Without more fire, Notre Dame ripe to get upset

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — There’s a precarious line between winning, and looking good doing it.

The Notre Dame football team didn’t come anywhere close to finding it, let alone crossing it, Saturday.

Winning was the mandate. A 28-7 decision over Wake Forest satisfied that.

But the Irish didn’t pad their resume’ with the College Football Playoff selection committee in doing so.

C’mon fellas, there’s a Top Four spot at stake here.

This is a bunch of Demon Deacons who gave up half a hundred to North Carolina a month ago.

While en route to a 98-yard touchdown run, Josh Adams’ stiff-arm that sent Ryan Janvion halfway to Mishawaka and Andrew Trumbetti’s hey-look-what-I-found interception-turned-touchdown were the only Notre Dame memorables.

Beyond that, 14 plays in which the Irish offense was contained to one yard or less made for a very forgettable majority of the game.

Too much like a business venture: Get it done and move on. Emotion didn’t play a major role in much that Notre Dame did.

Stats certainly didn’t help the Irish state their case.

“Statistically, when you win every category, you should win the game,” said Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford.

He might have exaggerated a bit, but the guy’s got a point.

Wake Forest, 3-7 Wake Forest, led in: First downs: 23-17; total yards: 340-282; and time of possession: 35:48-24:12.

Here’s the rub. The Demon Deacons were 1-of-4 in the red zone, and had a killer turnover (see Trumbetti above).

Eliminate Adams’ record-setting TD run from the equation and Notre Dame had 29 carries for 73 yards, 2.5 yards a carry — well below the season average of 5.7 (see above, 14 plays with one yard or less).

That’s a problem. That’s a situation that goes beyond not having running back C.J. Prosise available because of a bum shoulder.

Notre Dame’s offensive line, touted as one of the best in the country, was hardly dominant against the Deacons, who give up an average of 160 rushing yards.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson called the Irish offensive line “one of the top three lines we’ve seen this year.”

Top three? The Deacons have seen the likes of Elon, Syracuse, Army, Indiana, Florida State, Boston College, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Louisville.

And Notre Dame’s only in the top three of that group? Seems like more of a backhanded swipe than a compliment.

Maybe Irish coach Brian Kelly should have packed up his team early Thursday, brought them back to campus Thursday night (just like last week at Pitt), and practiced them at 3:30 so they would have been ready when the whistle blew (just like last week at Pitt).

The emotion that a championship run needs … no, deserves … only showed up in spurts Saturday.

That’s something worth fretting about.

Even though Irish nose tackle Daniel Cage (still not physically right from the Pitt game) was missing from the lineup, Wake Forest – which had only one senior on its offensive line – had way too much success up the middle of the Notre Dame defense.

Forty-four lost yards on eight tackles for loss kept the Wake rushing numbers (121 net) from being better.

Notre Dame’s best defensive stats came from end Romeo Okwara, who had three sacks (including a flying squashing of Wolford), and double-digit tackle production from linebacker Joe Schmidt, who has been given significant consternation lately.

Back from a serious leg injury that ended his team MVP season prematurely last year, Schmidt has had trouble with his encore. For only the second time this season (the other was against triple-option Georgia Tech), Schmidt collected 10 tackles – nine of which came in the first half.

Junior linebacker Jaylon Smith, who, along with the seniors, may have played his last game in Notre Dame Stadium, came up huge in the first half by stuffing Wake running back Tyler Bell on fourth-and-goal at the 1.

Another flash of inspiration.

Consistency is the mantra preached around the Notre Dame program – in performance and in attitude.

The emotional part suffered at times Saturday.

Maybe new digs, and the Green Monster at Fenway next week, will ignite the motivation.

Couldn’t hurt.

Without the fire, the Irish are ripe to get burned.

Notre Dame’s Chris Brown (2) gets brought down by Wake Forest’s Jessie Bates (32) during the Notre Dame-Wake Forest NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN