Should this season in fact be something special, the kind that ends in confetti underfoot, we may talk about Notre Dame’s win over Wake Forest as the game in which the team discovered its identity. A change at quarterback, from Brandon Wimbush to Ian Book, after three consecutive but flawed wins transformed Notre Dame’s offense. The defense punished Wake Forest throughout the contest, displaying a nastiness not seen from the boys in gold in a long time. Should this season be something special, Saturday’s game will be forever so.
Ian Book played the entire game. Much of what has been written about the game has revolved around Brian Kelly’s decision to pull Brandon Wimbush, or Brandon Wimbush’s inability to play a complete game. Ian Book deserves to be lauded in his own right. Against a troubled pass defense, Book turned in the kind of performance Notre Dame fans begged from Wimbush against Ball State and Vanderbilt. Able to complete the intermediate and short routes that befuddled Wimbush, Book threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception and finished with a QBR of 82.5.
Book targeted ten separate receivers but favored Alizé Mack, who caught six balls for sixty-one yards. Under Book’s command, the offense went from schizophrenic to constant. Dynamic plays, such as Michael Young’s sixty-six yard reception, flowed naturally from the scheme and from disciplined blocking rather than from happenstance and from improvisation. Again, the offensive line played well enough, opening the way for six touchdowns on the ground and 241 yards. For all the ink spilled over Wake Forest’s turbo-charged offense, Notre Dame ran 72 plays to their 96, but definitely finished far stronger.
The performance was humiliating enough for Wake Forest to fire their DC on Sunday. Some of that humiliation must come from Wake’s loss the week prior to Boston College, a team that went on to lose to Purdue, but the damage Notre Dame inflicted cannot be overstated. Notre Dame hung 56 points on a Wake Forest defense that wilted at home in the blistering Carolina heat.
Looking forward, with Stanford and ESPN coming to campus this weekend, Notre Dame is a 4-0 team that finally looks the part. Stanford, who were gifted a win by Oregon in overtime, are a dangerous team with more height at the receiver position than most NBA rosters. Still, their task just got more difficult. Whereas a Wimbush-led offense was potentially explosive, one led by Ian Book looks deadlier, more efficient. David Shaw, Stanford’s head coach, must now plan for too many combinations while wondering where we’ll hide those pesky phantom whistles.
When the book on 2018 is finally finished, the Wake Forest game should feature prominently. Should Notre Dame move to 5-0, far more virtual pens will crease virtual paper and thousands of those voyages Mallarmé described will get underway. The authors of those stories will chart their own courses, trading way points for exclamation points and commas. In our great Irish ocean, we are all captains steering ships in our own fashion, whether in it for money or the simple pleasure of listening to the space between the deep blue sea and the devil. For this skipper, at voyage’s end, I shall enjoy my place, in the gutter, looking at the stars.