Although the Irish were far from perfect defensively, Notre Dame managed to defeat a pesky Wake Forest squad 48-37 Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish fell behind early 3-0, but bounced back after Wake’s initial score. Wimbush accounted for a pair of touchdown runs and Tony Jones Jr. added another to give Notre Dame a 24-10 lead.
The Irish took full control of the game on a nine play, 99-yard touchdown drive to close out the first half. The drive was capped off with a one-yard touchdown pass from Ian Book to Nick Weishar after Wimbush hurt his hand on the previous play.
Wake pinned the Irish in the shadow of their endzone with three minutes left in the half. If the Demon Deacons could have forced a stop, they would have had an opportunity to close the gap. Instead, Notre Dame overpowered Wake and took a three touchdown lead into the half.
After Justin Yoon converted a field goal to give the Irish a 34-10 early in the third quarter, the letdown that many had predicted manifested itself in the Irish defense.
Although the outcome was never in doubt, Wake Forest put together an impressive second half performance behind quarterback John Wolford to close the game on a 28-13 run.
Wimbush’s Command of the Offense
Brandon Wimbush put forth the most impressive passing performance of his career as he finished with a career-high 280 yards and one touchdown. He also tallied 110 yards and two touchdowns rushing.
With those two scores on the ground, Wimbush now has 14 career rushing touchdowns, which is tied for seventh in program history with Joe Montana and Everett Golson.
Wimbush was only 15-30 through the air, but had a number of drops that could have pushed his yardage over 300.
The Irish have been effective with the deep ball all season, but Wimbush’s increased proficiency in the mid-range passing game has expanded Chip Long’s playbook.
While Wimbush has put most of the question marks surrounding his passing ability to rest, the one concern remaining is his ability to stay healthy.
In the final minute of the first half, Wimbush ran for 28 yards and was hit hard and stopped at Wake’s one-yard line. The quarterback was down for a few minutes after the hit as the fans at Notre Dame Stadium held their collective breath.
Wimbush ended up having just a hand contusion on his non-throwing hand and came back in the third quarter. Ian Book is a quality backup, but if Wimbush exposes himself to more hits like that, Notre Dame’s playoff chances go out the window.
For the first time this season, the Notre Dame defense allowed an opposition to score more than 20 points. Wake also recorded two rushing touchdowns, which is one more than the Irish had allowed all season.
Was this a case of Notre Dame finally having a letdown or was Wake Forest’s intimate knowledge of Mike Elko’s scheme to blame?
Brian Kelly blamed a lack of focus and proper preparation leading into Wake as the cause of Notre Dame’s poor defensive performance, but Dave Clawson’s knowledge of Elko’s scheme played a factor.
Wake knew where the holes were and that the Irish were susceptible to the short passing game. Combine that with Notre Dame’s worst tackling performance of the season and suspect play in the secondary, and the result is Wake putting up 37 points.
Wolford, in his 41st career start, finished the game with 331 yards and two touchdowns. The Wake tempo kept the Irish off-balance and Wolford’s command of the short passing game gave Notre Dame fits.
Wake registered 587 yards and 31 first downs, which was twice as many first downs than USC and N.C. State combined
The Irish have faced future NFL quarterbacks this season, but none ran their offenses as efficient as Wolford.
Wake’s timing and precision was Navy-esque, except the Demon Deacons were doing it through the air.
It was not all bad for the Irish defense on Saturday as Julian Love earned his third interception of the season and tallied three pass breakups. The sophomore now has 14 pass breakups on the season, which breaks the Notre Dame single-season record of 13 held by Clarence Ellis in 1969.
Offense Continues to Roll
For as uneven as the Irish were defensively, the Irish dominated offensively. Notre Dame finished the day with 710 yards. They had actually broken the single-game program record before a few negative plays at the end of the game.
Notre Dame recorded 380 yards rushing with Josh Adams only accounting for 22 yards. Saturday marked the seventh time this season and fifth straight game that the Irish topped the 300-yard marker on the ground.
Those staggering numbers are becoming an every week occurrence for this offense. They have passed every test since the Georgia game, but they will be confronted by an athletic and physical front when they take on Miami Saturday.
After Wake Forest had cut the Irish lead to 17-10, the Irish were driving in Demon Deacon territory.
Notre Dame found itself behind the chains following a holding penalty when Wimbush took a quarterback draw up the middle of the defense for a 50-yard touchdown.
The sea was parted thanks to a spread look and key blocks from Sam Mustipher and running back Tony Jones, Jr. The score extended the lead to 24-10 and that was as close as Wake would be until the final minute of the game.
The Irish will reignite the “Catholics vs. Convicts” rivalry this weekend as they travel to Coral Gables to take on the Hurricanes in what will be the most important game in this series since 1990.