It’s a weird feeling coming off the Pitt game and not being extremely angry. The Irish for the most part dominated Pitt and over and over again exploited Pat Narduzzi’s odd decision to leave his lesser talented cornerbacks on islands with Will Fuller. Notre Dame’s opponents continue to improve. The fan base is now, kind of hilariously, thrusting victories over Temple and Navy into other team’s faces, but hey…them’s the breaks. The next coupe of games don’t provide the same chance for thrusting. I’ve reached the quota on use of that word. If used again, the SEO on this post is gonna take a turn for the worse. Perhaps this is the year that Notre Dame’s normal stumbling blocks don’t bite them hard in the…backside. Comfortable win over Pitt. Injuries have continued to stock pile, the team just rumbles on. Next thing you’re gonna tell me is that BC will roll over quietly next week. But, we’ll talk about next week, well, next week. It’s ONE GAME AT A TIME PEOPLE. Hey, stop looking at Notre Dame’s schedule to figure out the kick off time for Stanford!!! That is NOT cool. NOT cool at all. Don’t you dare circle that Stanford game either. We have a game this week versus a non-Cardinal opponent.
The When/Where/What Time/Etc: Amazingly this will mark the final game in South Bend for the season. If you’re making the voyage to South Bend, HLS’ student insider, Grantland-X, told you on Wednesday how you should be l-i-v-i-n. If you’re not making the trip, the game airs at 3:30 PM on NBC. I’ve seen no reports of Hammond, so the normal staff would seem to be in place. Already looking forward to the 2016 return of Tom Hammond and Pat Haden in the booth with special sideline reporter Mike Mayock. All throwback e’ry thing. If your remote finger gets kind of itchy, Clemson, Alabama, and Oklahoma State all play at 3:30 as well. Clemson will quite literally be in an Orange off with Syracuse. Oklahoma State plays Iowa State in its final road contest of the year. In one of only three match-ups on the day that pits ranked teams versus one another, Alabama faces totally-being-ignored-but-secretly-quite-dangerous Mississippi State. That’s the game on CBS, so your opinion of Gary and Vern will go a long way to deciding how palatable that match-up is.
The Opposing Coach: The man under the head set is Dave Clawson, now in his second season as the Deacons’ head coach. This is a difficult job under the best of circumstances. Competing with slightly rejuvenated programs in state with UNC and Duke has not made things any easier. Clawson’s first season finished 3-9. So far this season Wake’s trudged its way to a 3-6 record. The “highlight” being a shutout win over Boston College 3-0. Clawson’s resume has come primarily on the offensive side of the ball and even spent part of Phil Fullmer’s final season in Knoxville as the UT offensive coordinator. From 2009-13 he was Bowling Green’s head coach. The jury’s still out on whether he can be a program builder at a school like Wake. Even making them a team that hovers around .500 would be an accomplishment. Not a lot else to say about him.
Wake’s Last Game: The pessimists and worriers of the world will be concerned that the Demon Deacons are most recently off a (dramatic music and lighting cracks) BYE WEEK…..Err merrr gawwwdd…a BYE Week! Probably the best news for Wake Forest about that is the bye week did not force any fumbles. The Friday before Halloween was nothing short of a nightmare for them. You’d think with your mascot essentially being a Halloween character that perhaps they’d play more inspired, but those in attendance saw a turnover massacre!!! Wake Forest turned the ball over 5 times and gained just 266 total yards of offense en route to a painfully close 20-19 loss to Louisville. For a point of reference, DeShone Kizer has accounted for more total yards alone in 4 of his 7 starts. Wake, at points, led 10-0 in the first half, and 19-10 in the third quarter, but if you can’t hold onto the ball, you’re generally gonna lose. Let me drop some #sportsmath on y’all: If you lose the turnover battle by a -4 margin, it’s really tough to win. Wake Forest now ranks 124th in turnover margin per game on average surrendering 1.5 more turnovers than they create per game!! The Bye week can’t do a lot of good if all that’s left to coach are the shattered remains of a football team.
Team Talent: Wake Forest and next week’s opponent, Boston College, have very similar 5 year averages on recruiting scores. They’re a decent notch up from the likes of Temple, Navy, and UMass, but not on the same level as even a Georgia Tech or a Pitt. 247 Sports Team Talent Composite Rankings agrees registering Wake Forest at 71st nationally. Part of their issue is a heavy reliance on very young players. Wake’s three leading rushers are all freshmen. Their most prolific is freshman quarterback Kendall Hinton who’s averaging about 10 attempts per game and ranks just 20th in the ACC in individual player rushing. The other quarterback receiving playing time, John Wolford, is just a sophomore. They do not have a single defensive player who ranks in the Top 19 in the ACC in tackles for loss, sacks, or interceptions. Quite simply, there’s very little big play making ability on this squad. As opposed to teams like Navy or this year’s Temple that are out playing their recruiting, Wake has frequently looked like an under-talented team.
- The Vegas line is 27 points in this one. Gonna keep banging the “dominant wins” drum, but Notre Dame’s being treated like an elite team, and they need to put up some final scores reminiscent of one. The Playoff Committee likes ND well enough, but anything that looks even remotely spotty in these next two match-ups could change the “eye test” perception enough to knock ND out of the cat-bird’s seat. I say this not because I know how the playoff committee thinks. I say this because no one knows what this committee is thinking, and with the Big-12 teams getting an opportunity to put some quality wins on their resume, Notre Dame needs to keep pace versus weaker competition.
- To bolster my point above about Wake Forest not having big playmakers, they currently sit 122nd in takeaways/game versus FBS competition. Their turnover margin issue is more than coughing the ball up. Their defense lacks big play guys. They’ve created just 3 interceptions all season 2 of the 3 were made by freshmen. Their defense has forced just 5 fumbles all season long.
- Quarterback Pressure!!! – Wake’s defense has 15 sacks this season which is just one less than the Irish’s 16. The bigger difference has come in creating consistent pressure. Wake Forest has been credited for only 18 quarterback hurries on the season compared to Notre Dame’s defense who has now forced 44. Wake Forest’s offense is giving up sacks on 8.97% of their quarterback’s drop backs which ranks 112th nationally. The Irish are probably lower in this regard than people realize as they’re permitting a sack on 6.71% of dropbacks (just 75th nationally), but the difference is the Irish have the defensive front to exploit this mis-match better. Could be another big day for the likes of Sheldon Day and Romeo Okwara.
All and all, this feels like a game won nearly from the outset. While some still feel that Notre Dame’s defense has something to prove to demonstrate they can hang in the playoffs, Football Outsiders advanced metrics have found the Irish to be decent thus far ranking 30th in defensive FEI and 39th in S&P Ratings. I’m not going to try to bother to explain what all those ratings attempt to capture, but these metrics try to go beyond just looking at points surrendered, and funny enoug, they agree with…points surrendered where Notre Dame currently ranks 34th. Match-ups with Wake Forest and Boston College are not only excellent opportunities to bolster some of the underlying numbers, I argue they should bolster those underlying numbers. I’m hoping for a big number. As of the time I’m writing this on Wednesday, I’m thinking maybe a 49-7 Irish victory.
Survivor of the Davie, O'Leary, Willingham football eras. Southern. Charming and more often than not the wittiest person at his dinner table (he eats alone quite a bit).
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