Having had two weeks to ponder the gravity of the loss to Clemson, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish close out the home portion of their 2023 schedule against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Realistically, the Senior Day clash should not be a close one, given the opponent’s struggles that have led to a 4-6 record.
The Demon Deacons opened the season with promise, winning their first three contests by a combined score of 100 to 61. However, once ACC play got underway, Wake’s season has seen a meltdown, with six losses in the last seven tries. The most recent came in a 26-6 loss to North Carolina State, a game in which they trailed 21-0 at the half. He’s likely headed to his fourth losing season in his 10 years at the school, where he’s compiled a record of 63-59.
Below is a list of the key matchups to assess for Saturday’s game:
Sam Hartman vs. Wake Forest Defense
Hartman will be renewing acquaintances with former teammates after the game. However, during it, he’ll be focused on trying to get back to the smooth start with the Irish that he enjoyed during the early weeks of this season. He’s coming off his worst game at Notre Dame, throwing for just 146 yards and at an under 50 percent rate against Clemson. That also included throwing two interceptions, one of them a pick-six.
Wake has not surprisingly had their problems on defense, allowing over 400 yards in four different games, including a whopping 5-8 in the 25-point loss to Florida State. A large portion of that yardage came through the air, so Hartman could potentially have a big afternoon. Given North Carolina State’s 268 yards on the ground, he may also choose to let his running backs do the heavy lifting.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Mitch Griffis
The Irish allowed their second-highest point total of the season in the loss to Clemson, though one of those was directly tied to an offensive turnover. Still, the defense wasn’t completely blameless, allowing 176 yards on the ground. They may get something of a breather when it comes to defending against the scuffling, Griffis, though the Irish are in no position to take any opponent lightly.
Griffis only stands 5-feet-11 and took over the starting duties after Hartman transferred to Notre Dame. He’s an experienced signal-caller in his fourth year at the school but like the team as a whole has struggled in conference action. After throwing one in the ACC opener against Georgia Tech, he’s been unable to connect for another passing score. He hasn’t made too many mistakes this season, though his inability to deliver a consistent passing attack has been a problem.
CB Cam Hart vs. WR Jahmal Banks
Hart’s numbers in the secondary come up short when compared to Xavier Watts’ interception total and Benjamin Morrison’s pass breakups. He has only 15 tackles and three breakups in the first 10 games. Yet, when he does hit an opposing player, it’s solid enough to create turnovers, such as his trio of forced fumbles this season. In addition, his veteran leadership has been invaluable.
Wake’s receiving unit sustained a steep blow on the first day of camp when Donavon Green suffered a knee injury that kept him off the field. A trio of receivers have tried to pick up the slack, led by Jahmal Banks’ 47 catches. Banks was a favorite of Hartman’s last season, though his average speed limits him to being a possession wideout. Once he does snag a ball, he’s not likely to garner much more yardage. Still, he’s a player that the secondary needs to keep eyes on during the game.
MLB J.D. Bertrand vs. RB Demond Claiborne
Bertrand continues to lead the Irish in tackles with 63 and is currently tied with Howard Cross for stops behind the line. Like Hart, Bertrand brings the type of leadership that’s been a key part of this unit’s success for most of the season. He could return next season if he chooses, so Saturday’s clash could be his final home game. However, he may consider taking his fiery approach to the game to the next level.
Claiborne leads the Demon Deacons in rushing this season with 586 yards on 4.3 yards per carry and he’s reached the end zone five times. In his first year at the school last year, he toted the ball just 14 times but has teamed with Justice Ellison to form the backbone of the Wake rushing game. Claiborne is not a receiving threat out of the backfield, with just three catches on the year.