The Demon Deacons came out on the other end of a close call against Boston College and then came Florence. The powerful storm ravaged the state of North Carolina and flooding concerns remain across the Piedmont region. Through it all, Dave Clawson’s team has to get ready for a match up with the No. 8 team in the AP Poll.
This will be Notre Dame’s first venture off campus this season and they are heading to Winston-Salem for just the second time in history. In 2011, the Irish got by the Deacs 24-17. Notre Dame has won all four meetings between the two programs.
Notre Dame at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Which team can run the ball more effectively?
The strength of both offenses is running the football. Both defenses are tough against the run. So who is going to win out? The Irish's passing inconsistencies have led to a reliance on the ground attack and the 245 rushing yards was a key factor in beating Vanderbilt. Wake ran for 298 against a pretty stout Boston College defense as Matt Coburn and Cade Carney both topped 100 on the ground. More than likely, the strategy won’t change against Notre Dame’s 26th-ranked rushing defense. Defensively, Wake faced Tulane’s Jonathan Banks in week one, they haven’t really seen a quarterback that can run like Brandon Wimbush.
2. Sam Hartman and Kendall Hinton
The expectation was that Hartman would keep the quarterback position warm until Hinton returned from his three-game suspension. Then the freshman threw for 278 yards per game and six scores in leading the Deacons to a 2-1 record. So it should come as no surprise that Hartman will remain the starter with Hinton listed as the backup on the depth chart. But what will Hinton’s role be? He is an impressive athlete that may be a factor. There could be packages that head coach Dave Clawson uses to utilize Hinton’s quickness in an effort to catch the Irish off guard. But Hartman should be the man, especially since he has developed such a nice rapport with star wide receiver Greg Dortch.
3. Notre Dame defensive pressure
Notre Dame lived in the Michigan backfield in the season opener, but over the past two weeks the pressure has been spotty. Vanderbilt dropped back to throw 44 times and the Irish could muster just one sack. Pressure is more than sacks, but in the second half, as the Notre Dame defense tired, Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur had more time to throw. Hartman, for all his early success, is still a true freshman and he has made mistakes when facing heat, as his five interceptions indicate. Whether it is by blitzing or getting pressure from standard sets, the Irish need to make Hartman’s life difficult on Saturday.
Last year, Wake Forest came to South Bend and found themselves down 34-10 deep in the third quarter to what at the time appeared to be an Irish juggernaut. But the Demon Deacons responded, scoring points quickly late in the game, and though the outcome was never in doubt, Notre Dame left the game with an unsettled feeling that carried over the next week in Miami. Notre Dame has to be a bit unsettled this week as they had south to Wake after consecutive uninspiring performances. John Wolford, the Wake Forest quarterback that threw for 331 yards at Notre Dame Stadium last year, is gone, but the up-tempo system remains the same. The Demon Deacons are averaging 93 plays a game, which is just a hair behind Texas Tech’s national lead in that category. The Notre Dame defense, which hasn’t had much rest this season, will need to win on first and second down to put Wake in long down and distance situations, which may slow down Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson’s decision-making process just a bit. The Irish will run the ball okay and Brandon Wimbush will make a couple big plays in the passing game to lead the Irish to another tight victory.
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Wake Forest 25
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.