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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Wake Forest Demon Deacons Week

It’s Senior Day week baybeeeeeee

Wow, I knew I was going to feel hungover still on the Monday after my bachelor party, but I don’t think I saw this brain fog and just general soreness/exhaustion coming, at least at this level. I can barely do anything today, despite getting a good 8+ hours of sleep and getting up at a decent time to shower, have a coffee, etc.

Let’s knock out this weekly project call QUICK so I can focus on just recovering for the rest of the day. Gotta be fresh and ready to get actual work done starting tomorrow, y’all.

*clicks “Join Call” button*

Goooood morning everyone! How’re you all doing today? Did you have a good weekend?

Yep, yeah I was out on Friday — had my bachelor party this weekend, so I’m still feeling that today. I’m not in my 20s anymore, you guys! Woof.

Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Just got a bunch of guys together at a big house in Michigan and then we did a party bus that took us fowling — that’s football + bowling — and then to a few of my favorite breweries in Grand Rapids. Yeah fowling was great, I had never done it before. Very fun, and harder than you’d think. Good times for sure.

Okay, welp, we have a shortened call today due to some conflicts, so let’s quickly jump into our abbreviated deck after the Bye Week. Can you all see my screen?

Perfect, so it’s officially Wake Forest week, AKA Senior Day week.

Because there wasn’t an Irish game last Saturday, we won’t be covering the typical Last Week’s Results/Team Members of the Week/Live Journal slides. Instead, we’ll dive right into this week’s opponent. Sound good?

And we can jump straight through these next two slides, you all know how this goes at this point, I think...

Alright awesome, so like I said — we’ve got nothing from last week to cover, so we can jump right into a refreshed project timeline before we start talking about this week’s matchup.

That’s right you guys — this week the Irish will be hosting Sam Hartman’s former squad on Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium, with a pretty rough looking Wake Forest Demon Deacons squad coming to town.

Head Coach Dave Clawson’s squad has had a tough season, sitting at 4-6 on the year and having lost 6 of their last 7 games. In terms of opponents to get at home after a bad loss and a bye week, ND couldn’t ask for much better here.

Before we dive into some key insights on these guys, though, let’s get a good look at Wake Forest at an overview level.

Per usual, I’ll allow you all to read this in detail on your own time — but here are a few highlights I’d like you all to note:

  • The origins of Wake Forest are kind of fascinating and pretty darn weird. Wake Forest Institute was ratified during the Baptist State Convention of 1833, as the North Carolina Baptist State Convention had purchased a 615-acre plantation in an area north of Raleigh called the “Forest of Wake”. They founded the school to teach Baptist ministers and laymen, opening it as the “Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute,” which is a wild name if I should say so myself. Students and staff were required to spend half of each day doing manual labor on the plantation. That manual labor system was finally abandoned 5 years later when the school was renamed Wake Forest College.
  • Their stadium — which has a catchy name of Allegacy Federal Credit Union Stadium — has a capacity of 31,500. That’s less than half of Notre Dame Stadium. I know it’s Wake Forest, but it’s pretty wild that an ACC school has that small of a capacity crowd for their football stadium in 2023.
  • Their colors are Old Gold and Black, which is also the name of their school newspaper — there’s a fun fact you didn’t need
  • Wake has never claimed a national title, only has 2 conference titles, and has had 4 consensus All-Americans. Notre Dame has had 107 consensus All-Americans, according to Wikipedia
  • Being a small school, they don’t have the alumni list of some other ND opponents, but they still have some fun ones, including multiple personalities from The Bachelor, the guy wo co-created the GEICO Cavemen commercials (and the complete flop ABC show about them), the co-creator of Squidbillies, a former senator whose first name was Furnifold, a Gambino crime family mob associate, Muggsy Bogues, and Arnold Palmer, who’s of course best known for the refreshing beverage he invented
  • The Demon Deacons have never defeated Notre Dame in football, going 0-5 all-time (0-4 if you remove ND’s 2012 vacated win on Senior Day). Weirdly, the two teams had never played until 2011.
  • Wake has been historically dominated by the likes of Louisiana-Monroe, Air Force, Catholic University, the Quantico Marines, Virginia Medical College, Greensboro AAB, and “Norfolk Blues.”
  • Finally, their mascot The Demon Deacon is a fun one — he drives a motorcycle onto their field for some reason, and as we know from our NC State Q&A, he once served as officiant of a wedding between Mr. and Mrs. Wuf, NC State’s mascots
NCAA Football: Clemson at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, now let’s get to the good stuff — what are the best names on this Wake Forest roster that we should hope to hear on the NBC broadcast this weekend???

I’ll let you really spend a lot of time later saying these out loud to yourself, but for now I just want to shout out Rushuan Tongue and Uber Ajongo for being an incredible 1-2 punch, Michael Frogge being the perfect full name for the kid from Little Rascals, Santino Marucci for having a flawless Italian moniker, and Justice Ellison for giving us one helluva name for a TV judge — kinda like Courtroom Brown.

Now, let’s learn a bit more about this Wake Forest squad.

This can be a pretty quick conversation — the Demon Deacons are 4-6 and have been on a major slide over the last 2 months after starting the year 3-0 with wins over Elon, Vanderbilt, and Old Dominion. They lost 3 in a row to Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Virginia Tech, and would be on a 7-game losing streak if not for a win over Pittsburgh just before 3 more losses to Florida State, Duke, and NC State.

Ranked 74th in SP+ overall (92nd on offense, 52nd on defense, 90th on special teams), Wake Forest has really struggled this season, especially on offense. They’ve dealt with injuries at the QB position that have forced them to play 3 different QBs for significant chunks of time.

Mitch Griffis (1,553 yards, 60% completion, 7.5 YPA, 9 TD, 7 INT, sacked 35 times) was QB1 to start the year, but got hurt and made room for backup Michael Kern (303 yards, 58% completion, 6.3 YPA, 1 TD, 1 INT, sacked 5 times) to see some time. Kern being out for a game allowed Santino Marucci to play against Pitt, throwing for 151 yards, 57% completion, 7.2 YPA, 1 TD, and 2 INT in a game the Demon Deacs inexplicably won.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 28 Florida State at Wake Forest Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Griffis returned from injury, but was actually benched last weekend against NC State in the 2nd quarter, allowing Kern to take over. That change didn’t help much in the 26-6 loss to the Wolfpack. So, it’s unclear which QBs the Irish will see on Saturday, but what IS clear is that no matter who Wake trots out there, it shouldn’t be too tough of a test for the ND secondary, or really for the entire Irish defense in general. Wake Forest is 112th in the country in scoring (20.5 PPG), 103rd in total offense, 120th in yards per play (4.89), T-95th in rushing offense, 118th in yards per carry (3.25), 96th in passing offense, T-65th in yards per attempt (7.3), 87th in passer rating, and T-80th in completion percentage.

They’re also T-120th in turnovers lost and nearly last in the country in both sacks allowed and tackles for loss allowed, ranking at 131st in each of those metrics. They don’t pick up a lot of first downs, can’t convert on 3rd down or in the red zone, and rank very poorly in long plays from scrimmage. These guys simply can’t play offense.

IF Wake is able to find any success on that side of the ball, it will probably come from just a handful of skill guys. RB Demond Claiborne leads the team in rushing with 586 yards and 4.3 YPC while scoring 5 TDs, and also has a kick return touchdown to his name this season. He can be dangerous if given daylight (although the Wake offensive line likely won’t provide much of that).

His backups are Justice Ellison — who’s also shown flashes of talent (447 yards, 4.8 YPC) — and Tate Carney, who’s managed a few touchdowns while running for 171 yards and 4.9 YPC.

At receiver, Griffis/Kern/Marucci will look to find WRs Jahmal Banks and Taylor Morin first and foremost. Banks has 47 catches for 528 yards and 3 scores on the season, while Morin has added 33 receptions for 472 yards and 2 touchdowns. Other names to know in terms of targets in the passing game include Ke’Shawn Williams (36 receptions, 362 yards, 1 TD), Wesley Grimes (17 receptions, 308 yards, 2 TD), and TE Cameron Hite (12 catches for 158 yards and 2 TD).

On the other side of the ball, Wake Forest is at least a bit more mediocre. The Demon Deacons defense is ~top-80 in just about every major metric:

  • Scoring Defense: T-55th at 24.4 PPG
  • Total Defense: 65th at 372.2 YPG
  • YPP allowed: 78th at 5.68
  • Rushing Defense: 64th at 147.3 YPG
  • YPC allowed: 74th at 4.18
  • Rushing TDs allowed: T-34th at just 11 total
  • Passing Defense: 62nd at 224.9 YPG
  • YPA allowed: T-74th at 7.4
  • Completion % allowed: T-60th at 60.1%
  • Passer Rating allowed: 76th
  • Fumbles Recovered: T-28th with 7 total
  • FF: T-82nd with 0.6 per game, 6 total
  • Sacks: T-51st with 2.3 per game
  • TFL: T-34th at 6.4 per game
  • Turnovers Gained: T-62nd with 14 total
  • First Downs allowed: T-25th at 17.5
  • Plays of 10+ Yards allowed: T-33rd at 120

Unfortunately, the Wake defense is NOT good at preventing explosive plays, despite their relative stinginess on 3rd down (T-44th at 36%) and in the red zone (T-15th in score percentage at 74.2% and 14th in TD% at 45.2%). They’re tied for 100th in plays of 20+ yards allowed, T-122nd in plays of 30+ yards allowed, T-70th in plays of 40+ yards allowed, and T-77th in plays of 50+ yards allowed. They appear to be a group that lacks the speed and athleticism to match up with better teams in the open field, but who can buckle down when there’s less room to work for the offense.

Up front, the name to know is DL Jasheen Davis, whose 7.5 sacks on the year have him in the top-25 in the country, as he’s done a great job pressuring the QB while also stuffing the stat sheet in general (42 tackles, 2 PD, 1 FF, 2 FR). Kevin Pointer (32 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 PD, 1 FR) and Kendron Wayman (30 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 PD) join him on the front line.

Wake Forest v Duke Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

At linebacker, Jacob Roberts is a productive leader of the defense with a team-lading 69 tackles and a forced fumble to go along with 6 sacks of his own. He’ll be a guy Irish fans can expect to see flying all over the field on Saturday. He teams with Dylan Hazen (65 tackles, 1 sack) and Quincy Bryant (32 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT) in the middle of the defense.

On the back end, safeties Malik Mustapha (61 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT, 1 FF) and Chelen Garnes (55 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 PD, 2 FR) have a knack for finding the football and making plays, as do corners Caelen Carson (39 tackles, 8 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR) and DaShawn Jones (37 tackles, 2 PD, 3 INT). Evan Slocum (23 tackles, 1 PD, 1 INT) is capable at nickelback as well.

Florida State v Wake Forest Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

With that said, this Wake defense is nowhere close to being as talented or stifling as the last defense the ND offense faced, so there should be plenty of opportunity for big plays and points on Saturday.

On special teams, there’s not too much to write home about there. Kicker Matthew Dennis is good but pretty untested on long kicks (13 of his 14 made field goals have been from 20-39 yards out), and P Ivan Mora is pretty average in the punting game. Claiborne is dangerous on kick return with an average of 29 yards per return and one touchdown already this season, but as long as the Irish corral him, there won’t be many issues there.

The one final note here is that Wake Forest is elite at one thing — avoiding penalties. Clawson has a disciplined group who’s 12th in the country in penalty yards per game and T-7th in total penalties per game, so they won’t be a team that loses due to mental mistakes. Their shortcomings are almost purely physical/talent based.

Folks, we are about at time — so, let’s dive into What’s Important Now as the Irish head into Senior Day and look to send off guys out of eligibility like Sam Hartman as well as guys who will almost certainly go pro (Joe Alt, Audric Estime, etc.) in the best way possible.

We don’t have time for me to talk through each of these, so let’s just quickly hit the highlights:

1. Set the tone early with physicality. Wake’s defense isn’t horrible but they don’t stop anything particularly well, so Estime and co. should be able to move the ball on the ground against them at home. No need to put too much of the onus on the passing game in this one.

2. Take some play-action shots deep. Let Sam loose in his senior day against his former team, who’s susceptible to big plays but stingy in the red zone. This should be a pretty safe game with plenty of offensive possessions and scoring chances to go around, so let’s go big on a few of them.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

3. Set it up to be open season on the Demon Deacon QB. The Wake o-line is bad, so bring the heat and force whoever is at QB to make plays under duress, as they haven’t yet shown they’re capable of that. The turnover opportunities should be aplenty in this one.

4. Play a clean game in terms of tackling, mental mistakes and penalties, etc. Wake is a well coached and disciplined team, just much less talented than the Irish. ND should steamroll them as long as they don’t beat themselves. Be strong mentally on senior day and win another blowout like the Pitt game.

5. Get a big enough lead to send Sam off in a good way but also get Angeli some more reps. We gotta start thinking about the future here, despite the fact we want Hartman to finish strong. Angeli needs all the reps he can get if he’s going to potentially be the guy in 2024.

6. Leave no doubt and set us up for a chance to beat Stanford and then win a bowl to get to double digit wins. This one should be a fun, stress-free end to the home slate. Make sure it is and right the ship after the Clemson loss to ensure the Irish still have a chance at 10 wins.

Okay does anyone have any questions before we end the call today?

Great, well as always, the link to the deck will be emailed out immediately after we hang up here. Thanks for your time today and please let me know if you have any questions/concerns this week. Have a great rest of your Monday!

*clicks “End Call” button*

I wonder if I can fit in a quick 4-hour nap during the work day today. Let’s do this.