Well y’all, we usually wait until the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has lost a game before we decide as a fan base to become embroiled in some sort of controversy, but this week we all unanimously decided to just jump the gun and get after it. I, for one, am very excited about that fact!
In fact, can I try something?!
Yesterday, news broke that backup QB Ian Book had been splitting 1st team reps with starter Brandon Wimbush in practice this week, and rumors abounded that Book would be starting tomorrow against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. In his Thursday press conference, head coach Brian Kelly refused to name a starter, instead just stating that both QBs would play and both would be needed to win. Sweet, sweet ambiguity!!!
So, with no certainty who will see more time at quarterback in the Irish’s first road game of the season, I think we should just dive right in and talk about this matchup, because why the hell not?
The Demon Deacons enter this contest with a 2-1 record after narrowly escaping (23-17 in OT) against the Tulane Green Wave in the season opener, annihilating the Towson Tigers 51-20 in Week 2, and then falling 41-34 at home to the Boston College Eagles last weekend.
The Demon Deacons have a number of questions on their team considering the talent they lost from last season, but head coach Dave Clawson’s squad still boasts an explosive offense and some solid talent on defense, sitting at 57th in S&P+ ratings overall.
The Irish, as you probably know, travel to Winston-Salem with an unblemished 3-0 record that feels anything but unblemished, considering the last two weeks that involved narrowly outscoring the Ball State Cardinals and
Vanderbilt Commodores Jay Cutler University Fighting Jay Cutlers 46-33. Despite that, ND DID defeat a good Michigan Wolverines team in Week 1, and sit ranked 18th in the S&P+ rankings and 8th in the AP Poll.
The Irish, despite the general feeling of panic within the program and fan base, are honestly still in good shape.
So, with that hopefully giving you ND fans a sliiiiight reason to chill a bit despite the uncertainty at QB and the anemic offense, let’s take a look at the different matchups that will shape this game’s outcome, as well as a few other important topics.
Wake Forest Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
Wake Forest’s offense is absolutely their strong suit, but as you all know, Notre Dame’s defense is pretty damn impressive itself. This matchup, though exciting, is probably not the one that will decide the game, as both units will likely get their licks in.
The Demon Deacons have the #15 offense in the country in terms of total yardage, including the #15 running game and the #43 passing game, despite starting a freshman in Sam Hartman who, although solid, has not been spectacular — mostly due to inexperience.
Scoring-wise, Wake has been a little less strong, ranked just 50th. Their offensive efficiency, meanwhile, sits around the same level at 59th in the country, and they are 46th in offensive S&P+.
The ND defense is just 63rd in total defense due to a pass defense that is 95th in yards allowed through the air per game, but a 26th-ranked rush defense and #31 ranking in scoring, along with a #22 ranking in defensive efficiency and #5 ranking in defensive S&P+, show why this group has been the driving force behind the Irish’s first three wins this year.
Hartman has thrown for 834 yards at a 55% clip so far in 2018, tossing 6 TDs and 5 INTs to go along with them. Not super accurate and prone to throwing nearly 2 picks per game so far, the ND secondary has to be licking its lips thinking about the opportunities they will have tomorrow — especially if guys like Khalid Kareem (3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 QBH), Daelin Hayes (3 QBH), and Julian Okwara (4 QBH) can get a strong pass rush and fluster the frosh.
If those guys can wreak havoc in the backfield, look for Julian Love (8 PBU) to potentially get on the interception scoreboard tomorrow, or if Hartman refuses to throw his way, Troy Pride Jr. (4 PBU, 1 INT) may have another big day, considering he may be matched up with Wake’s star WR Greg Dortch on many occasions, due to Dortch’s speed and Pride’s excellence in track.
Dortch didn’t play in the 2017 matchup between these two teams in South Bend, as he was out with an injury. The All-ACC receiver is healthy for this one, though, and has to be chomping at the bit for his talent to shine on a national stage against a top-10 opponent.
With 336 yards and a TD on 28 receptions, Dortch is absolutely the biggest playmaker the Irish defense needs to account for, and in trying to stop him, ND safeties Jalen Elliott (18 tackles, 1 PBU, 2 INT), Alohi Gilman (22 tackles, 2 PBU, 1 FF), and Houston Griffith (4 tackles, 1 PBU) will definitely face their toughest test yet in terms of receivers who could get behind them for big plays.
Dortch’s absence last season enabled a few of his teammates to gain some key experience, and now Hartman has a few other weapons to toss it to if Dortch is the focus of the ND secondary and bottled up at all.
Sage Surratt has 18 catches, 263 yards, and a TD so far in 2018, and Alex Bachman has emerged with 9 catches for 116 yards and 3 TD already, showing a nose for the end zone.
As stated before, Wake does even more damage on the ground than they do through the air, and that attack is led by a couple really good running backs, Cade Carney and Matt Colburn. The duo has combined for nearly 500 yards and 3 TD already this year, and both are currently running at a clip of at least 4 yards per carry.
Stuffing those guys will be a formidable test for Te’von Coney (29 tackles, 3.5 TFL), Drue Tranquill (25 tackles), and the rest of the ND front seven, and DT Jerry Tillery (7 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FF) will be KEY in getting a good push at the point of attack and making it difficult for those two to get to the second level.
Hartman isn’t a statue at QB, either, having already run for 193 yards and a TD on 4.7 yards per carry. There were some who assumed QB Kendall Hinton, who has been suspended until this weekend, would seize the starting job from the freshman because of his experience and his playmaking ability on the ground (190 yards on 4.1 yards per carry in 2017 in limited time). Hartman, though, is the clear starter at this point, and barring some sort of major collapse, looks like THE guy for Wake Forest tomorrow afternoon.
So, this matchup should be fun considering it’s a battle of strengths for the two teams, but look for the Irish defense to potentially force some key turnovers that help put the ND offense in great position to take advantage and win the critical battle on the other side — namely, whose weakness will be less bad tomorrow???
Offensive Demon Deacon to Watch
WR Greg Dortch
Hartman’s play is probably more critical, but Greg Dortch will likely be the best and most fun-to-watch offensive player on the field tomorrow. If Love and Pride Jr. cannot contain him, he could absolutely SLASH up the Irish and make it tough for Clark Lea’s defense to get 3rd down stops and get off the field.
Defensive Irish to Watch
The Entire ND Secondary
I know Wake’s running game has actually been more productive than their passing game overall, but the ND defensive front hasn’t had much of an issue containing the run so far this season. On the flip side, the ND secondary hasn’t been challenged too much, and the safeties especially are still not a position that any of us can completely trust. If that group can keep guys like Dortch and Surratt and Bachman in front of them and make plays on the ball when Hartman inevitably throws a few ducks, it will go a LONG way.
Halftime Fun Facts!!!!!
Best Names in the Game
- Notre Dame RB C’Borius Flemister
- Wake Forest P Dom Maggio
- Wake Forest DB Ja’Sir Taylor
- Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble
- Wake Forest OL Je’Vionte’ Nash (shout out to my friend Peter Gauss for his astute observation that ‘Vionte’ could have two apostrophes OR the second part of his last name could just be a quotation)
- Wake Forest DL LaRonde’ Liverpool
- Notre Dame LB Ovie Oghoufo
- Wake Forest DB Essang Bassey
- Notre Dame LB Asmar Bilal
- Wake Forest OL Zach Tom (LMAO at this double first name moniker that is also just two super boring, normal names)
Wake Forest isn’t even a top-5 forest, in my opinion. Please feel free to disagree in the comments, and also please offer up other forests that I missed in this list. Please note, my one rule was that each item MUST have ‘forest’ or ‘forrest’ in its name.
- Lake Forest High School (alma mater of Thomas Kevin Rees...a no-brainer at #1)
- Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter (centaurs, acromantulas, Grawp, unicorns...ahhhh heck yes)
- Forest Whitaker (specifically because of this scene from Community)
- Finding Forrester starring Rob Brown and Sean Connery (excellent, rarely-talked-about movie)
- Fangorn Forest in Lord of the Rings (I ride or die with Treebeard and the Ents)
- Amazon Rainforest (incredible biodiversity)
- Wake Forest (gave us Arnold Palmer AND Tim Duncan????? Well played, Deacs)
- Forest Green (this is a nice color, in my humble opinion)
- Forrest Gump starring Tom Hanks (Good, but definitely overrated, movie-film)
- Subaru Forester (seems like a solid car?)
- Sequoia National Forest (tall trees)
- Electric Forest (I guess this is a music festival, easy pick for last on this list of things I could think of with ‘forest’ in the name)
Why Does the Demon Deacon Have/Drive a Motorcycle???
Guys, in my “research” for this game, I noticed something weird.
The Wake Forest Demon Deacon, whose origins we know from our Q&A with Wake Forest folks earlier this week, is essentially a Baptist deacon who, when on the field/court, becomes “devilish” in his demeanor. He earned this name when the school newspaper referred to the team as “Demon Deacons” after their win against Duke in 1923.
Okay fine, with the school’s roots in the Baptist Convention and with the story from that Duke game, this makes sense. Notre Dame got its Fighting Irish name in a similar way, after all — a description of the way they played and a certain background associated with the school.
But I do NOT follow the leap in logic that says, “okay, we have this devilish Baptist deacon...he should come out onto the field/court on a MOTORCYCLE!!!”
Let me stop right here and assume there is a story for why this is a thing — instead of looking it up, I want all my ND fan readers to give their best guesses in the comments, and I want all my Wake Forest fan readers to chime in with the real story if they’ve got it (or if they don’t, please also offer theories).
In the meantime, I want to make sure you all see how many pictures I was able to find among the USA Today and Getty images I have access to for this site, and try to offer some explanation as to why the Demon Deacon is out here riding that hog onto the field like it’s no big deal. Here’s what I’ve got.
Theory #1: The Demon Deacon is Going Through a Perpetual Mid-Life Crisis
Much like the ridiculous cast of John Travolta, William H. Macy, Martin Lawrence, and Tim Allen in the critically-acclaimed 2007 masterpiece Wild Hogs, the Demon Deacon is now in his 50s, no longer has kids to raise or anything big career-wise left to accomplish, etc., and so he needs an outlet that would make him feel young, wild, and alive again.
At first, the Wake Forest athletic director wasn’t fond of this old deacon driving a motorcycle out onto the playing surface of the school’s sports teams, but fearing the Demon inside the Deacon would look to punish anyone standing in the Deacon’s way toward his own self-actualization, the AD made the motorcycle entrance an official tradition for the Demon Deacon.
This is believable, but slightly sad.
Theory #2: The Demon Deacon is Very Impressionable and Loves Bingeing TV
Dude just finished watching Sons of Anarchy. I’ve personally never seen that show, but I understand it involves motorcycles, so I can see a very impressionable Deacon getting REALLY into that show and then deciding he wants to buy a motorcycle and drive it onto the field/court.
Don’t worry, this is just a phase — once he binges Breaking Bad or Friday Night Lights, he’ll begin entering BB&T Field on a Pontiac Aztek or in Buddy Garrity’s Golf Cart.
Theory #3: The Demon Deacon is Down on His Luck
A quick Google search revealed some 2014 GQ article that said a beginner motorcycle is typically only $5,000-$10,000, so maybe the simple and sad answer here is the Demon Deacon is low on funds these days (terrible gambling and drinking habits in his past??? Just speculation, but something to think about...), and so purchasing a motorcycle is just a much better option for him financially than trying to make bigger car payments.
I have no idea if his motorcycle is a nice one that would be more expensive, but at the very least it looks really small compared to his huge Deacon body, so it probably isn’t super pricey.
My guy’s just being fiscally responsible (maybe as a response to being fiscally irresponsible in the past) — we can all relate to that.
Theory #3A: Maybe the Deacon Can Afford a Normal Car, but Due to His Height/Hat, He Would Need a Convertible, and Those Are Both More Expensive and Also Impractical for a State That Has Hurricanes
I just typed everything out in the title for some reason. No need to expound. Please refer to the text above.
Theory #4: The Demon Deacon is a Thrill-Seeking Adrenaline Junkie
Driving a motorcycle on its own is risky and dangerous, considering how hurt/dead you can become just from what would be a minor accident if you were in a car.
Thus, driving a motorcycle certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. And since the Demon Deacon apparently refuses to wear a helmet and instead just sports a top hat, I have to imagine he is just a crazy sonuvabitch who can’t stand boring, safe transportation.
Be careful, man. The ‘Dead Deacons’ is not quite as cool of a name (still kind of cool though).
Theory #5: The Demon Deacon Just Really Hates the Environment
Motorcycles and scooters have worse pollution control standards, according to the 5 seconds of research I did on this.
Thus, although they emit less carbon dioxide than cars, they actually emit more potent greenhouse gases like smog-forming hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen (science!).
So, maybe the Demon Deacon is just a dick who doesn’t want to leave the world a better place for future generations. Very possible, TBH.
Theory #6: The Demon Deacon Just Really Loves the Sega Genesis game Road Rash 3
My brother Michael and I would have to agree.
What a game.
Good times, you guys.
Theory #7: The Demon Deacon is Ghost Rider
Unlikely? Maybe. But I don’t want to live in a world where we don’t at least consider a theory that involves the Wake Forest Demon Deacon mascot actually being a flaming, Nicholas Cage anti-hero who, according to a quick Wikipedia search, SOLD HIS SOUL TO THE DEVIL.
SOUNDS LIKE A DEMON DEACON TO ME!!!!
HOLY SHIT, I CRACKED THE CASE!
I can’t wait to watch Demon “Ghost Rider” Deacon wheelie out onto the field tomorrow afternoon in all his Nicholas Cage glory. Should be wild, if not absolutely ridiculous.
Now, back to the less important stuff...
Notre Dame Offense vs. Wake Forest Defense
Okay, so, if you’ve been living under a rock...
...you might not have heard that Notre Dame is going through some QB controversy stuff right now, which of course is very unlike them and very unlike a Brian Kelly-coached team.
Brandon Wimbush is the incumbent starter, having started all but one game in 2017 (missed UNC game with an injury) and having started the first three games this season, playing the VAST majority of 2018’s QB snaps to-date.
The offense last season, with Wimbush at the helm, HUMMED. The team, behind an unreal offensive line featuring Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, ran for 3,501 yards and 35 touchdowns while picking up 6.3 yards per carry. A huge chunk of that came from now-Philadelphia Eagles RB Josh Adams, currently-suspended-until-next-weekend RB Dexter Williams, and since-kicked-off-the-team RB Deon McIntosh.
However, Wimbush himself rushed for 803 yards and a school-record-for-a-QB 14 TD in 2017, and even tossed in 1,870 passing yards, 16 passing TD, and just 6 INT. Add in that Tony Jones Jr., now a co-starter at RB alongside Jafar Armstrong, got plenty of experience in 2017 as well, and that the Irish o-line still has a couple All-American caliber guys in Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, and it logically follows that ND’s offense should still be pretty strong in this 2018 season, even if Wimbush also lost a couple of his best receivers in Equanimeous St. Brown and Kevin Stepherson.
Unfortunately, the ND offense has been anything but “pretty strong.” The Irish are currently:
- 100th in total offense
- 89th in pass offense
- 79th in rush offense
- 104th in scoring offense
- 62nd in offensive efficiency
- 67th in offensive S&P+
Wimbush has continued to struggle throwing the ball (589 yards, 55% completion, 1 TD, 4 INT), and has not been nearly as effective on the ground, with 136 yards and 2.8 yards per carry (numbers admittedly brought down by some sacks) and just 1 TD, which can be partially attributed to Kelly and Chip Long’s weird new idea of Ian Book coming into the game in red zone situations.
Book is no slouch running the ball, and is typically more accurate than Wimbush — especially on shorter throws — but Wimbush was FANTASTIC in the red zone in 2017, and his running ability was huge in the Irish converting on touchdowns instead of settling for field goals when they got down there.
The weird thing this year, though, is that Book hasn’t been brought in to sling it around too much either. He’s thrown just three passes so far in the 2018 season, completing all three for a measly total of 13 yards, but also completing a key TD pass to TE Nic Weishar against
Vanderbilt Jay Cutler U last weekend.
Last year, Book was brought in when Kelly and Long wanted to unleash more in the passing game (or when Wimbush was hurt), but the results were mixed, to say the least. Book was more accurate, completing 61% of his passes (Wimbush completed right around 50%), but he also threw 4 INT to go along with his 4 TD and definitely never lit the world on fire or seized the starting gig.
Not exactly a glowing performance by the backup that many fans claim give the Irish their best chance to win, eh?
Nevertheless, Wake Forest doesn’t have to worry about which QB will be playing on Saturday, because Kelly made it clear in Thursday’s presser that both guys will play, and he’ll ride the hot hand depending on how things go. So, the Demon Deacons defense will need to account for both Wimbush’s athleticism and big-play potential along with Book’s more stable passing and sneaky running ability.
The Deacs defense had its coordinator (Mike Elko) and linebackers coach (Clark Lea) stolen away by the Irish after the 2016 season, and that unit has certainly suffered a bit due to their departures and the losses of some talented veteran guys whom those coaches developed. Wake Forest’s defense is 108th in the country in total defense (120th in passing, 65th in rushing), 77th in scoring, 95th in efficiency, and 76th in S&P+.
With that said, Wake’s defense has some players who could cause some trouble for what’s been a struggling, bumbling mess of an ND offense, and that group is led by some front seven guys who have played well to-date.
Along the line, Willie Yarbary and Zeek Rodney have been a couple standouts, combining for 27 tackles, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks, and 6 QBH. Along with Carlos Basham Jr. (nicknamed “Boogie”) and Chris Calhoun, those big boys will be tasked with trying to get a push against the likes of Mustipher, Bars, and RG Tommy Kraemer, which is anything but easy, as various other defensive lineman would attest.
However, if any of those guys, or any Wake linebackers coming around the edge, find themselves 1-on-1 with ND tackles Liam Eichenberg or Robert Hainsey, they could really make some plays and get to Wimbush/Book in the backfield, considering Eichenberg and Hainsey have been pretty bad so far in 2018.
If the ND line is able to win that fight in the trenches, it will be up to the Wake Forest linebacking corps to corral Tony Jones Jr. (224 yards, 5.7 ypc, 2 TD), Jafar Armstrong (147 yards, 3.8 ypc, 3 TD), and Wimbush/Book in the running game.
Justin Strnad (21 tackles, 2.5 TFL) and DJ Taylor (16 tackles) are the key guys to watch there as they are both athletic tackling machines who HAVE to play well tomorrow to slow down the Irish. Even at their best, those two still may need some help and someone to really step up their play alongside them, so look out for guys like Demetrius Kemp, Ja’Cquez Williams, Nate Mays, and Ryan Smenda Jr. to be mixing it up at LB as well as they try to do their collective part.
No matter if Wimbush or Book are passing the ball, the Irish coaching staff will certainly look to exploit a questionable Demon Deacon secondary — especially after seeing BC throw for 304 yards and 5 TD last week.
For ND to pull that off, they’ll need a couple of the Irish receivers to really crank it up a notch, as the group as a whole has been struggling to create separation from DBs and also reel in passes (Wimbush had a couple good throws dropped last weekend).
Miles Boykin (8 catches, 161 yards) and Chase Claypool (7 catches, 100 yards) are the two most experienced and physically gifted receivers on the depth chart, but they’ve both struggled to get open and make the big plays that many of us envisioned for them heading into the season. Look for them to try to up their game, especially with Book passing to them, as his decisiveness could mean more chances for them to excel.
Chris Finke (10 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD), Alizé Mack (6 catches, 74 yards), and potentially guys like freshman WR Kevin Austin or TEs Nic Weishar and Brock Wright will also be looked to to make a few plays through the air when called upon, and Armstrong could also have some balls thrown his way when Long splits him out wide.
That crew will be covered by a Wake secondary that has not been great so far (BC picked them apart), but who has some talented guys like Essang Bassey (22 tackles, 4 PBU, 1 INT) and Ja’Sir Taylor (8 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 PBU) back there trying to make a few plays. Guys like Cameron Glenn (15 tackles, 1 PBU) and Chuck Wade Jr. (16 tackles) will certainly need to play better than they have so far this year, though, if they hope to completely shut down the ND passers and receivers.
Overall, both the Wake Forest defense and the Notre Dame offense have had less-than-stellar starts to the 2018 season, and both are really looking to improve their games enough to not be liabilities.
Whichever unit in this matchup manages to screw up less, and to take advantage of breakdowns by the other squad more, could legitimately decide the entire game tomorrow afternoon at BB&T Field. It will be VERY interesting to watch this matchup play out.
Defensive Demon Deacon to Watch
S Essang Bassey
The Wake Forest secondary has not been great this year, but the ND passing attack could be very inconsistent and error-prone tomorrow considering the QB carousel the Irish are trotting out there. If Bassey can make a few big plays, bat down balls, and maybe force a turnover or two, Wake has an excellent shot to hang around and maybe even win this thing.
Offensive Irish to Watch
ND’s offense has not been good this year for a number of reasons — underwhelming receiver play, bad blocking from the tackles, extremely questionable play-calling — but when it comes down to it, ND’s offense will go as the QB goes, considering Brian Kelly’s need to air it out as much as he reasonably can.
If Wimbush/Book manage the offense well and limit turnovers, moving methodically down the field (and giving the defense time to rest), I think the Irish win this one, maybe even easily. But if not, ND could have a VERY long game.
Both teams are very mehhh in special teams, with Wake Forest rated 50th in S&P+ rankings and ND ranked 66th. Both teams have solid kickers who mostly do their job (Wake’s kicker Nick Sciba has made 6 of 7 field goals in 2018, ND’s Justin Yoon has made 5 of 7).
The only competitive advantages I see for either team come in the form of returning (Wake) and punting (ND).
Wake Forest’s kick and punt returner is Greg Dortch, whom you may remember from above as THE BEST AND MOST EXPLOSIVE PLAYER ON THE FIELD TOMORROW. Dortch is tied for 16th in the country in average kickoff returns (27.3 yards), but really does his damage in returning punts — he’s 13th in the nation with 17 yards per return, leads the country in total punt return yards with 170, and has already taken two punts to the house (also tops in the country) at this early point in the year.
Considering ND has already surrendered one kickoff return TD this season (Ambry Thomas of Michigan in week 1), Dortch’s ability to take off for 6 is a definite advantage for Wake.
Meanwhile, ND boasts a senior team captain with mullet-y locks of gold at the punter position — Tyler Newsome. Newsome has been pretty fantastic so far in 2018, averaging 47.1 yards per punt, which is 9th in the country.
His long is 63 yards, and he can absolutely flip the field and give the Irish defense a great advantage when he pins opponents deep on their side of the 50.
Punting with enough hang time, distance, and strategic direction to limit Dortch’s returning effectiveness will be CRITICAL in preventing momentum-changing special teams plays by the Demon Deacons.
On the flip side, Wake DOES have a punter named Dom Maggio, and that’s an incredible name. Maybe punting will be a wash because of that.
Alright, Let’s Predict the Result of This One
Notre Dame 28, Wake Forest 20
Why: I never think a dual-QB model is the way to go, unless it’s a very clear delineation of responsibilities like ND had in 2012, with Everett Golson as the starter and every-down QB and Tom Rees as the reliever/closer brought in for moments above the freshman’s head. Otherwise, rotating in QBs has never seemed to work for Kelly at ND (DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, Dayne Crist and Tom Rees, Tom Rees and Andrew Hendrix).
Nevertheless, I think the Irish defense will once again play a spectacular game, and due to the freshman QB Wake will be playing, I think ND will come up with at least two turnovers — potentially a couple more, even — that will give Notre Dame just enough opportunities to outscore the Demon Deacons and bring this one home.