A glance at the stat sheet tells you that Josh Adams carried 17 times for 141 yards, a touchdown and an 8.3-yard average. A very C.J. Prosise-like game.
But 98 of those yards came on his spectacular, explosive run early in the second quarter, which gave the Irish a 21-0 lead two plays after holding Wake Forest on 4th-and-goal at the one.
Adams’ other 16 carries netted 43 yards, which is a 2.6-yard average with nine of his 17 carries resulting in stuffs. Even worse, extrapolating a pair of 11-yard runs out of the equation, Adams managed 21 yards on 14 of his 17 attempts.
But the 98-yarder counts too, and its value after a goal-line stand with a 14-0 lead eliminated any thoughts of the Demon Deacons out-scoring the Irish by more than 21 with 39:59 remaining.
Notre Dame simply allows too many negative-yardage plays in the ground game to maximize all the advantages it forges for itself offensively. It’s incredible how many points Notre Dame averages per game in relation to the number of lost-yardage plays. In this game, it contributed significantly to a huge 35:48-to-24:12 time-of-possession advantage in Wake Forest’s favor.
This grade looks awfully harsh. But an Irish offense that averages 267.9 yards through the air that doesn’t pass the 100-yard mark until midway through the fourth quarter obviously is not where it normally is. And it’s not like the Irish were pounding the football on the ground against the Demon Deacons, thus eliminating the need to put the ball in the air. The limited number of pass attempts was a direct reflection on Notre Dame’s inability to possess the football.
DeShone Kizer completed 13-of-19 for a 68.4 percent completion rate and 111 yards. But the 8.5-yard average per completion and 5.8-yard average per attempt were well below what Kizer has been racking up. From the naked eye, that would be attributed to the Irish receivers not creating enough separation, which also led to Kizer’s three sacks.
Regardless why the Irish passing game was not at its normal level – give Wake Forest’s No. 24-ranked pass defense some credit too – the fact is Notre Dame’s long pass play was just 22 yards to Will Fuller, and that came in the fourth quarter.
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson said the goal was to limit Fuller. The Demon Deacons accomplished it by containing Fuller to 37 yards on three receptions and zero touchdowns, the latter number the most eye-opening when you consider that it’s just the fourth time in 23 games he’s gone without a score.
Amir Carlisle continued his late-season rise with an 18-yard catch-and-run in Notre Dame’s second series that led to a 7-0 lead. Kizer’s 16-yarder to Torii Hunter, Jr. in that same drive moved the Irish inside the red zone.
But there wasn’t much more in the passing game, including three straight plays at the end of the first half that 1) lost three on a shovel pass, 2) lost two on a shovel pass that was ruled a rush, and 3) lost 10 on a sack.
The other most noteworthy contribution to the passing game came from a guy who caught one pass for four yards. Corey Robinson may not be producing much in the reception department. But he’s still good for a couple of interference penalties, the first of which led to Kizer’s second touchdown run and a 28-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Wake Forest came into the game averaging 110 yards rushing per contest and 3.1 yards per carry. Against Notre Dame, the Demon Deacons rushed for 121 yards on 44 carries for a 2.8-yard average. On paper, that looks about right.
But that’s deceiving, mainly because the 33 lost yards by quarterback John Wolford were a result of three sacks. Running back Tyler Bell came into the game with 256 yards rushing and a 3.2-yard average. He carried 23 times for 90 yards (3.9) against Notre Dame while Wolford – the “passing quarterback” -- hurt the Irish with his feet several times, including a one-yard touchdown run for Wake’s only score.
Notre Dame was gashed a bit more than you would expect from a Wake Forest ground game. “Running quarterback” Kendall Hinton gained 23 yards on a 3rd-and-2. Notre Dame – 10th in the country in three-and-outs – had just one against the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest had enough rushing success to put them in some manageable third downs, which they used to their advantage by converting 7-of-16, which is a ridiculous conversion rate for a team No. 114 in the country coming in.
Another startling stat: Wake Forest had 23 first downs, 11 by rushing. The Demon Deacons average 5.7 rushing first downs per game.
The bottom line is the Irish held a Wake Forest rushing offense that came into the game with nine touchdowns to just one, which was aided by a 4th-and-1 stop at the goal line by Jaylon Smith. Ultimately, the rushing yardage didn’t lead to points, but Wake Forest would have more than three wins if it were running the football with that efficiency all season.
Who would have thought Wake Forest would nearly double Notre Dame’s passing yardage? The Demon Deacons netted 219 through the air on 19-of-30 passing while Notre Dame managed just 111 (on 11 less attempts).
The longest of the completions was a 52-yarder to K.J. Brent, which went for naught once the Demon Deacons crossed the Irish 10 as Notre Dame held on downs midway through the fourth quarter. That means Wolford’s other 18 completions covered just 167 yards, which is a more-than-acceptable 9.2 yards per completion and 5.8 yards per attempt.
Wolford converted nine first downs through the air, but he lost the grip of a second-quarter pass, which Andrew Trumbetti plucked out of the air and returned 28 yards for a touchdown.
Notre Dame’s pass defense came through in several big situations. A Romeo Okwara sack at the end of the first half contributed greatly to a missed 51-yard field goal. Okwara also had a sack in Wake Forest’s lone touchdown drive. He finished with three to raise his total for the year to a surprising nine.
Jaylon Smith’s amazing skillset was on display midway through the fourth quarter as Wake Forest tried to cut the deficit to two touchdowns. First, he pressured Wolford into a hurried incompletion on 3rd-and-goal from the seven, and then defended the pass to tight end Cam Serigne on fourth down. In other words, Smith can impact a passing game on both ends of the spectrum.
Notre Dame held Wake Forest to 0-for-3 on fourth down, including two incompletions, which is significant considering the Irish had surrendered 13-of-17 fourth-down conversions coming in.
Perhaps the most disappointing play against the pass was a fumble caused by, who else, Okwara, and Grant Blankenship’s dismissal of a live fumble. Unfathomable for a guy who has had difficulty getting on the field this season.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Wake Forest needed a roughing the snapper penalty on a punt that led to four more completions covering 41 yards and, ultimately, a touchdown. Without that rare penalty, the Irish pitch a shutout.
Not much in the game-changing department with no punt or kickoff returns by the Irish and no field-goal attempts by Justin Yoon. Wake had a punt return of 14 yards. The Demon Deacons’ kicker, Mike Weaver, missed a 51-yard field goal, which was created by a sack and a personal foul.
Three of Tyler Newsome’s five punts were inside the 20-yard line, and he still managed to average 44 yards per boot. The NCAA’s all-time leading punter (in attempts), Wake’s Alex Kinal, tagged a 58-yarder, but it went into the end zone for just his third touchback of the season on 61 attempts.
It’s not as if the Irish got off to a slow start. They took the lead late in the first quarter with a 10-play, 67-yard drive, and then went up two scores for the rest of the game on a break that Andrew Trumbetti capitalized upon to give Notre Dame a 14-0 lead. The Irish had a three-score lead for more than half the game (33:53).
But the Irish had trouble sustaining their momentum. They allowed Wake Forest to limit its offense like few teams have while netting 23 first downs of their own and challenging the Irish to get their defense off the field.
The fact a team like Wake Forest would run 25 more plays and gain 58 more yards would seem to indicate a performance that favored the underdog. Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson talked about some of the things he wanted his team to take away from Notre Dame, most notably Will Fuller, and for the most part, they were able to accomplish their goals. But a team that hasn’t quite learned how to win and take advantage of the opportunities that arise is a team like Wake Forest that loses eight or nine games in a season.
Ultimately, the Irish won the football game by 21 points as a 27-point favorite. It wasn’t the most stylish or exciting performance. For excitement, you would have to go back to last year’s senior day/home finale against Louisville, which was a thrill a minute and another home loss.
Notre Dame’s victory over Wake Forest gave the Irish a 6-0 home mark in 2015. They’ve come a long way since last November.