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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Brandon Wimbush steps up in gritty win after Josh Adams’ early exit

The talk all week had surrounded Notre Dame’s star junior running back and Heisman Trophy-candidate Josh Adams.

Adams was coming off a huge week against NC State’s sixth-ranked rushing defense, which he gashed for a whopping 202 yards and a score, so it seemed reasonable to think that if Notre Dame (8-1) was to succeed against Wake Forest, the Irish would need their go-to guy to have another big day.

Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush scrambles into the endzone for a touchdown during Notre Dame's 48-37 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush scrambles into the endzone for a touchdown during Notre Dame's 48-37 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

But on a drizzly day in South Bend, the Irish apparently had different plans. A conservative approach severely limited Adams touches and removed him from action late in the first quarter, ending his day with five carries for 22 yards. But Notre Dame’s offense didn’t slow down a bit throughout Saturday’s contest, largely due to a big day out of junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

From the very beginning Saturday, it became clear that Wimbush was ready for the task. Midway through the first quarter, after Wake Forest (5-4, 2-3 ACC) opened up the scoring with a field goal on its opening drive, Notre Dame was looking to answer on third-and-goal. With receivers covered, Wimbush took off and showed a flash of athleticism to find his way into the corner of the end zone, one of many big plays he would have on the day to help solidify Notre Dame’s victory.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly recognized the strong play of his quarterback, especially in the face of the criticism that the Irish offense is too one dimensional this season.

“I think that the narrative of [Wimbush] being able to throw the football should change dramatically. He had a couple of drops out there where he could have reasonably thrown for close to 300 yards, so hopefully that has been put to rest,” Kelly said. “He showed great grit and great leadership, so great game by Wimbush.”

When the game was still close in the first couple quarters, Wimbush delivered, as he was responsible for 269 of the team’s 423 first half yards as well as a couple of scores — the second coming on a 50-yard quarterback draw which left Wimbush a clear path to the end zone.

As if the curious circumstances of Adams’ exit from the game were not enough, Notre Dame fans had another scare with under a minute to play in the second quarter when Wimbush took off on a long run all the way to the Wake Forest 1-yard line. The Irish quarterback stayed down with an apparent injury after taking a helmet to the wrist on the tackle, and he was taken immediately to the locker room before halftime. He was replaced by sophomore Ian Book, who was able to find senior tight end Nic Weishar for the score right before the half. Although disappointed to have to come out, Wimbush said he had confidence in Book.

“It was scary, just to get banged up right before half and know that I couldn’t finish the drive with the guys, but obviously Ian Book came in and took care of business and did his job,” Wimbush said. “I knew we were in good hands.”

Wimbush was able to return for the third quarter, and he picked up right where he left off, helping Notre Dame’s offense march down the field. He would add another score himself on a 34-yard pass to sophomore receiver Chase Claypool and end his day leading the Irish in both passing and rushing yards before being relieved again by Book.

Irish quarterback Ian Book runs downfield during Notre Dame's 48-37 victory over Wake Forest on Nov. 3, 2017 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Irish sophomore quarterback Ian Book runs downfield during Notre Dame's 48-37 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Notre Dame was able to get strong play and contributions in the win out of a number of other players in addition to Wimbush. On the ground, sophomores Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh helped make up for the absence of Adams, combining for 122 yards and a pair of scores. As a team, Notre Dame once again surpassed 300 rushing yards, an accomplishment Wimbush credits his offensive line for in the absence of Adams.

“You could put a lot of running backs behind that offensive line and those guys will produce. The rest of the backfield did a great job preparing throughout the week, and they had an opportunity they were able to take advantage of,” Wimbush said. “Obviously, it’s a testament to up front and continuing the dominance and opening up those holes for the guys.”

Despite what the high score may indicate, the Irish did get a lot of help from their defense as well, especially in the earlier parts of the game. Trailing 10-3, Wake Forest began a drive in its own territory when sophomore defensive back Julian Love jumped a route to intercept the pass, returning it to the Demon Deacons 5-yard line. Jones took advantage, scoring his lone touchdown on the afternoon and making it a two-possession game just one play later. Love added seven tackles to his stat line, while junior linebacker Te’von Coney totaled 12 tackles and a sack on the day.

There were some dropped passes, some missed defensive assignments and other mistakes that left the game much closer than it needed to be. However, what the 48-37 win did was establish Notre Dame’s depth and grit.

The Irish were without their star player — their Heisman candidate — but they adopted a next man up mentality. This time around, it was Wimbush who came through, and the team continues on to next week with a top-10 battle at Miami.