 2019 commitment out of Georgia

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Eight months from now, Notre Dame may be forced to sign a smaller recruiting class than usual thanks to the larger class this past recruiting cycle. If that expectation does indeed hold, this past week’s five commitments, including consensus three-star safety Kyle Hamilton’s (Marist High School; Atlanta) on Tuesday evening, will be a hefty portion of the class.

Hamilton becomes the second safety in the class, and in the week, following the Saturday pledge of rivals.com four-star Litchfield Ajavon (Episcopal H.S.; Alexandria, Va.). Hamilton’s list of finalists included Michigan, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, a grouping more telling than perhaps his recruiting ranking is.

Some of that expected potential may derive from Hamilton’s 6-foot-3 frame. Such length at safety would be a change for the Irish, currently without a safety taller than six-feet in the rotation. Even heralded incoming-freshman Derrik Allen, also out of Georgia, is listed at only 6-foot-1.

It is a coincidence those two Georgia recruits, one signed and one now verbally-committed, are both safeties. Add in the January commitment of rivals.com three-star cornerback K.J. Wallace (Lovett; Atlanta), and a third defensive back comes from the state, along with class of 2018 signees tight end Tommy Tremble and running back C’Bo Flemister. Five prospects from Georgia, presuming both Hamilton and Wallace do indeed sign with Notre Dame, is not a coincidence.

“My point being is that it’s such a fertile ground in recruiting, you just need to be in [Georgia], and there’s great football players in there,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in December 2017, during the inaugural early signing period. “We’ve got so many players that we can talk about that came of there. It’s just having a presence and getting back into a very, very good recruiting area for us. We need to have a great presence there.”

No matter what state Hamilton comes from, he could find himself quickly in the mix at safety upon his arrival. Presuming health for the current safety depth chart, juniors Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill will have one year of eligibility remaining apiece upon Hamilton’s enrollment. Junior Alohi Gilman will have two, thanks to spending the 2017 season sidelined following his transfer from Navy. Early-enrolled freshman Griffith and Allen will both have three more years, presuming both play in 2018.

Thus, Hamilton and Ajavon could find themselves backing up that last duo as soon as 2020.

Blue-Gold Game Leftovers: Notre Dame’s offensive ceiling is tantalizing, though also unlikely

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Immediately following the 2017 spring game, I walked by two much smarter, savvier and more veteran Notre Dame reporters on our way to post-game interviews. Our two minutes of exchange included them riffing on various hypothetical position changes that were eventually not seen come fall, including how much better of a guard than a tackle Tommy Kraemer could be. It should be noted, the junior began lining up at guard this spring.

My contribution to the conversation hinged entirely on repeating, “That offense just isn’t ready. It’s not close to ready.”

Of course, that assessment figured the spring game struggles were against a porous Irish defense, something freshly-arrived and since-departed defensive coordinator Mike Elko had already taken tangible steps toward fixing, far quicker than expected.

That evaluation also failed to recognize the potential of a running attack led by Josh Adams. Notre Dame knew it had a stalwart running back, and did not need to see more than eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown from the lead back.

The point stood, though. The offense was not ready then or in November.

Driving away from this past Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, the thought bouncing around my pickup’s two-seat cab was simple: This offense is unlikely to reach its ceiling, but if it did, it would be really, absurdly high-powered.

This time, that assessment offers some deference to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s ability to turn nine returning starters into another strong defense, perhaps superior to last year’s.

The praise of the offense must be hedged thanks to IF after IF after IF after IF. If senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush displays those mechanics and that accuracy against opposing defenses …
If senior running back Dexter Williams (pictured above) decides it is worthwhile to play, and play well, through pain …
If junior receiver Chase Claypool maintains the necessary emotional equilibrium …
If senior tight end Alizé Mack offers a consistent performance, even if not stellar, but stable …

In those four upperclassmen alone, the Irish have unique talents whom opposing defensive coordinators should lose sleep thinking about. They will determine how high this offense’s ceiling is, while the likes of senior receiver Miles Boykin, junior running back Tony Jones and sophomore tight end Cole Kmet will set the floor, along with what looks to be yet another overpowering offensive line (with Kraemer at right guard).

Obviously, the most-promising players always set the height of a vaulted the ceiling. As they perform against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech will determine how the season ends. However, to pinpoint four like this is an extreme end of the spectrum.

Exiting last year’s Blue-Gold Game, it was clear Wimbush needed to learn much more of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Aside from that, the only possible ways to increase the offense’s potency was to teach receiver Kevin Stepherson self-discipline and figure out why Mack could not make a gameday impact. The rest was essentially known, even if the running game’s potential was overlooked after the spring exhibition.

Entering this summer, the gap between the offense’s floor and its ceiling is a vast one. To have four question marks of this magnitude speaks to the possible volatility awaiting in the fall. Logically speaking, it is most likely two of the four above IFs become realities. In that case, it will be a good offense, but not the utterly threatening one conceivable. The odds are slim all four come to fruition, but crazier things have happened, especially when discussing the rapid development of 18- to 21-year-olds.

Without Adams following two All-American offensive linemen, this rendition of the Notre Dame offense may take a step backward, but the talent is there for it to actually improve, to carry the day if/when an experienced quarterback picks apart the defense (see: the Seminoles’ Deondre Francois).

That could not be said in 2017.

OTHER QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BLUE-GOLD GAME:
Much of this will be discussed in greater length in the coming two weeks, but …
— The interior of the offensive line — fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and Kraemer at right guard — is quite a physically-imposing trio. Some defensive ends may find success against first-year starter and junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, especially early in the season, but the inside trio should at least create massive holes for the Irish running game.

— Ideally Long can deploy Mack and Kmet together, but the spring performance of the latter certainly eases the concerns about the maturation and consistency of the former.

Notre Dame may need an unexpected influx of production from senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery if the fifth-year tackle he is intended to line up alongside, Jonathan Bonner, does not recover fully from a wrist injury suffered in the beginning of 2017. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

— Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insists fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner’s fitness will not be overly-effected by the wrist injury that kept him out of most of spring practice and all of the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s been doing everything (in weight-lifting) but at lighter weight, and now he’s only a couple of weeks away from being full-go,” Kelly said Saturday. “He was already physically really gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Consider this scribe skeptical. Not only is Kelly often overly-optimistic about injury effects and timetables, but to think missing six months of strength and conditioning will not be noticeable along the defensive interior is idealistic at best. Bonner’s 2017 emergence was a direct result of the arrival of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis.

Without more of that work, the Irish will need to turn to sophomore Kurt Hinish for an increase in snaps, perhaps pushing toward 50 per game with Bonner offering 20-30 and senior Micah Dew-Treadway filling in the balance. Hinish appears to be up to the task, which is necessary, because classmate Darnell Ewell is not.

Notre Dame gains commitments of four-star defensive end and three-star offensive tackle

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At this rate, Notre Dame might fill its 2019 recruiting class by the time the school year ends. With a Sunday morning commitment of a consensus four-star defensive end followed by a Monday evening pledge from a consensus three-star offensive tackle, the Irish class has grown from three recruits to seven in just four days.

The No. 238 prospect in the country and No. 28 at defensive end, per rivals.com, Howard Cross III (St. Joseph High School; Montvale, N.J.) announced his commitment via Twitter shortly after leaving campus from a visit for the Blue-Gold Game, choosing the Irish over offers from Michigan, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, among others.

“I could tell [current Notre Dame players] really loved the school,” Cross said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “It was really, really big to talk to them. When I was going to all the colleges, that was the main thing I wanted to do. I wanted to get the perspective of the players.”

Cross joins consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse H.S.; Texas) as half of the four defensive linemen already in the Irish recruiting class. As always, no collegiate defensive line can be deep enough. Considering the previous two recruiting classes have yielded a total of two defensive ends — Kofi Wardlow and Justin Ademilola — opportunity should be aplenty for Cross and Spears early in their careers.

The defensive end duo will likely spend a not-insignificant portion of their collegiate career practices butting heads with Andrew Kristofic (Pine-Richland; Gibsonia, Pa.). If the high school of Pine-Richland jumps off the figurative page to Notre Dame recruitniks, that is because Kristofic has much experience protecting high school teammate and incoming Irish freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

He chose Notre Dame, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, rather than offers from a lengthy list including Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

“The combination that their school is able to provide being one of the very best schools in the entire country academically and one of the very athletically stands out,” Kristofic said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “I think they have the best combination of those two things on top of being a school that is known for being able to produce such great offensive linemen is something that no other schools really have the combination of all those.

“When you can put together all the things that they can there, it’s certainly not something you can overlook or take for granted.”

The beginning of this influx of commitments came with the Friday decision of consensus four-star offensive tackle John Olmstead (St. Joseph; Metuchen, N.J.), the only other offensive lineman in the class to this point. Of the seven recruits committed to the Irish, five are four-star talents.

Former Notre Dame defensive lineman, Kona Schwenke, dies at 25

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Former Notre Dame defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, 25, reportedly died in his sleep Sunday morning. The cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

Schwenke spent four seasons along the Irish defensive front, culminating in a 23-tackle senior season, in 2013. Attrition along the defensive line in his first two seasons forced Schwenke into playing time, costing him a likely fifth-year with much greater production. He played in 31 games total, making 30 tackles.

Part of a Hawaiian surge in Notre Dame recruiting, Schwenke joined the likes of receiver Robby Toma and linebacker Manti Te’o in coming from the island in 2009 and 2010. The first two committed during Charlie Weis’ tenure, but Schwenke made the leap at the very beginning of Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s career, one of the first recruits to commit to Kelly at Notre Dame. Since then, sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has renewed the trend.

Schwenke graduated in 2014 with a degree in anthropology. He then signed with the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs, moving around four different NFL franchises chasing his dream. Earlier this month he took part in a scouting event, The Spring League, gaining some notice when he forced Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel into a fumble.

Former Irish teammates took to social media Sunday afternoon celebrating Schwenke’s life and friendship.