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.