Notre Dame v. Wake Forest: Key Matchups in 1st Road Test

For the first time in their 2018 campaign, the undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish venture away from South Bend to face an opponent. This week, that foe is the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who are coming off their first loss of the season. The contest marks only the second-ever trip to Winston-Salem, the first coming in the two schools’ inaugural meeting seven years ago.

The Irish are hoping to get back into the style of play they showed in their opener against Michigan. In subsequent games against Ball State and Vanderbilt, issues have emerged that might mean defeat for Notre Dame down the road when they face a stronger opponent. Last week’s victory saw the Irish benefit from a number of key drops or turnovers by Vanderbilt.

When the two teams line up for their noontime start on Saturday, some of the key matchups to watch include:

QB Brandon Wimbush vs. Wake Forest Defense

The promise of Wimbush’s first two quarters of play have cooled considerably over the next 10 periods. That’s because many of the same issues that plagued him last year have once again bubbled to the surface, through drops and route-running issues can’t be pinned on him. His one saving grace continues to be his running ability, which keeps opponents on their toes.

However, another struggling effort against Wake’s defense would likely ramp up the push to bench Wimbush. That’s because the Demon Deacons were ripped apart for over 500 yards, including more than 300 through the air. Taking advantage of those flaws is an absolute necessity for him to get back on track.

WR Miles Boykin vs. CB Essang Bassey

Boykin wasn’t really a factor against Vanderilt, which was a step back from what had been a solid start. Getting back into that zone this week would help and he brings the physical abilities to have a big day against a weak pass defense. Sticking to the fundamentals, which includes running crisp routes on a consistent basis could make that happen.

Bassey is part of a secondary that got torched over the course of four quarters against Boston College. While lack of a pass rush by the Demon Deacons certainly didn’t help, Bassey is a veteran who spent the night under siege against an average team. Facing the likes of is something that could make it difficult to get back on track.

Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Sam Hartman

Like the team itself, a strong first outing for Notre Dame has seen a subsequent decline since that high point. Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur found plenty of holes in the Irish pass defense and might have pulled off an upset with a little more luck on his side. The pass rush which had been strong for two games only managed to bring him down once.

Getting heat on Hartman would make things easier, considering he’s a true freshman playing in just his fourth collegiate game. That youth can be seen in his numbers that show six touchdown passes and five interceptions. Such numbers don’t mean that he can’t be a threat for Wake, considering he’s averaged 278 yards through the air.

DT Jerry Tillery vs. G Patrick Osterhage

One of the main constants in the play of Notre Dame’s defense after three games has been the stellar play of Tillery. Building off his big season last year, Tillery continues to thrive both against the run and pass. His sheer size of 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds means he can take up a lot of space inside against opposing runners, while he’s averaged one sack per game in 2018. For good measure, he’s also forced a pair of fumbles.

Injuries have turned the Demon Deacons’ offensive line into a game of musical chairs after just three games, with Osterhage moving into a starting role. Even he was nursing some wounds recently and was held out of Wake’s second game against Towson. That was more a nod to the short turnaround for the Boston College game just five days later. Being in a state of flux isn’t a good sign and is a situations that could make it a huge day for not only Tillery, but his fellow lineman as well.

CB Julian Love vs. WR Greg Dortch

Love remains the leader in the Irish secondary and again showed last week how he has a knack for the ball even when it doesn’t involve his man. He managed recover a fumble in the wild end zone scramble that followed a clutch strip by Alohi Gilman, leading to a touchback.

Despite the fact that Dortch isn’t blessed with blazing speed, he manages to snag enough passes to potentially be dangerous. He currently leads Wake with 28 grabs in their first three games, including nine last week against Boston College. Love figures to have a busy afternoon, but could be aided by a stiff Irish pass rush.

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  1. One would think Notre Dame would easily handle WF even on the road but weve seen Kelly’s teams play down to the level of its opponent many times before and its likely to happen again this Saturday. What should be a cakewalk win for the Irish will probably be a unconfortable win by 7 or fewer points.

    1. HOWS your coach from FLA. ST. doin DOPE, wow maybe we can hire him!! Shouldn’t b long b4 he’s available!! A week of 3-0 sure beats 1-2 and that lethal velocity you told us about in August huh dope!!

    2. David, do you know (from personal direct knowledge, like I do) the level of hand-wringing, nail-biting, angst, and tension that ARA felt EVERY single football week…no matter who we were playing? Our family knew…and we all felt awful about what he went through…all the time. He paid the price. Was he a weak man in your eyes David? Was he a failure for it? Did he fail Notre Dame while he was hand-wringing Thursday nights before games with teams far weaker than WF or Vanderbilt? Was he a fraud because he came out publicly (after he retired) and admitted it was “UNBEARABLE” in his own words? Do you know anything at all about coaching Notre Dame football David? Anything?
      And I won’t even talk about FL…only because I did not know his level of tension and angst personally, but I sure heard about it from people who did know!
      Both of those men were physical wrecks when they left ND (neither ever coached again) and one was a near mental wreck as well.

      So David…I’d say about “fear”…not a trace I ever saw or heard about…but as for all the rest of your “criticisms”…EVERY DAMNED DAY young man…EVERY DAMNED DAY.

      BGC ’77 ’82

  2. Here we go again, an opponent we should be mopping the floor with. When will this ND team realize these sort of teams have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Time to make a statement and show the Irish belong with the elite.

  3. This should be an easy win based on all the points above, however, unfortunately, I don’t think it will be that simple. It’s a broken record but I’d love to see the Irish blow this one open. There’s no reason they shouldn’t. But you never know, BK and co. may try the old BW can be a pro-style QB offense again and keep it needlessly close, or something else.

    They shouldn’t look ahead, but I will for just a moment. Stanford will be the next big test for ND, if for no other reason they’ve given ND fits. Of course there’s still VT.

    But I’m starting to wonder about Syracuse. What looked like a probable win isn’t quite so sure anymore. Syracuse has been looking a lot better the past 3 weeks over last season. Of course that can all blow up in their faces between now and when ND faces them. But assuming for the sake of argument that this improvement is the real deal. Swarbick’s decision to play this game in NY can come back to haunt the Irish. Pitt’s also supposed to be a better team this year. Florida State is trending down and Northwestern shouldn’t post much of a threat, I hope anyway. USC, well, like Stanford they always play ND hard. I don’t think it matters what kind of year they have, you know they will give ND everything they can handle.

    1. Damian I also am wondering about Syracuse as well. But Jack swears it’s a home game, so it must be, right? And his motto is “What, me worry” isn’t it? I don’t think Jack even knows what a home game is.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Bruce…..Daddy Sorebutt doesn’t even know what time zone he is in let alone anything about football/opponents!

      2. Yeah, in a sense it’s almost a home game for Syracuse since that’s a lot closer to NY then South Bend (though ND fans of course travel well so I don’t expect the crowd to be a huge issue).

        But I’ll be keeping an eye on Syracuse. They’re starting to look like they could be a dark horse team this year. By the time ND gets to them we’ll know if this turnaround is for real. And it’s obviously way to early for the team to be thinking about them…but not for me.

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