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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame tops Wake Forest in most successful offensive outing yet

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A new-looking Notre Dame offense travelled to North Carolina on Saturday, and with junior quarterback Ian Book as its leader, the Irish pummeled the high-tempo Demon Deacons.

The Irish (4-0) came out aggressive with new starter Book at the helm. The junior was perfect passing on Notre Dame’s first drive, but after an ineligible downfield penalty, the Irish were forced to punt it away, failing to score on the opening drive for the first time this season. The choice to start Book was one many might not have seen coming, and Irish head coach Brian Kelly addressed the decision after the game.

“Obviously we made a big decision to go with Ian Book in the game, and so, you know, I didn’t sleep great last night because that’s a pretty big decision to make when you’re 3-0 and your quarterback that was leading your football team was 13-3 as a starter,” Kelly said. “So, but I had a lot of confidence in Ian, and I thought our offense played to the level that I thought it was capable of. That certainly showed itself today.”

Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill hurries the quarterback during Notre Dame's 56-27 win over Wake Forest at BB&T Field on Saturday.

Wake Forest looked to draw first blood, as the Demon Deacons continued their high-tempo offense, cutting into Irish territory in four plays which seemed to span only a minute. The Deacons were stopped by the Irish at the 25-yard line, where freshman Nick Sciba attempted a 38-yard field goal. Sciba’s kick hit the upright, leaving the score at 0-0 with time to play in the first quarter.

The Irish took over on their own 20 after the missed field goal attempt, and Book started the drive with an 11-yard rush to hand Notre Dame a first down. But on the next play, the Irish ran a sweep with sophomore Michael Young, who fumbled the ball, giving Wake Forest possession in the red zone. Wake Forest went on to hit a 30-yard field goal for the first score of the game and the lead. The field goal marked the first time the Irish have trailed in a game this season.

The Irish responded with swiftness and efficiency, as Book quickly led the unit into Deacon territory. Book and senior tight end Alize Mack were buzzing throughout the drive, as Book completed three passes to Mack for a total of 39 yards. Sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong went on to rush for a 30-yard touchdown to give the Irish their first lead of the game.

But Wake Forest once again responded with alacrity, quickly taking four plays to move into Irish territory. The Deacons continued to run quarterback draws, sweeps and screen passes with virtually no break in between to get the Irish off their feet. Sciba capped the drive with a 39-yard field goal through the uprights to cut the Irish lead to one.

The Irish took over on their own 35 after the Wake Forest score, and the offense quickly got going. Book completed a pass for nine yards to senior receiver Chris Finke, and Armstrong followed the completion with a 20-yard run to move into Demon Deacon territory. After Book completed a pass for six yards to senior Miles Boykin, the Irish were left with a fourth-and-one opportunity on the Wake Forest 3-yard line. And the Irish capitalized, as Ian Book completed a 3-yard pass to sophomore tight end Brock Wright to extend the Irish lead to 14-6 with just over 11 minutes to play in the second quarter.

After the score, the Deacons weren’t able to come out with the same intensity as they had earlier in the contest. The Irish forced a three-and-out, making Wake Forest punt from its own 10-yard line. Finke capitalized on the punt, returning it for 52 yards and giving the Irish a chance on the Wake Forest 4-yard line. The Irish swiftly took care of the opportunity, as junior Tony Jones Jr. sealed the deal with a 4-yard touchdown rush.

After the kickoff, with around nine minutes to play in the half, Wake Forest took over on its own 25. The Deacons advanced into Irish territory behind a 23-yard rush, but the Irish locked in to force a third down and six. After an incomplete pass which would have prompted the Deacons to punt, graduate student defensive lineman Jonathan Bonner was called for roughing the passer, which handed Wake Forest a first down. Then, senior Nick Coleman was called for pass interference, a 15-yard penalty which gave Wake Forest the ball on the two yard line, setting up 2-yard touchdown rush which made the score 21-12 in favor of Notre Dame with 6:26 to play in the 2nd quarter.

Notre Dame received the kick and took the touchback after Wake Forest’s touchdown. With the ball on their own 25, the Irish got right to work, as Book completed an out to Armstrong for a gain of seven yards. Book followed the play with a pass to Young for 66-yards to give the Irish a chance at the Wake Forest 2-yard line. From there, Book rushed for the 2-yard touchdown. With 5:24 to play in the second quarter, the score was 28-13 in favor of the Irish.

After both teams traded unsuccessful drives, the Deacons started on their own 13 for what looked like the last drive of the half. Freshman quarterback Sam Hartman quickly threw for two separate 18-yard completions, giving the Demon Deacons a scoring opportunity on the 48-yard line with 36 seconds to go in the half. Hartman kept it on the next play for a 4-yard rush, and the Deacons were faced with fourth-and-one on the Irish 29 yard line. Sciba attempted the 42-yard field goal and missed, but junior cornerback Julian Love was called for running into the kicker, giving Sciba another chance, this time five yards closer. But Sciba’s second attempt hit the upright, and Notre Dame headed into the locker room still leading 28-13.

Trailing by 15, Wake Forest started with the ball in the second half. The Deacons seemed to come out a bit slower to start the half, and after a few short rushes, Sam Hartman was sacked by junior Julian Okwara, and Wake Forest was forced to punt. Book and the Irish took over without skipping a beat, capping off an impressive drive with a 7-yard pass to junior Chase Claypool for the touchdown, extending the Irish lead to 22 with 9:46 to play in the third quarter.

After the score, the Demon Deacons took over on their own 14, and on third down, redshirt freshman Jamie Newman came in at quarterback for Wake Forest. Newman rushed for four yards up the middle, which wasn’t enough, as the Deacons were forced to punt. Again, the Irish marched down the field and scored. Off of a second and goal opportunity, Armstrong rushed one yard up the middle for the touchdown, making the score 41-13 with 5:15 to play in the third quarter.

Wake Forest took it from there, facing a large deficit, and on the first play of the drive, Newman was picked off by junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr., who returned the ball into Wake Forest territory. Notre Dame got to work quickly from there, as Book completed a 35-yard pass to Claypool, and later Book could go on to rush two yards for a touchdown. With a little under four minutes to play, Wake Forest trailed by a 46 points. But the Deacons bounced back, as they managed to put together a decent drive, making nine plays for 75 yards in 3:34, which ended in a rushing touchdown to make the score 49-20 in favor of the Irish.

The Irish received the ball with under one minute left in the third quarter and took the touchback to start at their own 25. Marching quickly into Deacon territory, the Irish found themselves once again in the red zone, and after a 12 yard pass to Finke, with the ball on the one yard line, Book kept it and rushed for a touchdown, making the score 56-20.

Despite the deficit, Wake Forest responded with a 13 play drive to go 79 yards in 6:34 for a touchdown to cut the enormous deficit by seven. With a little under five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame held a 56-27 lead, and ran out the clock to seal the win. 

After the game, Kelly expressed how pleased he was with the team’s performance.

“I’m pleased with a number of things,” Kelly said. “Obviously, the win, that’s why we play the game. I’m pleased with the conditioning of our football team. You know, you get challenged on the road certainly against power five teams, first road game for us, but you don’t expect it to be over 100 degrees on the field as well against an up tempo team. So, that challenge, in terms of your conditioning and you’re football team and it’s ability to handle that, that, to me, is very satisfying because you know you’ve prepared your football team. You know, when you kick it off, a lot of my work is done, the kid’s have got to go play. So, I was really pleased with the preparation during the week, how we prepared the team leading up to this game.”

Specifically, Kelly commented on how the defense managed to contain Wake Forest’s high-tempo offensive attack

“We made some tactical decisions, as you know, to take some things away,” Kelly said. “[Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Greg Dortch] is a game wrecker, and we doubled him the whole game — inside, outside. So, you’re going to have some issues, and the quarterback run caused us some problems, but we were willing to give some things up to take some things away. I thought we were relentless up front. We were physical. Every time they threw the ball, there was pressure on the quarterback. It’s a difficult offense to defend in its entirety, but I thought that we were smart in what we gave them, if you will, and what we took away.”

Going forward, Kelly said that the sense of urgency with which the Irish played on Saturday is crucial to the team’s success.

“Well, we were at Week 3, and it didn’t matter what other people thought of the team, quite frankly. I thought we had a good team,” Kelly said. “We were going to be tested on the road, and then next week at home against Stanford and then on the road against Virginia Tech. We needed to play with a sense of urgency. And so, I felt the pieces were there to have a really good football team, and we needed to kick it in gear. So this was the week to kind of [say] ‘alright, let’s go,’ and we showed that, with the right preparation, which we had, a great week of preparation, and the sense of urgency that we had lacked, we could be a really good team.”