With a 7-1 mark and a fresh #3 ranking in the initial CFP rankings entering the month of November, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are continuing their drive toward a playoff berth, with the last of three consecutive home games next on the agenda. The opponent is the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who are coming off a strong offensive performance in their 42-32 win over Louisville last Saturday.
However, Wake’s 5-3 record is somewhat misleading, with their first four wins against lesser opponents matched up against the three losses that followed. Two of those latter opponents were ranked at the time of those contests, and with the Irish now firmly ensconced among the Top 5, the Demon Deacons face a stiff challenge in pulling off the upset.
For Notre Dame, avoiding the temptation of looking ahead to their next game will require focusing on some specific matchups against the Demon Deacons. These include:
Notre Dame Defense vs. John Wolford
The resurgence of the Irish defense in 2017 is directly attributed to the offseason hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Elko–from the Demon Deacons. Just like Notre Dame this year, Wake transformed under Elko to excel at creating turnovers in 2016. Julian Love’s pick-six against North Carolina State is indicative of what the Irish have been able to accomplish.
Wolford presents a dual threat at quarterback, having thrown for 1,660 yards and 15 touchdowns, while only getting picked off twice. In addition, he enters this game as Wake’s leading rusher with 341 yards, which puts Irish defenders on notice to keep a sharp eye on him throughout each play.
Jerry Tillery vs. Ryan Anderson
Tillery is currently in a three-way tie for the team lead in sacks with three. His markedly improved overall play this year has seen him rack up seven quarterback hurries and stop five ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage. In short, his presence up front and the improvement of the Notre Dame defense in general are a good reason for the team’s contending status.
Anderson’s improved play at center is something that can detected from a look at sacks allowed by the Demon Deacons this year. As the central component of the line, he’s helped solidify an offensive line that had been averaging roughly three sacks per game over the previous three seasons and sliced that number-per-game in half this year.
Josh Adams vs. Grant Dawson
With Adams’ Heisman campaign now in full swing, the push to continue giving him the ball will move forward. After all, with seven runs of 60 yards or more this season, describing him as a breakaway threat has become the understatement of the year. In Saturday’s victory, Adams broke the 200-yard rushing mark in a game for the second time this season.
Having gone past the threshold of 1,000 yards for the first time in his collegiate career, Adams will be pitted against Dawson, a redshirt senior. The middle linebacker is second in tackles for Wake, but ranks among the team leaders in stops behind the line with eight on the year.
Adams has faced more formidable defenders thus far in 2017 and come out on top. That means that he has an excellent chance of bolstering his resume even more against a player whose defensive numbers are modest in comparison.
Notre Dame Weak Side Offensive Tackle vs. Duke Ejiofor
Handling Wake’s most ferocious pass rusher will be the job of whichever tackle has to handle the team’s weakside during pass plays. While the ultimate goal of such protection is to keep Brandon Wimbush healthy heading into the final stretch of the regular season, giving him time to develop without putting his head on a swivel would also be invaluable.
Ejiofor leads the Demon Deacons with 6.5 sacks and also paces their defenders with 14.5 stops behind the line and five hurries. Those numbers mirror what he was able to produce last year, which means that being able to neutralize what he can do offers the opportunity for Wimbush and his teammates to do some damage.
Julian Love vs. Tabari Hines
Wake Forest lost star wide receiver Greg Dortch for the season last week. Tabari Hines will step in after catching 70 passes the past two seasons but taking a back seat to Dortch this year. Love most likely won’t get a whole lot of help with Hines given he hasn’t played much and Mike Elko will likely put his best corner on an island. If Love is able to lock down Hines this week, it’ll free up the defense elsewhere and allow them to play the kind of swarming defense they have played all season long. The loss of Dortch is a big one for the Deacons after the hot start the receiver got off to this year.