As Notre Dame (3-0) enters their first road game, the conversations centers around an offense that has been good in the first half and inconsistent in the second. On the season, the Irish have scored 51 points in first half and 19 in second including a paltry six points in the fourth quarter.
What’s been overshadowed in the struggle of the offense is how well the defense is playing.
The Irish defense have only allowed 10 scoring drives (5 TDs) all season. Getting off the field will be a key against a Wake Forest team that ran 105 plays in their loss to Boston College last week. The combination of facing an uptempo offense along with it being the Irish’s first road game has gotten the attention of Coach Brian Kelly.
“Always tough on the road against a Power 5 especially one that likes to run a 100 plays a game”, said Coach Kelly at his weekly press conference.
Offensively, Wake has racked up over 500 yards total offense in each of their first three games this season.
They are led by a solid offensive line that enabled the Demon Deacons to have two 100-yard rushers last week. By far, this will be the stiffest test on the ground for an Irish defense that’s ranked 27th nationally against the run.
The passing game isn’t too shabby either. Freshman Sam Hartman had thrown two touchdown passes in each of his first three games. He also has an all-world weapon in Greg Dortch. The redshirt sophomore is the national leader in all-purpose yards with 224.7 per game. He leads the team in receiving almost averaging 10 receptions a game (28 in three games) along with two punt returns for touchdowns. This could be a tough test for Irish defensive back, Julian Love. Last week, Love had four pass break-ups.
The key for the defense starts with getting off the field when they have the chance.
“…they (Wake Forest) were in a lot of third-down situations, so third-down conversions, getting them off the field. But you know, you say that and I think they were maybe six of seven on fourth-down conversions, too.” Coach Kelly.
The Irish defense is ranked 84th in the country in Opp Third Down Conversions. Keeping the defense fresh will be key since Wake Forest runs an uptempo offense that will make it difficult for Notre Dame to substitute. Wake Forest is tied with San Diego State for the national lead for most sustained drives this year.
Drue Tranquill is going to play a big part in the defense’s success. The Irish put him in a position where he’s involved in everything from run support to blitz packages. He ranks fourth among defensive players in the nation with an average of 7.0 solo tackles per game.
The most concerning problem for the Irish defense might be fourth quarters. The defense has given up 24 points in the fourth quarter in the first three games and Wake’s offense wore down the defense in last season’s game. Couple that with the struggles on offense in the second half and the Irish have every reason to be concerned on Saturday.
Wake Forest might not be the sexiest name among Power 5 football teams but their ability to execute on offense requires Notre Dame’s defense to stand tall.