This is an exciting week for Wake Forest football. Despite the disappointing loss last weekend in Raleigh, the Deacs still have two games left to play and must make the most of them if they want a bowl game. This week, Wake Forest heads to South Bend, Indiana to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. We all know about the storied history of Notre Dame, so the trip will be a lifetime memory for the players regardless of the outcome. The fact that Notre Dame is also ranked third in the country makes this experience even more special.
Wake Forest will have to play close to perfect to win this game because the Irish are extremely well coached and talent laden. They have returned to (expected)form this season and are back in the national title hunt. That being said, this is college football and anything can happen! Heck, the almighty Alabama football team lost last week! Here’s what the Deacs must to do have a shot:
- Score Points- Wake Forest has been in an offensive slump the last month and if that continues against the Irish I’m afraid it will be a bad game for Deacs fans. The Irish have the best defense in the country so this is no small task, but with great execution and game planning any team can be beat.
- Protect QB Tanner Price- Notre Dame has one of the best front fours in college football. Their defensive line has registered 31 sacks on the season. Stephon Tuitt has gotten 11 of those sacks from his defensive end position while OLB Prince Shembo has notched seven. I played against both of these guys last year and they have a lot of talent, but if Price can be kept on his feet the offense can move the ball. Tuitt has a great combination of size and speed which make his very tough to block; he is a rare talent. The pressure this D-Line puts on opposing quarterbacks is the main reason LB Manti Te’o has six interceptions on the season.
- Block Manti Te’o- He makes a lot of tackles and has a knack for finding the football when it is deflected in the air. Six interceptions is a lot for anyone, especially a linebacker. His resilience this season has been truly remarkable in terms of his off-field struggles. He has always been a tough football player, his ability to run sideline to sideline is why he is on the Heisman ballot. If you have great football awareness and the ability to make plays you deserve Heisman consideration even if you play defense. If Boston College had been highly ranked last season you would have seen LB Luke Kuechly in the Heisman race. Kuechly was better than Te’o, in my opinion, and his production at the NFL is right on par with his numbers at BC.
- Moving the ball consistently on offense is key- If Wake cannot move the ball with efficiency for the entire game it will be tough to beat the Irish. Many times this season the Deacs have started out moving the ball effectively and then fizzled out. A few times the defense has gotten big turnovers and this lack of consistency on offense has hurt the team because the offense wasn’t able to capitalize. Points off turnovers are so crucial in the game of football.
- Force Turnovers! - I saw the Irish play against Stanford in October and the thing that kept Stanford in the football game(a game they should have won) was their ability to force turnovers. Irish QB Everett Golson is a good player with great upside, but he still makes a lot of mistakes. His ability to scramble out of the pocket is a blessing and a curse because he tends to fumble the ball in those situations. The Deacs must pressure him and force bad throws, and when he scrambles the defenders must look to strip the football. The Irish lost three fumbles to Stanford in their October matchup this season.
- Pressure Everett Golson- At the end of the day he is still a Freshman quarterback. Granted, Golson has been playing light years ahead of most freshman, but he has made some freshman mistakes. If Wake Forest can get to him in the pocket I think he will make some mistakes.
- Pull out all the stops- The pressure is entirely on the shoulders of the Irish. They want to look good to try and move into the top two spots for the BCS title game. National pressure coupled with in game pressure often leads to mistakes and hopefully upsets! Wake Forest must dig deep in the play book and play more aggressively in this game than any other this season. This game is like the national title for the Deacons…No holding back now.
- Wake Forest must hold on to the football. ND loves to force turnovers and if the Deacs cough the ball up in this one it will spell trouble. Even though the Irish are not fantastic on offense, their defense will shut the door on comeback attempts if the offense can put just a few scores on the board.
- Tackle! – Again, for the 11th time this season the Deacs must wrap up when making tackles. Wake Forest isn’t the only school with this problem, but since I’m covering Wake Forest I’d like them to fix that problem. College football is trending towards tackling runners down low with a diving technique which often works, but most defenders just dive in with a shoulder instead of wrapping up. The other popular option is to lead with one shoulder and hope to knock the runner down; unfortunately this doesn’t work for everyone and Wake Forest is usually fielding a team with smaller personnel. My personal preference is to square the offensive player up and wrap him up.
- Last, but not least…Wake Forest must establish some sort of running game- Last week Wake got behind early and was ultimately forced to rely on the pass. NC State registered five sacks and many more pressures. The running game opens up the passing game and the last few weeks Deacs fans have seen Tanner Price hitting the ground way too much. This is a direct reflection on the limited running game. If Wake Forest doesn’t manage more than the 16 yards they got last week it will be trouble; this ND defensive line has much more talent than the boys from Raleigh.
I know to some of you this may seem like too daunting a task for Little Old Wake Forest, but to me it is a great challenge. Every time in my career that we beat a team we “weren’t supposed to have a chance against” it was such an amazing feeling. Teams with bigger budgets and national audiences tend to overlook us and that makes beating them so much sweeter. I know the players will be amped up for this game as well as the fans. It’s senior night at Notre Dame and I can’t think of a better way to send the boys out than with an upset special!
“The future will present insurmountable problems- only when we consider them insurmountable. ”