Move along, because there’s nothing to see here. The average college football fan looking at final results from this past weekend’s games will see the 28-7 score alongside Notre Dame and Wake Forest’s names and will quickly move on to other contests, thinking little more than Notre Dame handled its business against a lesser opponent. And that’s exactly what head coach Brian Kelly’s team did.
Sure, it wasn’t pretty. The offensive line had its worst performance of the season. Minus a 98-yard touchdown by true freshman running back Josh Adams – the longest in Notre Dame Stadium’s history – the rushing attack was nonexistent, with the offense gaining 73 yards on 29 carries for a disturbingly low 2.5 yards per rush (let’s not even get into right guard Steve Elmer getting absolutely pancaked during one of his run block assignments). And quarterback DeShone Kizer looked like a freshman for the first time this season with overthrows and failures to see open receivers on third down. Yet Notre Dame still managed to find a way to climb to a 9-1 record – a feat accomplished only three times over the course of the past 15 years – and did so with a 21-point margin of victory.
Notre Dame’s win over Wake Forest is all the more impressive given the struggles of ranked opponents this past weekend. Clemson, the nation’s No. 1 team, held a narrow 34-27 lead in the fourth quarter against a 3-6 Syracuse team riding a six-game losing streak. Running back George Morris broke free for a 51-yard gain that took the Orange deep into Clemson territory before the Syracuse offense stalled in the red zone. Had Syracuse not been forced to settle for a field goal the score would have been 34-31 with time running uncomfortably low for the Tigers.
No. 8 Oklahoma State, one of the myriad of Big 12 teams vying for the playoff position Notre Dame currently holds, needed a miraculous, come-from-behind victory against a 3-6 Iowa State team that had been humiliated in earlier games against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma. The Cowboys trailed Iowa State 24-7 at one point and needed 14 fourth quarter points to secure the victory, pulling ahead for the first time with only three minutes left on the clock.
“It’s a good win by the team,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy told the media after the game in an attempt to put positive spin on a bad outing. “As we all know, coming up here [to Iowa State] and playing is never really easy.”
No. 9 LSU was an 8-point favorite against an unranked, 5-4 Arkansas squad. The Razorbacks wasted no time jumping out to a 21-0 lead in Baton Rouge, and although LSU regained its composure and narrowed the gap to one possession early in the third quarter, the damage was already done, and Arkansas coasted to a 31-14 victory.
As has been the case throughout this college football season, unpredictability and poor showings have been the norm – Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan squad needed double overtime to defeat Indiana, a program that has failed to record a single conference win – yet Notre Dame has largely managed to avoid such missteps despite losing nearly one-third of its starting lineup to injury.
With Wake Forest in the rearview mirror, Notre Dame will prepare for a trip to Fenway Park to square off against a listing Boston College team. The Eagles have lost six straight games and have been decimated by injuries, particularly at quarterback, with Boston College being forced to start four different players at the position throughout the year. Boston College’s stout defense – recently ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation – is complemented by an anemic offense, with the Eagles ranked No. 118 in scoring offense, an average of only 17 points per game.
It’s easy to look at Notre Dame’s performance against Wake Forest and point out areas that must be cleaned up if the Irish desire to earn a berth into the second College Football Playoff. But the fact a poor performance by Notre Dame now constitutes a 21-point margin of victory while other ranked teams struggle, or even lose, to inferior opponents shows how much Brian Kelly has turned around the culture and expectations of the program.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.