Wake Forest (+27) at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana
Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET
Date: Saturday, November 14, 2015
Series: 2-0-0 Notre Dame
Here is the One Foot Down preview for this weekend's game against Wake Forest.
New Guy in Town
In the 2011 and 2012 meetings with Wake Forest the Irish faced long-time Deacons head coach Jim Grobe who led the program for 13 seasons before being fired after the 2013 campaign. Up stepped Dave Clawson who came immediately from Bowling Green.
Despite being only 48 years old this is Clawson's 16th season as a head coach in the college ranks. He started out at Fordham where he stayed for 5 seasons turning around the program from 0-11 in his first year to 19-6 over his last two seasons. From there he rebuilt Richmond for 4 seasons and won 11 games in 2007 before handing the program over to current Virginia head coach Mike London. At Bowling Green he was up and down but finished 18-8, including a 10-3 regular season in 2013, before heading to Winston-Salem.
Building a Running Game
Clawson was tasked with rebuilding the run game at BGSU (1,125 yards his first season, 2,707 yards his last season) and is going through the same process at Wake Forest. The Deacons only gained 2.96 YPC in 2013 prior to Clawson's arrival and last year gained a mind-numbing 479 yards on 383 carries for 1.25 YPC. Even taking out sacks the top 3 rushers for Wake last year all gained under 3 YPC.
This year things have been better which they just had to be. Wake is up to 990 yards at 3.11 YPC as a team. However, they're still the second worst Power 5 team in yards per game (ahead of Washington State) and a quarterback is their top rusher.
0-15 vs. Ranked Teams
Wake has been a lot like NC State in that they've occasionally jumped up and bit some top ACC teams in the butt when no one was suspecting it. However, the Deacons have been on a dry run against ranked teams lately losing their last 15 meetings including to Florida State and North Carolina this year. Wake's last victory over a ranked team was back in 2011 against Florida State.
In Wake Forest's last trip to South Bend the Irish raced out to a 21-0 lead in the 1st quarter and led 31-0 at the half before cruising in the second half. The Deacons were held to just 209 yards on the afternoon, losing 38-0. Prior to last year's demolishing of Michigan this was Notre Dame's previous defensive shutout.
Take the Ball Away!
One of the things we lament with Brian VanGorder's defense is that it's aggressive but doesn't cause enough turnovers--just 11 takeaways through 9 games this season. Now feel bad for Wake Forest who has caused only 7 turnovers this season, tied for the worst nationally. With their 18 turnovers on offense the Deacons -11 ratio is second-worst only to Maryland among Power 5 teams.
If you can believe it, Wake didn't force a turnover in their first 5 games and 4 out of their 7 came against Boston College.
4 Players to Watch
QB John Wolford
He was the first Wake Forest true freshman ever to start every game last year and showed some promise despite a severe lack of a supporting cast. An ankle injury has limited him to 7 starts in 2015 and he's missed nearly 3 full games worth of snaps. Recently, in the NC State game he played the first 5 series and was benched while in their last game against Louisville he split time. Coming into Saturday, Wolford has completed 88 of 149 (59.1%) of his passes for 1,143 yards with 7 TD and 8 INT.
QB Kendall Hinton
The true freshman out of Durham was scouted by Notre Dame but never offered. Hinton enrolled early at Wake Forest and quickly moved up the depth chart. Once starter Wolford got banged up Hinton's playing increased dramatically and since week 3 he's been on the field quite a bit logging a pair of starts against Indiana and Florida State. Hinton, who has dealt with a back injury himself, has played the majority of the snaps in recent weeks. He's more of a running threat with 316 yards and 6 touchdowns while through the air he's 89 of 171 (52%) for 907 yards with 3 TD and 5 INT.
TE Cam Sergine
The redshirt sophomore led Wake Forest in catches last year and is doing the same in 2015. In 21 career games, Serigne has caught 92 passes for 941 yards and 8 touchdowns. The Deacons' offense doesn't get much publicity at all but he's been one of the more productive tight ends in the country.
LB Brandon Chubb
Singled out by Brian Kelly as one of Wake Forest's top defenders, Chubb plays the Buck linebacker position which is similar to a normal weak-side spot. As a 5th-year senior he's one of the vets on the entire team and comes into the weekend with 296 career tackles. For 2015, Chubb leads Wake Forest with 78 tackles and is second on the team with 6.5 TFL.
Notre Dame doesn't need, and possibly cannot afford, any more injuries to the roster. On Senior Day let's hope everyone can stay healthy and pick up a victory.
This typically hasn't been a problem under Brian Kelly but damn it I have to write about something. Having it be Senior Day probably helps to stay focused in some ways but you never know how distractions are going to affect the team against such a big underdog opponent.
Some may worry about style points, others might complain that the Irish should just 'play their game' and move on to the next opponent. Notre Dame doesn't typically get too conservative in games like this, however, it's possible this is a super run-heavy gameplan that slowly chews the game away. I'm not saying it's likely just that it's possible.
2 Sides of the Line
Due to their poor rushing numbers it's only fitting that Wake Forest spent a lot of time during the off-season trying to find the right 5 players on the offensive line. They had to replace 2 starters and true sophomore A'Lique Terry (6-1, 310) has not cracked the lineup after starting 7 games at center last year.
Fifth-year senior Dylan Intemann (6-5, 305) started at right tackle last year and has moved to right guard. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Ryan Anderson (6-6, 290) for the Boston College game (Anderson was suspended up until that game) but Intemann has taken back over and started the last 3 games. Junior Josh Harris (6-4, 310) started at right guard last year and has moved to center for 2015.
At left guard, the Deacons have turned to redshirt junior Tyler Hayworth (6-4, 325) who made one start last year. At the tackle positions they are relying on a pair of redshirt freshmen in Justin Herron (6-5, 290) on the left and Phil Haynes (6-4, 290) on the right side.
Wake Forest has a pair of players who have started every game on the interior of the defensive line. Sophomore Zeek Rodney (6-1, 295) is at nose tackle and despite being under-sized has been limited to just 1 TFL. At tackle redshirt junior Josh Banks (6-4, 275) is a returning starter with 24 tackles and 2 TFL.
On the edges, the Deacons have been inserting several players at their end and drop positions. Redshirt sophomore Duke Ejifor (6-4, 275) has made 3 straight starts in recent weeks and has 16 tackles with 4.5 TFL. Redshirt sophomore Wendall Dunn (6-3, 250) has started every game and totaled 20 tackles and 4.5 TFL. Also in the mix will be true freshman Chris Calhoun (6-4, 240) with 3 starts to his name and 16 tackles with 2.5 TFL, plus redshirt freshman Chris Stewart (6-3, 260) and his 12 tackles and 1.5 TFL.
Overall, not much production from the defensive line with 16 TFL and 5.5 sacks from all the listed players above.
Wake Forest is a weird team. Their record since 2013 is 10-23 with only 4 wins over Power 5 conference teams in that time period. Pound for pound probably the only P5 programs in the immediate recent history that have been as unsuccessful are Purdue, Kansas, Iowa State with Colorado, Vanderbilt, and Virginia all in the running, as well.
What's weird is that for a bad team the Demon Deacons are keeping a lot of games rather close. They've lost by 1, 7, 8, 13, 18, and 36 points this season. I think that speaks to the strength of their defense, which without much help from the offense, has been able to limit opponents to 23.0 points per game.
They've played some offensive dregs for sure (FCS Elon, Army, and Boston College) but they've also faced 4 teams in the Top 30 of FEI offense: Indiana, FSU, North Carolina, and NC State. Giving up 35 points per game against those teams isn't that bad.
At the same time, Wake's defense is ranked in the 60's by both FEI and S&P and that's not going to help you too much when your offense is ranked 117th by FEI and 112th by S&P. There's only so much mucking things up on defense you can do if you're not playing Boston College every week.
So most of this game is going to come down to Notre Dame's efficiency and how many mistakes they'll make. If Notre Dame doesn't turn the ball over and plays their usual game this won't be close.
This is a really young team as Clawson is still deep into a heavy rebuild at Wake Forest. They've added graduate 5th-year transfer starters at receiver (K.J. Brent, South Carolina), corner (Devin Gaulden, Wisconsin), and safety (Zach Dancel, Maryland) to go with 3 more 5th-year starters. However, 6 true freshmen have made starts in addition to 5 redshirt freshmen, 4 true sophomores, 4 redshirt sophomores, 4 juniors, 3 redshirt juniors, and 0 true seniors.
Especially offensively, the Deacons might be utterly overwhelmed due to their youth. It's either a true sophomore or true freshman at quarterback and both have battled injuries this year. The top two running backs are true freshmen, 3 out of the top 4 recievers are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen, and both tackles are redshirt freshmen.
I hate to use the "Notre Dame should not give up X amount of points" tag because it's a way to create faux outrage but the Irish probably shouldn't give up more than 14 non-garbage points on Saturday.
I can see a 33-6 type of game early in the 4th quarter when the likes of Dexter Williams and Brandon Wimbush take over on offense, and just maybe, we see the backups on defense get a significant amount of snaps.