When Notre Dame and Wake Forest take the field on Saturday, they both have major goals in mind. For the Irish, it’s not only to send the 31 seniors being honored before the game out in style but also to erase the memory of their loss at Clemson. For the Demon Deacons, they desperately need a victory to cling to any hopes of making a bowl appearance.
Considering the fact that Notre Dame is favored by approximately 24 points, it seems likely that the Irish will be the ones getting their wish. Still, Marcus Freeman’s squad needs to work out the flaws and glitches that have converted a potential playoff contender into simply another bowl competitor.
Below are some of the intriguing numbers that are a part of Saturday’s matchup:
Change of Direction
In his weekly press conference, Freeman expressed his thoughts on the challenges of defending against Wake’s innovative slow-mesh offense. However, since ACC play began for the Demon Deacons, other teams have largely found a way to keep them in check.
Prior to the beginning of conference action, Wake averaged more than 33 points per game in their three victories. In two of those contests, they managed to throw for more than 300 yards, while the other victory saw them run roughshod over Vanderbilt for 288 yards.
In the seven games after that, the Demon Deacons have only managed to win once, in part because the team has only averaged 15 points per game. Conversely. Wake couldn’t keep opponents from putting points on the scoreboard, to the tune of 26 points per contest.
Notre Dame’s defense has been fairly consistent this season when shutting down opponents, especially at home. Allowing just 64 points in five games under the Golden Dome, the Irish defenders need to shut their foes down early. That will avoid any lingering thoughts of springing a major upset.
Moving the Chains
Freeman’s press conference also saw him note how struggles on first down for the Notre Dame offense against Clemson translated into problems in keeping drives going. In that game, the Irish tied for a season-low 13 first downs.
On five occasions this year, Notre Dame has passed the threshold of 20 first downs in a game and won four of five clashes. The lone defeat came in the last-second heartbreaker against Ohio State. One notable number in the four victories is the Irish point production, which saw them rack up 197 points, an average of nearly 50 points per game.
Notre Dame doesn’t necessarily need to reach those numbers to win on Saturday. However, if they’re struggling in this department, it might be an occasion for some sweaty palms among the Irish faithful. That’s because, in this season’s three losses, Notre Dame averaged only 15 first downs, a number they can’t afford to hover around on Saturday.
Sack Attack on Alert
The pass rush for Notre Dame this season has only collected 20 sacks, with six coming in the battering of USC last month. That total hasn’t concerned Freeman, who instead points to the team’s defensive pass efficiency number of 95.7, good for third among all FBS teams, behind only Ohio State and Michigan.
When the Irish defense lines up against Wake on Saturday, it seems likely that they may challenge that six-sack performance. The reason is that the Demon Deacons’ pass protection has been a disaster, allowing an average of 4.3 sacks every game. That forgettable number ranks ahead of only Colorado and Old Dominion.
Wake is averaging 3.3 rushing yards per carry in 2023 and has gained over 100 yards in six different games. For them to have even a hope of winning, they need some semblance of ball control. If the Irish can neutralize this part of their offense, it will allow the pass rush to tee off for what could be a busy afternoon.
Stopping the Run
One of the reasons why shutting down Wake’s running game is important can be seen in a breakdown of their wins and losses. In the team’s four wins, they’ve averaged nearly 164 yards per game. Yet, in the six losses, that average has dipped to barely over 109 yards per contest.
Notre Dame’s ability to stop the run this year has resulted in some easy translation into victory. In six of the team’s seven wins, opponents have gained only 592 yards on 310 carries for a meager average of 1.9 yards per carry. Taking away the 3.9 yards per carry by Central Michigan, a team the Irish defeated by 24 points, the average dips even further to 1.67 yards per carry.
In contrast, all three losses have seen the victors average 4.43 yards per carry, with two of the wins allowing opponents to run the ball more than 40 times. In addition, the lone win among the games in which foes broke the four-yards-per-carry threshold was the harrowing Duke win that required a last-minute comeback. In short, forcing the Demon Deacons to the air will tamp down any consideration of an upset.