Irish deliver determined defensive effort

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — They heard the stories and saw the stats all week.

Wake Forest’s offense had the potential to be a handful. The Demon Deacons were fast guys. Skilled guys. Uptempo guys. Guys that liked to run a lot of plays with little breaks.

Guys like Greg Dortch who had the potential to make big plays every time he touched the ball. Guys that were going to test the Notre Dame defense in multiple ways. Test its resolve. Test its stamina. Test its resiliency.

But when it came time to take that test Saturday, junior defensive end Daelin Hayes saw something entirely different than he saw from the previous week. The Wake Forest offense was fast, but not that fast. They were good, but not that good. They made plays, but not nearly enough as eighth-ranked Notre Dame moved to 4-0 following a 56-27 victory at BB&T Field.

The Irish played like they had all the answers, or at least, most of them.

“From what we thought it would be, I thought it was a little bit slower,” Hayes said of the offense. “That’s what we were talking about on the sideline.”

They were talking about it over there, away from the action, because the Irish defense was doing something it needed to do, especially on a sweltering day where the heat index on the field reach well over 100 degrees. They were off their feet. They were resting.

Notre Dame negated the Wake Forest offense, because Notre Dame was getting stops. Getting off the field. Then watching quarterback Ian Book and the offense put together drives that chewed up yards and clock and, eventually, the Demon Deacons.

Notre Dame’s game plan Saturday was simple. The Irish wanted to take away Dortch. Anywhere he went on pass plays, two guys went with him. The Irish weren’t going to give up the seam pass. Or any semblance of a big play.

“They,” Kelly said, “were going to grind it if they were going to score.”

They scored, but not enough when the game mattered in the first half. Wake tallied two touchdowns in the second, but this one already was decided. Notre Dame made sure of it.

When it was close, the Irish defensive line kept pounding away with pressure. Freshman quarterback Sam Hartman, who looked so comfortable in the pocket last time out against Boston College, was anything but Saturday. He was bull-rushed and bruised and eventually left with cramps.

“We were relentless up front,” Kelly said. “We were physical. Every time they threw the ball, there was pressure on the quarterback.

“We were smart in what we gave them and what we took away.”

Wake Forest tallied nearly 400 yards of offense — 398 — but a chunk of that arrived long after the game had been decided. Long after the Irish started substituting freely and regularly, to the point where 26 different players were credited with at least one tackle.

That included the usual guys — safety Alohi Gilman with a team-high nine and linebacker Drue Tranquill had eight. So many guys got in work that freshman Bo Bauer had a career-best six tackles.

The more plays that Wake ran, the more tired the Deacons seemed to get. They were worn out by their tempo and the day and trying to find all the answers for Notre Dame. The Irish were fresh and focused. It showed.

“We knew they were a fast offense,” Hayes said. “We came into the game ready for that situation.”

Afterward, as Hayes sat in a chair in a conference room that looked out over one of the end zones, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d played in a game where the weather was so warm. It really was hot. Not hot enough to slow Notre Dame’s defense. The Deacons were fast, but the Irish kept pace. Even set it at times.

That’s what happens when the offense sustains drives and keeps their defense off the field for extended stretches. There was one series where Notre Dame terrorized Hartman so much that it seemed like it was playing with 15 guys instead of the mandatory 11. They were everywhere, doing everything.

“Guys were fresh,” said Hayes, who finished with a season-high seven tackles. “It was fun. Dominating with for both the offense and defense.

“We know who we are; we know who we have.”

On Saturday, the Irish showed a lot of it. On both sides.tnoie@ndinsider.com (574) 235-6153 Twitter: @tnoieNDI

Wake Forest’s Kendall Hinton (2) gets brought down by Notre Dame’s Asmar Bilal (22) and Bo Bauer (52) during the Notre Dame-Wake Forest NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC.