BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE RECORD HOLDERS
More yards…24 more snaps…twice as many first downs…twice as many minutes of ball possession. That was Wake Forest’s advantage over No. 4 Notre Dame heading into the fourth quarter Saturday evening.
“Statistically when you win every category you should win the game,” said Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford.
Instead the visitors finished with more yards, first downs, and ran a whopping 25 more plays (74 to 49) but trailed 21-7 nonetheless and lost by three touchdowns. Still, Notre Dame’s ninth victory of the season somehow felt punch-less, unless of course you’re a senior winning his last of a record-tying 21 games inside his home stadium.
“We made plays on third down and in the red zone, and that’s when it matters (most),” said co-captain Joe Schmidt.
Schmidt and the Irish defense held the visitors to just one touchdown in four red zone trips. “I thought we did some really good things in mixing things up in terms of pressures,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “I thought (defensive coordinator) Brian (VanGorder) did a very good job of calling the game in that short field. That’s really important too…you have to be diversified down in the red zone, and I thought we were.”
Schmidt’s fellow inside ‘backer Jaylon Smith starred in that regard, registering a third-down hurry and a fourth down pass defensed on the final of three red zone stops. Smith finished with a game-high 14 tackles, matching his career-best total from three previous outings.
98 PLUS NOT MUCH
Freshman running back Josh Adams will likely forever mark his starting debut with a Notre Dame Stadium record – one unlikely to be broken in his or anyone else’s lifetime.
Adams took a mid-second quarter handoff from his own 2-yard line and, after a brutal stiff-arm used to fell would-be-tackler Ryan Janvion and after two downfield blocks from a sprinting Chris Brown, finished the carry with a 98-yard trip to pay dirt.
“Just knowing our blocking scheme I knew big Mike (McGlinchey) was going to get out on him,” said Adams of the outset of his record-setter. “That stiff arm, I saw the guy coming and I tried not to get tackled by him. When I broke it all I could see was (senior) Chris Brown running down faster than me, faster than all of us, on the sidelines. He did a great job blocking downfield. A lot of credit on long runs like that goes to a wide receiver hustling.”
Adams finished with 141 rushing yards on 17 carries though eight of his 16 remaining efforts resulted in loss, no gain, or but one yard. Throw in two catches that lost yardage and 10 of Adams 19 touches ended in gains of one yard or less. Adding four such Stuffs (including three sacks) suffered by quarterback DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame’s offensive backfield managed one yard or less on 13 of its 30 official carries
“Wake Forest did a good job of mixing their looks up and really giving us a hard time,” said senior left tackle Ronnie Stanley. “I’m just really happy about how our offense performed facing those looks and coming out with a win.”
RETURNING THE FAVOR
Though Wake Forest out-gained the Irish by 58 yards (340-282) on the day, the Demon Deacons offense managed just 4.6 yards per play – the lowest total against the Irish since Clemson finished with the same on Oct. 3 in Death Valley.
The visitors gained only 2.8 yards per carry despite the absence of starting Irish nose tackle Daniel Cage (undisclosed injury).
“We were moving some pieces around up front,” said Kelly. “I thought we did some really good things, in particular pressures we got on the quarterback.
“There were some run fits that weren’t quite as efficient as they’ve been,” he added.
The Irish defense finished with 15 Stuffs including 10 tackles-for-loss led by Romeo Okwara’s three sacks. The senior now has 10 tackles-for-loss over his last four games including seven sacks. He received the game ball for his efforts.
“It’s been about playing with that motor each down, going into it with the mindset that, ‘If I’m rushing, I’m going to get this sack,’” he said.
Okwara had a half-sack nullified by teammate Jonathan Bonner’s facemask on the play late in the second quarter.
Notre Dame’s 2012 freshman class began with 17 signees, finished with just 12, and won exactly that many home games in as many chances as freshmen and seniors – two 6-0 home slates to bookend their Irish careers.
“It’s important to us, to improve upon the foundation laid by the senior classes before us,” said Schmidt, technically a member of the 2011 class but an on field contributor to 20 of the 21 record-tying victories inside the House that Rockne Built. “We still have work left to be done in that area, but the record at home is something we really wanted to work on and it’s a point of pride for us.”
The class’s run of 21 victories vs. three defeats includes:
-- 6-0 slate vs. rivals Michigan, Stanford, and USC
-- 4 wins over Top 15 foes
-- A victory over an eventual 14-1 Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State
-- A shutout of Michigan, the first such occurrence in college football since 1984
-- A win in which a Stadium record 93 points were scored (North Carolina 2014)
-- A win which only 24 points dotted the final scoreboard (USC 2013)
-- Last minute/overtime victories over Stanford and Pittsburgh 2012 and Stanford again in 2014
-- Two losses in overtime or in the final minute (Northwestern and Louisville 2014)
The 21 wins ties the mark set by Lou Holtz graduating classes of 1990 and 1991, squads that finished 21-2 and 21-3, respectively.