The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest

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Notre Dame is 9-1. That’s the main bullet point that follows up a fairly unmemorable performance that saw the Irish win with ease, even if they were statistically held at bay by Wake Forest.

But in a month critical for the Irish’s postseason fate, Notre Dame keeps chugging along. Winning games and playing better defense after a late-game lapse against Pittsburgh killed some forward momentum.

With a special weekend in Fenway Park up next, the Irish can spend the week preparing to face one of the best statistical defenses in the country. But before we turn the page, let’s recap Notre Dame’s 28-7 Senior Day victory as we go over the good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

Josh Adams‘ explosiveness. Throw away the stat sheet. It wasn’t an easy day at the office for freshman Josh Adams. He took some big hits. He ran tentatively at times. And the Irish missed C.J. Prosise in the short passing game.

But nobody will remember the ten touches that Adams had that resulted in gains of one yard or less. Not when Adams broke loose for a 98-yard touchdown run, all but icing the game when he extending Notre Dame’s lead to 21-points just two plays after Wake Forest nearly cut the lead to seven.

“Obviously, the run was one for the highlight reel,” Kelly said postgame.  “But he is a young man that runs tough, physical, between the tackles, and has size, strength and speed. He’s got all those things, and he’s only going to get better. It’s nice to see a true freshman out there competing at that level.”

 

Getting Healthy. Nobody wants to say it this bluntly, but Notre Dame didn’t seem too worried about losing to Wake Forest. They held back C.J. Prosise, who could’ve played. They rested defensive tackle Daniel Cage and tight end Nic Weishar, both unknown injuries who were also in the concussion protocol.

If there was a big worry for this week, it was James Onwualu’s knee. On Sunday, Brian Kelly gave good news, saying no knee surgery would be needed, though Onwualu won’t be available against Boston College and his return for Stanford is in question.

While Equanimeous St. Brown‘s shoulder injury will require surgery, Kelly expects Prosise, Cage and Weishar to be back next week.

“I’d say probable on all of the concussion guys. Onwualu will be out. He’s got a second-degree MCL. That’s really it,” Kelly said. “We don’t have anybody else that showed any injuries that would put them in any other kind of position from the game.”

Boston College is another flawed football team, though one with a great defense. It’s also yet another opponent with an extended week to prepare for Notre Dame. So having everybody back before heading to Stanford is a good thing.

 

The “high-leverage” defense. Notre Dame’s defense played really well on Saturday, holding Wake Forest to just seven points, only earned after a dubious roughing the snapper call. And even if the Demon Deacons outgained Notre Dame by putting up 340 total yards, it was refreshing to see the Irish defense stiffen when the going got tough—not necessarily how it’s gone this season.

Jaylon Smith made 14 tackles, and was in excellent coverage on a fourth down stop. Joe Schmidt was active, notching 10 tackles after staying mostly off the stat sheet the past few weeks.

The Irish were able to be productive because they were making big plays. Romeo Okwara’s three sacks were all important, including a highlight reel acrobatic play. Sheldon Day added two more TFLs. Schmidt came through unblocked on multiple blitzes, never getting home but always putting a hit on the quarterback. Smith blitzed a few times as well, getting to the quarterback, and then screaming off the edge on the game’s critical fourth down stop.

It wasn’t all perfect, but the mistakes didn’t lead to points. That was likely because Wake Forest’s offense is one of the least productive units in the country. But it’s a step forward nonetheless, holding an opponent below their average and ending a 20-points allowed streak that had gone on since week two.

 

Quick Hits: 

His passing numbers probably take him out of the most ridiculous “Heisman conversation inclusion” I can remember, but DeShone Kizer didn’t throw any interceptions, stayed away from the big mistake, and scored two more rushing touchdowns. (Bonus points for Kizer running over a Wake Forest DB.)

Good job, Chase Hounshell. You got your first career catch. (But miss any more blocks and nobody will remember it.)

You’ve got to think Andrew Trumbetti will remember that gift-wrapped touchdown for a long time.

It was very great to see Jarrett Grace out there running around and making plays. His two tackles came on an emotional day for Grace’s family and the entire senior class.

I liked the physicality of both Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield. Both were active in run support and seemed to play clean in coverage as well.

 

THE BAD

Every other run but the 98-yarder. Notre Dame’s offensive line lost way too many one-on-one matchups for my liking. Wake Forest has talented linebackers and Dave Clawson and defensive coordinator Mike Elko added their share of tricks up front, but too often Notre Dame’s offensive line just lost battles up front.

We saw it from Steve Elmer (again). We saw Quenton Nelson get beat. And we also saw DeShone Kizer struggle to get the Irish in the right protections, spending too much time counterpunching at the line of scrimmage.

There’s no question the Irish offensive line is battling their share of injuries, with Nick Martin and Nelson still playing through ankle injuries and other issues likely kept off the radar. But Wake Forest was able to dominate the time of possession battle because the Irish couldn’t stay on the field. And that’s because Wake challenged the Irish to a run-game matchup with even numbers and, minus one very important play, won the battle.

 

Winning in “uncomfortably comfortable” fashion. Nobody’s opinion but the Playoff Committee matters. But you wouldn’t have been alone if you got frustrated listening to the talking heads and television analysts last night arguing about the horse race for the four playoff spots.

Yesterday was far from an impressive Saturday for most playoff contenders. Throw away Alabama’s decisive victory over a really terrible (offensively, at least) Mississippi State team and it was a survive and advance weekend.

No. 1 Clemson was in a dogfight with Syracuse before pulling away and winning by 10. Ohio State looked just okay with J.T. Barrett at quarterback, too, beating Illinois 28-3. Iowa is proving to be just a little bit better than every average team it plays, still undefeated by surviving Minnesota. And Oklahoma State needed help from the replay booth and a huge late-game rally to beat a three-win Iowa State team.

 

Oklahoma won a big game, beating Baylor in the rain. And some thought that was enough for the Sooners to ascend into the driver’s seat for the No. 4 hole. But can the committee forget that Oklahoma lost to a Texas team that hasn’t beaten anybody else and lost to Notre Dame by five touchdowns?

Who knows. And quite seriously, who cares.

None of it matters until early December. But with two of the easiest games on the schedule both this week and next, it would help if the Irish did more than put up a season-low for yardage and won both games with style.

This wasn’t a tough victory, a three-score lead for just about 40 minutes. But next weekend against a Boston College team who will be looking at Notre Dame’s home game inside Fenway Park as their Super Bowl and bowl game all wrapped into one? It’d be great to win another not-close one.

 

THE UGLY

What’s ugly about a victory on Senior Day? (Nothing.) This senior class won 21 home games, tied for the best four-year total in Notre Dame history. The critics will scour the record books, trying to punch holes in the personnel, opponents or competition, and still find a way to say that Lou or Ara wouldn’t have lost to Louisville or Northwestern.

But it’s not 1988 anymore. There’s cell phones, the internet, and college football played at a different level all across the country.

So even if they haven’t won a national championship or a major bowl game, this class has done something very special. Add to that the fact that Notre Dame’s seniors haven’t allowed this football team to blink even as they’ve lost key cog after key cog.

That means something. And a final home win—even if the play on the field wasn’t memorable—will last for a lifetime, the only important part being an easy victory and a great celebration.