Dexter Williams

Things To Learn: On Notre Dame injuries, crowd noise and close games

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No. 3 Notre Dame will have its star pair of juniors in the backfield Saturday night at No. 7 Miami, and both are apparently healthy. Irish coach Brian Kelly expressed little concern for quarterback Brandon Wimbush or running back Josh Adams on Thursday.

Wimbush showed “no ill effects” from the massive hit his left hand took just before halftime in last week’s 48-37 victory over Wake Forest. Kelly said the swelling is down and Wimbush may wear a padded glove on his non-throwing hand to protect it.

That is all well and good, but if Wimbush’s hand is at all a hindrance, ball security could become an issue, especially going against a Hurricanes defense that has forced 12 fumbles in eight games, recovering seven of them. Obviously, limiting Wimbush to the pocket to avoid such concerns would neuter the Notre Dame rushing attack of its most problem-causing threat.

Wimbush’s option to run at any point forces the greatest defensive adjustments and plays a key role in Adams’ success. The latter being healthy and well-rested plays a key role, as well. After last weekend, that is now something to keep an eye on.

“I definitely learned from last week, which is a great thing about football,” the Heisman-hopeful said Wednesday. “You’re constantly learning and have to do better, so taking care of my body a little bit more and feeling good.”

Kelly said junior running back Dexter Williams is not 100 percent recovered from the quad contusion which hampered him last week on what would usually have been a breakaway touchdown, adding, “He can still definitely help us.”

Junior tight end Alizé Mack has been cleared from a concussion. Fifth-year receiver Cam Smith, however, will be out as he continues to work through a hamstring strain that necessitated a platelet-replacement procedure Wednesday.

Lastly, senior cornerback Nick Watkins will be “managing” knee tendonitis. If sophomore Troy Pride sees an abundance of playing time, presume that to be the reason.

Miami is flying high, as are its fans. Will Notre Dame struggle in a genuine road atmosphere?

Some may scoff at this as a possible factor Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC), but with a first-year starter and a few other young starters in the mix, particularly both options at right tackle, the Hurricanes fans will have their opportunity to make an impact.

Yet another interception from Irish sophomore cornerback Julian Love could do wonders for mitigating Miami’s home crowd Saturday night. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

“There will be some nerves and they’ll have to settle into the game,” Kelly said. “They’ve been really good at, once they get into the game, they’ve settled in nicely.

“But there will be moments early on that they have to settle into it.”

The Irish avoided this particular challenge at Michigan State by getting out to a two-possession lead — partly thanks to the momentum-sealing interception returned for a touchdown by sophomore cornerback Julian Love — within the first five minutes of the game. Otherwise, that could have established a data point for this particular query. It also helped that the Spartans were not yet respected as a 2017 contender as they are now, having risen to No. 12 in the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings. That crowd had not yet bought in on its season.

Miami’s has, deservedly so.

On the flipside of the ball, was last week’s defensive performance really just due to distractions and malaise? Or did Notre Dame have something more concerning afoot?

The Hurricanes average 31.5 points and 461 yards per game. It is safe to expect them to find offensive success at some point Saturday night. Two recent Irish foes present similar profiles.

USC averages 35.2 points and 492.4 yards per game.
Wake Forest averages 31.9 points and 445 yards per game.

The former fell short of those averages at Notre Dame, scoring only 14 points and gaining 336 yards. The latter exceeded those averages at Notre Dame to the tune of 38 points and 587 yards. It is hard to believe only two weeks separated those performances.

Kelly continues to point to something of a defensive indifference allowing for the Demon Deacons to run wild in the game’s final third, and he continues to insist it is no longer an issue.

“They practiced the way that they had practiced leading up to last week,” he said. “Every week they had created a new line of scrimmage. Last week they did not create a new line of scrimmage in practice.”

Apparently defensive coordinator Mike Elko made it very clear what led to Saturday’s issues. Kelly said Elko found six plays from practice Wake Forest ran successfully in the game. In each of them, the lack of execution was foreseen in a lack of execution at practice.

Wake Forest hardly struggled against the Irish defense in last week’s second half. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

“It was easy to go back to how we prepared,” Kelly said. “He was great at showing our players that it’s in their preparation and they’ve prepared very well defensively this week.”

Perhaps, the lackluster performance a week ago will actually serve to aid the Irish this weekend.

“Whenever you have a bad performance, you always come back with a chip on your shoulder,” senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill said. “A lot of the guys after the game were ready to put the patch back on and go right back out there because we felt we let one go.”

To feel like you let one get away and still get a win is quite the treat on its own. To take that feeling and then channel it into a better showing a week later on the road against a top-10 opponent would make every point Wake Forest scored a worthwhile allowance to Notre Dame.

Can the Irish win a close game?

Let’s just present a series of facts.

— Notre Dame has not had to turn to Wimbush to lead a game-winning, last-minute drive in two months. That is not a bad thing. No coach in the world will begrudge blowing out each and every opponent.
— When Wimbush did get his chance against Georgia in the season’s second week, his first attempt sputtered and his second was cut short by an unblocked defensive end. He has never had a genuine chance to show the poise, command of the playbook and quick-thinking needed to win a collegiate game in its last minute.
— The last time the Irish prevailed in a one-possession game was also Miami’s last defeat, Oct. 29, 2016. Notre Dame won 30-27.
— Since then, the Irish have gone 0-3 in one-possession games.
— Before that victory, one has to trace back to Nov. 21, 2015, for such a win, 19-16 vs. Boston College at Fenway Park. Since then, Notre Dame has gone 1-7 in one-possession games.
— The last time the Irish beat a ranked foe in a tight game was Oct. 31, 2015, a 24-20 victory at No. 21 Temple, undefeated at 7-0 heading into that game including a win over Penn State.
— Miami has won four games by one-possession this season. Considering the Hurricanes remain undefeated, they have indeed not lost such a contest.

Miami and senior quarterback Malik Rosier have shown the ability to win tight football games. Notre Dame and Wimbush have not, though in no small part because they have simply not needed to.

‘Focus, refocus’ approach applies to both Notre Dame’s defense and Kelly’s 100th game as Irish coach

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On the verge of his 100th game at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly’s description of his eighth season mirrors his plan to avoid another disappointing defensive showing as was displayed in the 48-37 Irish victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.

“It’s focus, refocus at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “I’m honored to have gotten the opportunity to coach 100 games. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever get a chance to coach one game at Notre Dame, so to think of 100, I can’t even wrap my arms around that.”

That “focus, refocus” approach played a role in Kelly rebooting the Irish this year, now standing at 8-1 less than a year removed from a dismal 4-8 season. Similarly, Miami finished a bland 9-4 last year but now has its eyes on the College Football Playoff with an 8-0 record to date. Were the changes between the two programs the same? Not specifically, but a few broad themes may apply to both.

“Fans could be more patient, I’m sure that’s not the answer you wanted,” Kelly said before offering a more sincere thought tying to player development and college football’s 85 scholarships restriction.

Such development begins during the week. Apparently that was the lacking piece for Notre Dame before hosting the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest set season highs for points against and yards allowed by the Irish.

“They didn’t find the key to unlock the secrets of the Elko defense,” Kelly said, referencing defensive coordinator Mike Elko. “There’s nothing like that.

“This is really about playing with the right intensity and the right mental approach to the game. We just didn’t prepare in the manner that we had prepared in the other weeks, and we’ll do that and we’ll need to do that moving forward.”

Kelly listed off a variety of distractions that played a part in the subpar preparation, including senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill having three engineering projects demanding late nights, immaturity not recognizing possible pitfalls, and perhaps too much comfort with a 41-16 lead on the scoreboard. He did not fault the No. 3 ranking in the initial College Football Playoff selection committee poll, but perhaps that was an underlying piece of the vague reference to immaturity.

Wake Forest not only scored 37 points against Notre Dame, but the Demon Deacons also gained 587 total yards.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“The external distractions, we’ve got those covered pretty good for our guys,” Kelly said. “It’s the internal distractions where they start thinking about, oh, maybe I don’t have to play quite as hard this week, maybe I don’t have to get all the nutrition and sleep I need this week.

“… The enemy is the distractions. The enemy isn’t the College Football Playoffs.”

Such a performance resulting in a victory serves as something of a win-win for Kelly and his staff. The “refocus” part of the equation would be more difficult if Notre Dame had lost or if there was little to point toward necessitating its need.

“We use [it as] great learning and teaching opportunities for our guys,” Kelly said.

Speaking of the Playoff poll …
The committee will release an updated version tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The exact rankings may not play into Kelly’s view of weekly preparations, but the fact that they matter at all is a valid piece of November readiness. Such could certainly be said for the Hurricanes, as well.

“I know our guys are excited about this championship drive that they are on now,” Kelly said. “This part of the season, obviously in November, all of the teams that are in contention are focused on one game at a time, and it’s single elimination for most teams.”

It will be single elimination Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (ABC). After tonight, it could be a top-five matchup, though certainly top-10. If offering a prediction, this space would posit the Irish will remain No. 3 while Miami jumps four spots to No. 6. In many respects, that latter landing will not matter. If the Hurricanes win this weekend, they will find themselves in excellent playoff positioning pending an ACC title game victory.

Editor’s Note: The weekly “Notre Dame’s Opponents” piece moved to Wednesday this week to incorporate a CFP focus, but it should be noted Miami (OH) lost 45-28 a week ago at Ohio and will host Akron tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) as 6.5-point favorites with a combined point total over/under of 51, hinting at a 29-22 final.

Injury updates
Kelly had largely good news regarding Irish injuries. He has “no concerns” about the readiness or physical stature of junior running back Josh Adams (“not himself”) or junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush (left hand).

Junior tight end Alizé Mack (concussion) will return to practice today, ready to go for the weekend, and junior running back Dexter Williams (quad contusion, lingering sprained ankle) showed some signs of his trademark explosiveness in the weight room Monday.

Fifth-year receiver Cam Smith remains questionable after further imaging of his hamstring. He will test it in practice to see if he can reach full go.

Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Correcting a relaxed defense & injury updates

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Though Notre Dame’s 48-37 victory over Wake Forest was hardly ever in doubt Saturday, the Irish defense also never played up to its 2017 standard. The Demon Deacons final three scores can perhaps be chalked up to garbage time malaise, but the yardage totals before that stretch speak to an efficient offense moving the ball nearly at will.

Through two minutes less than three quarters, Wake Forest gained 352 total yards (224 passing, 128 rushing). The only thing preventing the Demon Deacons from putting genuine pressure on Notre Dame was their difficulty on third downs, converting only three of 10 to that point. For context, that is more total yards than five previous Irish opponents, including each of the last three, managed in entire games.

Before criticizing the Irish defense, some kudos should be offered to Wake Forest and head coach Dave Clawson’s staff.

“That’s the first thing I’ve told everybody tonight, hats off to Wake Forest,” Notre Dame senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill said following the final victory of a successful three-game stretch at home. “Offensively they came in and executed really well. Their quarterback was crisp in his reads, getting the ball to his receivers, and they got effective in the run game.”

Naturally, Tranquill and the Irish expected to keep the Deacons in check no matter how well senior quarterback John Wolford played (28-of-45 for 331 yards and two touchdowns plus 62 rushing yards and a score on 11 carries). Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday some of the issues may have come from a schematic angle.

“From a coaching standpoint, if we had to do some things differently, we definitely would have done them differently,” Kelly said. “Maybe [we] got too cute in terms of what we were trying to accomplish, trying to cover up some things that we thought they knew about us.”

Without saying as much, Kelly seemed to be referencing the unique dynamic of Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko having spent the last three seasons in the same position at Wake Forest. If his tendencies, preferences and plans are familiar to anybody, it should be Clawson.

“We didn’t do what we normally do,” Kelly said. “We’ll take some of the blame for that in terms of coaching.”

Then, there is the indifference created by a large lead. Kelly specifically referenced Notre Dame’s 41-16 advantage it gained with 2:04 remaining in the third quarter. The Deacons promptly went 75 yards in six plays and 1:34 to cut seven points off that margin. If including that with the fourth quarter totals, Wake Forest gained 235 yards in Saturday’s final 17:04. Including one on that touchdown drive, the Deacons converted three of their final four third downs.

“We didn’t handle ourselves in a manner to close out the game the way we have all year,” Kelly said. “So a little bit of coaching there, a little bit of having a killer instinct on defense, and Wake Forest executing extremely well.”

The Elko aspect is a confluence of his success, Notre Dame’s lax defense last year and a one-in-three chance of scheduling. That will not come about again.

The decreased defensive intensity, however, will undoubtedly be a coaching point for Kelly this week before heading south to face a Miami (FL) offense averaging 461.0 yards per game.

Injury updates
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush officially has a bruised left hand. Kelly indicated the treatment was as simple as an ice pack and expects the dual-threat to be good to go against the Hurricanes.

Kelly reiterated junior running back Josh Adams is not in the concussion protocol after missing all but the first quarter Saturday.

“He felt great today,” Kelly said. “He’ll continue to practice and be ready for Miami.”

Junior running back Dexter Williams may not have the same availability. A sprained ankle has robbed Williams of his explosiveness much of the season. When he broke loose with open field in front of him but was quickly tracked down by the Wake Forest defense, that ankle presumably prevented Williams from speeding away for more than 32 yards.

Kelly said the ankle is no longer the pressing concern with Williams, but rather a quad contusion from earlier in the season has acted up.

“It’s an old injury that has been one that has popped up here and there,” Kelly said. “As you saw in his long run, it affected him. He’s a day-to-day kind of guy.”

From there, Notre Dame should be relatively healthy. Sophomore defensive end Khalid Kareem suffered a hyperextension of his knee, but Kelly said he will not be limited this week. Junior tight end Alizé Mack will return from a concussion Monday. Senior cornerback Nick Watkins will be as available as tendonitis allows him to be. When he can’t go, in steps sophomore Troy Pride.

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)

Things To Learn: Wake Forest offers a look into Notre Dame’s defensive future

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Two-thirds of the way through an undeniably successful season, not much is left to be learned from a home game against a middling — on the rise, but still middling — ACC opponent. Notre Dame relies on a run-oriented offense to provide points while its defense causes enough mayhem to prevent them. The day an opponent scores more than 20 points against the Irish will be a day to note, a first for the season. If a team holds junior running back Josh Adams and the rest of Notre Dame’s rushing attack in check, it will be the first time in nearly two months.

There is little reason to expect Wake Forest to pull off either of those feats Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

If there is any reason to foresee that, it stems from a sense of familiarity. The Demon Deacons know the principles of the Irish defense thoroughly. They are familiar with Notre Dame’s scheme, its intent and the intricacies to its defensive approach. Wake Forest runs the same attacking design.

Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko held the same position with the Deacons from 2014 to 2016 before answering Brian Kelly’s call this past offseason. Amid staff turnover at Minnesota, Jay Sawvel left the Gophers to take Elko’s role in Winston-Salem, keeping much of Elko’s successful operation in place since the personnel was already both used to and ready for it.

“There’s a lot of similarity to the defense that we’ve seen in the past,” Kelly said Tuesday. “It’s still about personnel, and their personnel, in terms of the safeties and corners, is emerging.”

Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson knows where the holes are in Elko’s scheme. That is, if there are any holes. He knows Elko’s tendencies. Likewise, Elko used to coach a defense against Deacons senior quarterback John Wolford in nearly every practice.

“It’s similar to two teams that play each other, know each other that well,” Kelly said. “It is a very similar kind of scenario.”

What could an Elko defense look like with years of learning his system and with players recruited specifically for it?
The answer to this pondering hinges on too many variables and involves too wide a scope to genuinely be answered in one Saturday afternoon, especially considering Wake Forest cannot claim the defensive dominance it did the last few seasons. However, a few nuggets may be gleaned.

The Deacons still focus on the same things Elko has Notre Dame keyed into. More specifically, Wake Forest controls the line of scrimmage by getting behind it as often as possible. The Irish boast one of the best offensive lines in the country, but the Deacons have 22 sacks this season as part of a nation-leading 74 tackles for loss (9.25 per game). If Wake Forest brings down Adams in the backfield, it will be a surprise because that has happened to the Heisman candidate so rarely this season. It could also be considered a positive sign for Notre Dame’s future under Elko.

That penetrating attack is led by senior defensive end Duke Ejiofor. Including 6.5 sacks, he has 14 tackles for loss this year, along with five more quarterback hurries. Ejiofor’s first season of action corresponded with Elko’s first season with the Deacons. The young pass-rusher notched two sacks and 12 tackles in 10 games. In Elko’s final season with Wake Forest, Ejiofor brought down the opposing quarterback 10.5 times and made 50 tackles in 13 games. Some of that progression was assuredly natural growth. Some of it likely tied to Elko, as well.

Perhaps this is reaching for a comparison, but Ejiofor arrived in college holding 216 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. As a fifth-year senior, he is now listed at 275 pounds and 6-foot-4.

Irish sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes (right, diving) has already emerged as a needed contributor this season, but much more promise could still be in his future. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Elko’s first season at Notre Dame corresponds with the first season of notable action for Irish sophomore defensive ends Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara. None of them were as slight as Ejiofor coming out of high, but all could, even should, benefit from Elko’s coaching as Ejiofor did. (At 220 pounds, Okwara was most similar to Ejiofor, though boasting more length.)

If Ejiofor finds his way to sacking Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, do not bemoan the moment too much. It may be a precursor of good things to come for the Irish.

Speaking of Wimbush, can he complete a true deep ball?
Perhaps can is not the proper verb choice. Wimbush certainly has the arm strength for it; he has yet to find the touch for the task. Presuming this weekend is the blowout many expect, Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long have thus far this season chosen to use such a situation for a drive or two of passing reps for the first-year starter. Taking a shot downfield when up 14 or even 21 would not be considered poor taste.

Wimbush did throw a 54-yard touchdown to junior receiver Miles Boykin against Miami (OH), but even that pass was half a stride behind Boykin, allowing the defender to catch up to him. If the line of scrimmage had been three yards further back, Boykin would have been down a yard short of the end zone even though he had more than a stride’s advantage on his defender.

At some point, Wimbush hitting sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson streaking down the field would serve to aid the quarterback’s confidence — it is a very difficult throw, seeing it succeed once may help the mental cause in the future — and it would put the threat on the radar of future opponents. Forcing Miami (FL) or Stanford to prepare for that vertical concern would further open up the field for Notre Dame’s offense.

These are the advantages afforded by 14-point first-half leads or 21-point advantages midway through the third quarter. Admittedly, if Wimbush and Stepherson were to connect on the route with a large lead in the fourth quarter, it could be considered poor sport, style points being overrated these days. (That is not a tongue-in-cheek comment. There is no tangible difference between five degrees below zero and 25 degrees below zero. There is no bettering of a win by running up the margin from 28 to 42 points.)

While discussing speed threats, how is Dexter Williams’ ankle?

It has been awhile since Notre Dame sophomore running back Dexter Williams’ right ankle allowed him to make a cut as decisive as this against Michigan State back on Sept. 23. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Junior running back Dexter Williams brings raw speed to the Irish running game, pure and simple. When removing his big-play capability, the viability of playing Williams decreases greatly. As long as he cannot trust his right ankle to provide that pop, Williams serves little purpose in the Irish running back rotation.

If Williams gets another eight carries this week, as he did in the 35-14 rout of North Carolina State, then that may be the necessary proof his ankle is ready for the season’s final quarter. He will be needed more against the Hurricanes’ defensive front than this weekend, so if he sees limited action, presume it is an attempt to gain further health before the test in Miami.

Lastly, when and where will chaos strike?
Some things are inevitable, Mr. Anderson. Anarchy will strike college football in November. It could happen in South Bend. It could be in Iowa City. Maybe it will wait a week to reappear in Jordan-Hare.

As a rule of thumb, if wanting Notre Dame to make the College Football Playoff, cheer for all Irish opponents and cheer against every higher-ranked Big 12 team. With that in mind, upsets in the following five games may not necessarily count as anarchy, but they would serve to help Notre Dame’s cause, nonetheless.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s best-case and worst-case CFP scenarios

— No. 7 Penn State at No. 24 Michigan State, 12 p.m. ET, FOX.
— No. 4 Clemson at No. 20 North Carolina State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC.
— No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State, 4 p.m. ET, FS1. (Cheering for the higher-ranked Big 12 team, Oklahoma, would not be an upset by the book, only by the ranking. Oklahoma State is favored by a field goal.)
— No. 13 Virginia Tech at No. 10 Miami, 8 p.m. ET, ABC. (Unlike the game above, cheering for the Irish foe, Miami, would be cheering for an upset by the book, not by the ranking. Despite taking a lower rating on the road, Virginia Tech is a 2.5-point favorite.)
— No. 19 LSU at No. 2 Alabama, 8 p.m. ET, CBS.