The first road game on the 2018 Notre Dame football schedule is scheduled for September 22, when the Irish travel to Winston-Salem to start the ACC portion of their season by facing the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Last season, Wake and their head coach Dave Clawson managed to finish with an 8-5 record, the second year in a row they finished with a winning mark following five straight years under .500.
In 2017, the Demon Deacons ran off four straight wins to start the year, only to drop three contests in a row. However, in eight of their 13 games, they managed to score 30 points or more and cracked the 50-point barrier three times. Wake fans hope that ability to light up the scoreboard can continue.
Wake Forest Offense: A Change at the Controls
The main challenge in keeping the Deacons’ offense in high gear is making sure that new signal caller Kendall Hinton can maintain the production of last year’s quarterback, John Wolford. Two years ago, Hinton lost his job to Wolford due to injury, but can go deep and has excellent mobility. Still, his accuracy is open to question.
Even though Wake’s offense remains an explosive one, it does have the capability to grind it out, if necessary. Matt Colburn finished strong in 2017 and will serve as the main running option this season, with Cade Carney ready to supplement his work. An unknown quantity is redshirt freshman Christian Beal, who has the potential to deliver, though maybe not in 2018.
The two main targets for Hinton among receivers are Greg Dortch, who grabbed 53 passes last year, and Scotty Washington, who caught 45 on the year. Neither are speed demons, yet both can do damage to opposition defenses. Right now, tight end remains a question mark, but making up the 44 receptions and nine scores that the departed Cam Serigne provided is vital.
The least amount of questions when it comes to the Deacon offense are directed at the offensive line. That’s because all five starters are back, with three of them coming off award-winning seasons. While there’s talented depth waiting in the wings, it’s largely untested, which could cause problems if injuries strike this department.
Wake Forest Defense: A Work in Progress
As potent as the Wake offense is, the team’s defense has holes that must be addressed to display any sort of improvement. While the Deacons are solid on the inside line with tackles Zeek Rodney and Willie Yarbary, they have to find a way to make up for the 10 sacks and 24 tackles-for-loss contributed by Duke Ejiofor and Wendell Dunn, who are gone.
At linebacker, two holes also exist and the role of Demetrius Kemp could shift to the inside if he’s unable to improve his abilities against the pass. Defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel is hoping that the boost provided by Justin Strnad last year isn’t a mirage after Strnad brought down 51 ball carriers, collected 4.5 sacks and picked off three passes.
The true litmus test for the Wake defense will be the secondary’s performance, which routinely got shredded in the latter part of 2017. The Deacons lost their top player here in Jessie Bates, which might be seen as a plus. However, if players like Essang Bassey at one corner and Cameron Glenn at safety aren’t able to improve their game, it could make for long afternoons.
Wake Forest Special Teams: A Cloudy Forecast
Without all-conference kicker Mike Weaver, Wake might need the team’s punter, Dom Maggio, to handle those duties. Otherwise, incoming freshman Nick Sciba gets put in this crucial role. When Dortch isn’t hauling down passes, he’s going to be badly needed on the return unit.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played Wake Forest
Last year, the Notre Dame football schedule had these teams playing in South Bend, with the Irish coming away with a wild 48-37 victory. Notre Dame managed to rack up 710 yards of total offense and bounced back from an opening score by Wake to take a 31-10 halftime lead. The Irish were in full control of the game, holding a 42-16 lead at one point.