There are no shattering headlines from South Bend, Indiana Saturday night. Notre Dame beat Wake Forest as expected 45-7. Notre Dame played well, but not at an awe-inspiring level. Wake Forest shows spurts of competitiveness, mixed in with some crowd-tantalizing creativity on offense. But at the end of the day, there was just too much Notre Dame for Wake Forest to handle. It was a fitting end for the Irish as they celebrated the 500th game at Notre Dame Stadium.
A Talent Mismatch
The headline throughout the week was the Demon Deacons facing their old starting quarterback, Sam Hartman. The Wake grad transfer was efficient and sufficient in the first half and the executioner in the second half. He finished the game 21 of 29 passing for 277 yards, and four touchdowns. What he was was proficient at was taking advantage of what was there for him. Notre Dame finished with 450 yards of total offense. But Wake did a good job of containing the Irish’s running back Audric Estime for most of the game. He came into the night just shy of 1,000 yards. But for the first three quarters, he had only 60 yards on 14 carries. Eventually, the game wore down Wake Forest and Estime finished with 115 yards.
“Notre Dame is just a really talented and physical football team,” Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson said after the game. “Right now they’re just a much better football team than us.”
Conversely, Wake’s Michael Kern, who replaced Mitch Griffis this week as the starter was 11 of 20 for 81 yards. The Deacs had balance on offense which is to say they had slightly more rushing yards than they did passing yards. Wake just is not in a position to match up with Notre Dame on the field.
The Irish struck first on a 71-yard drive. Hartman was backpedaling at the Wake 12-yard line and found tight end Devyn Ford all alone in the front of the end zone. It was the entire extent of the scoring for the two teams in the first quarter.
Wake found the creative section in the playbook in the second quarter. Hey, when you have nothing to lose, you tend to take a few more risks.
On an end around from the Wake 40-yard line, receiver Jahmal Banks threw on the run, hitting Ke’Shawn Williams for 17 yards along the right sidelines. Three plays later, it was Williams going in the other direction in the backfield and cut up for a 20-yard rushing gain to the nine-yard line. On the next play, Williams went in a sweeping motion to the left, but the handoff went to Tate Carney who had an open nine yards in front of him for the touchdown and the 7-7 tie.
“We called a couple of trick plays and I thought it loosened up the defense a little bit,” Clawson said. He said the match-ups meant if Wake only ran its base schemes, they would not move the ball too much. “We felt we had to have a couple of trick plays.”
Notre Dame Has Answers for Everything
Hartman answered with a 66-yard drive. It was capped off with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Tobias Merriweather who got to the front of the end zone, behind Caelen Carson for the 14-7 lead.
Wake Forest had a chance to cut into the lead and keep the game competitive late in the quarter, but kicker Matthew Dennis, who had been so reliable for the first half of the season, had a routine 30 yard field goal blocked. Hartman took the Irish 50 yards downfield in 1:35 to get a 37-yard field goal from Spencer Shrader for the 17-7 halftime lead.
Things went from “hanging in there” to “out of reach” pretty quickly for the Deacs in the second half. On the second play of the third quarter, Kern was sacked for a seven-yard loss and fumbled the ball. The Irish recovered at the Wake 19-yard line. It took Hartman one play, a 19-yard touchdown pass to Eli Raridon for the 24-7 lead. It put the game out of reach for a Wake Forest offense that could not sustain consecutive drives in the game. Defensive back Malik Mustapha said after the game that the secondary was not disciplined in its assignments and that Notre Dame took advantage of it.
Wake Gets Worn Down
As if to emphasize the point, Notre Dame even recovered their onside kick after the touchdown pass. Wake was able to stop them from scoring, but it was the kind of bravado you can show when you know you have your opponent completely outmatched.
From there, whatever boldness Wake was feeling earlier was pretty much pounded out of them. The Deacs had it 4th and 1 at the Notre Dame 46-yard line. Down three scores, they had no choice but to go for it. But Justice Ellison was stuffed for no gain. It took Notre Dame only five plays to score again with Estime getting to the end zone from two yards out for the 31-7 lead.
Hartman completed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Jaden Greathouse in the fourth quarter to wrap up his night. Steve Angeli threw a 17-yard touchdown pass in the closing minutes for the final tally.
“Quite frankly, I’m surprised they’ve lost three games,” Clawson said of Notre Dame. “That’s one of the best teams that we’ve played.”
Wake Forest sits at 4-7. They would need a win over Syracuse next week to get into a position where the school’s APR would qualify them for a bowl game even at 5-7.