Wake Forest Preview: Booking a Trip to Winston-Salem

Notre Dame’s most friendly new ACC brethren is back on the schedule once again. The Irish face Wake Forest for the 5th time in 8 years after previously spending over 100 years never having faced the Demon Deacons. Due to weird scheduling quirks this will break up 3 straight games in the series that took place in South Bend.

Notre Dame (-7) at Wake Forest

BB&T Field
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Date: Saturday, September 22, 2018
Time: 12:00 PM ET
TV: ABC
Series: 4-0-0 Notre Dame

Dave Clawson is attempting to continue building Wake Forest’s program after a promising past 2 seasons that saw the Demon Deacons win 15 games and a pair of bowl games. He’s also made Wake a lot more competitive having lost their last 7 games by an average of only 10.1 points. It’s a solidly worthwhile ACC opponent!

3 Pre-Game Topics

A Blistering Pace

Wake’s productive offense wasn’t particularly slow last year, logging 963 plays on the season and 74.0 per game. This season, despite starting a true freshman quarterback, the Demon Deacons have shifted into tempo overdrive. So far through 3 games they are averaging a shocking 93.3 plays per game and just totaled an incredible 105 plays against Boston College.

Although there’s little precedent for facing this many snaps–despite Notre Dame dealing with a school-record 97 snaps 2 weeks ago–the recent history is actually pretty positive. When facing at least 80 snaps from an opponent, Notre Dame has won its last 6 games.

Speed at a Cost?

Last year’s Wake Forest offense was one of their most prolific in modern school history finishing 22nd in S&P+ while averaging 35.3 points per game and 6.3 yards per play. They had nice balance too, with almost 3,600 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards. This…is unlikely to continue for 2018.

Wake has returned quite a bit of production from last season although they dealt with the 3-game suspension to likely starting quarterback Kendall Hinton (he returns this week as a backup) which thrust freshman Sam Hartman into the spotlight. The increase in plays has Hartman throwing for 12 yards more per game than the departed John Wolford but that’s with 10 more attempts in each contest. In comparison, Hartman has been solid in his first career games but most of Wake’s passing game has declined across the board–including 1 fewer interceptions from Hartman (5 already) than Wolford all of last year on 251 fewer pass attempts.

In the Zone

Poor red zone conversions have reared their ugly head once again. The Irish did score touchdowns on 4 out of their first 5 red zone opportunities to begin the season. Problems popped up last week when only 2 out of the 5 red zone opportunities landed touchdowns for Notre Dame.

As much as converting is important perhaps the 5 chances last week signal an improvement. With just 10 red zone opportunities through 3 games, the Irish are well behind last year’s pace that saw the team total 15 red zone trips. With so much focus on the quarterbacks converting (whomever it may be) being able to move the ball that far on numerous occasions could be important if overall touchdowns remain a struggle.

2 Key Opponents

WR Greg Dortch

Here’s one of the best athletes Notre Dame will face this year, likely an All-Opponent team member for sure. The redshirt sophomore blew up last year with 722 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns in just 8 games before an injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. That injury came right before facing Notre Dame so he’ll get his first shot on Saturday. Dortch is also one of the premier return men in the game with 334 yards and a couple punt return touchdowns so far this year and 1,964 all-purpose yardage in 11 career games.

DT Willie Yarbary

Wake was super disruptive last year on defense (106 TFL, 7th nationally) although the Irish completely stymied them and limited the Deacons to just 4 tackles for loss in last fall’s meeting in South Bend. They’ve lost a lot of senior leadership up front and turn to 5th-year senior Willie Yarbary to cause problems on the interior. He’s totaled 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks since the start of 2017.

1 Prediction

Will this road game finally break Notre Dame free from its close, white-knuckling home games that we’ve witnessed to start 2018? According to Vegas, don’t bet on it!

Perhaps it was the road game factor, or people mixing up the colors with Vanderbilt, or the belief that John Wolford was returning, or maybe Dave Clawson’s recent track record in the ACC that led some to think this weekend’s game would be a tougher test than last week. I have a very hard time believing that.

Most signs are pointing to significant regression for the Deacons who have dropped to 57th in S&P+ 20 spots lower than their 2017 finish. That’s 22 spots lower than the team Notre Dame just faced last weekend.

The big rumors began Thursday that Ian Book will be starting at quarterback against Wake Forest. I’m surprised but if you read my Vanderbilt review and subsequent comment section it’s hardly shocking.

I am a little shocked at how glossed over Brandon Wimbush’s passing struggles have been in conjunction with an offense that has really been struggling. From 2010-17 Kelly’s offenses at Notre Dame have averaged just under 22nd nationally by S&P+ with 2016 (35th), 2013 (27th), and 2010 (27th) coming in as the worst of the bunch.

The Irish are ranked 67th ranked right now. Sixty-seventh!!!

Looking at it through this lens forcing a change makes sense. The staff asked Wimbush to stand in the pocket, torch Ball State as a senior with experience, and it couldn’t be done. Everyone looked better on offense against Vanderbilt and yet with 19 attempts through 3 quarters Wimbush still couldn’t break 70 passing yards.

There’s been a lot of criticism of the play-calling–some of it justifiable some of it not–I just don’t think enough people realize how difficult it is for coaches to gameplan and adjust on the fly when your quarterback isn’t accurate. The offense is already super run-heavy (63.2% through 3 games a percentage I couldn’t even imagine would be possible a couple years ago) and there’s not a lot of wiggle room to get even more conservative and take the air out of the ball.

Maybe Chip Long should cater more to Wimbush’s strengths? I’ve heard this a lot but never the second part of how to actually do that. How do you cater to a quarterback who struggles mightily with the game’s easiest short throws? How do you cater to a quarterback who isn’t surrounded by tremendous deep threats and struggles making the right read if a wideout is open down field?

Of course, we could be getting ahead of ourselves. Even if Book starts it doesn’t mean he’ll find success or even play more than Wimbush overall. Still, this feels like we’re entering the quarterback controversy territory that will be difficult to get out of this year. In that light, I understand the reluctance to want to pull Wimbush (to whatever degree) and just keep hoping it works out and the team overcomes his weaknesses.

On the other hand, it would only seem natural that many on the team (particularly the pass-catchers) are sick and tired of playing with a hand tied behind their back. The trouble is that, as we’ve seen in Book’s limited action, he’s not going to be afforded the same amount of mistakes from fans as Wimbush is gifted due to perceived ceilings and general play-making ability. This is why I’m curious to know if this road-opener was always on the table as the time to make a switch if it needed to happen–Book won’t have hissing and booing after the first 3 & out.

If we see this, it’s definitely a ballsy move from Kelly & Co. but something I’ve argued was necessary to at least significantly increase Book’s playing time and recognize things need to improve. I hate juggling two quarterbacks as much as anybody but this situation is different than simply not making a decision before the season begins. At 3-0 it doesn’t feel like desperate times and yet being proactive and seeking something better than the offensive version of Brian VanGorder’s defense could be really smart.

Hopefully, it shouldn’t matter this weekend either way. I’m expecting Notre Dame’s defense (5th in S&P+ behind only Iowa, Utah, Washington, and Stanford) to feast on a Wake Forest offense moving a little too fast for its own good. A couple early ugly picks by Hartman set up a tough day for the Deacons.

Notre Dame 32

Wake Forest 16

By |2018-09-20T21:35:21+00:00September 20th, 2018|Football|41 Comments

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More Noise
More Noise

Thanks for this, Eric — first thing I read when waking up this morning. Makes sense — and BK was even more than coy when repeatedly pushed on the QB issue in his presser yesterday. One of the comments from the Advanced Stats posts said something about BW grimacing and holding his ankle toward the end of the Vandy game — any hint of that as well?

KG
KG

>On the other hand, it would only seem natural that many on the team (particularly the pass-catchers) are sick and tired of playing with a hand tied behind their back.

On the other, other hand, the pass catchers should probably be quiet until they’re catching the balls that do get to them more consistently. I’m not disagreeing with your larger Wimbush/Book points, but the WRs largely haven’t helped matters too much. Lack of a proven receiving threat was s concern going into the season, and sure Boykin had a 100+ game against Ball State but he disappeared this past week, Claypool has been iffy, and overall we still don’t have a go-to guy. I don’t think Wimbush has improved much, but I also don’t think he’s gotten much help. As I said yesterday, Dell Alexander would be updating his reference list if I were BK.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

This game is a bit of a mystery to me, particularly given the QB situation. My prediction: Book plays the majority of the snaps and the Irish control the game. Wake scores late to make the final score more respectable.

ND 34
Wake 24

DrIck
DrIck

Wasn’t everything coming out of the coaching staff through spring & summer something along the lines of “BW is looking great/he’s our starting QB/everything is fine?” And this is the 3rd? 4th? time CBK & staff have said that and then swapped out QBs at some point in the year? I clearly don’t have the knowledge/experience necessarily to adjudicate those decisions, but what are we doing here?

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

A lot of the problems in Wimbush’s game were believed to be mental/confidence based since he has significant physical tools. They made the right play to pump him up and try to get him up a level.

As Eric’s said though, the passing offense stinks and doesn’t really have a capable operator that can accurately run the RPO, slants, swing passes, screens – all items the offense wished they had, and all pretty much basic but important plays.

I still don’t really believe Book is the answer but give the results there’s no shame in the coaching staff in making the change this year. Past year QB situations (particularly Zaire v. Kizer in 2016) were totally bungled by Kelly. However Wimbush has had a long leash and his YPP, points/game, total yards is very mediocre nationally and given 2 weak teams have been played it should be a lot stronger. Based on performance it’s reasonable to see if the backup can provide more.

DrIck
DrIck

7th time in 9 years multiple QBs have started games under CBK

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

IF it happens. They said practice reps were close to 50-50, where as in the past it was 60-40ish for Wimbush. Expecting both will play.

IrishTexan
IrishTexan

And one of the two QBs who never had to deal with a platoon system was TFR in 2013…

DrIck
DrIck

Good thing TFR’son staff so he can coach Book through the dual QB ups and downs this year and then help him through all 14 games next year.

KG
KG

I do not have the knowledge/experience on that either, but I do think it’s obvious that nothing that is said in Spring or Fall camps means anything other than it’s what BK wants the narrative to be. And to be somewhat fair, what’s he supposed to say, that his QB1 can’t hit the broadside of a barn at 5 yards, and he doesn’t know how to fix it? I agree a bit with Hooks, in that if it was mental, you can’t air your concerns to the press and fix Wimbush’s confidence. However, I think what we’re seeing is a recognition that A. Wimbush isn’t getting better in certain aspects, B. we don’t have the OLine/Running game/WRs to hide his issues like last year, and C. the staff is worried that they’ll need something different against Stanford. So give Book more time this week, so at least we’ve got options going into next week. It feels a bit like they’re throwing stuff on the wall and seeing what sticks. Hope something does.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Like fooball with a verb mentioned, Wake’s given up 10 passing TDs in 3 games. Might not be anything more than putting the best foot forward to attack that type of defense’s weaknesses.

But if Book plays well this week, we have what we’ve all wanted to avoid with the QB controversy. With valid points of going with Wimbush’s legs/experience to do enough to beat Stanford like he did UM or just switch gears completely and go with the backup who has been seen for years as a talent downgrade from the more regarded starter. Either way Kelly looks like an idiot if/when it doesn’t work.

KG
KG

Indeed. Oh, the angst, no matter what. Love being a fan.

IrishTexan
IrishTexan

I’m afraid that playing Book (potentially) to take advantage of Wake’s weak pass defense smacks of Charlie’s decided schematic advantage. Wouldn’t there be some argument for running the ball more, in order to play keep away from Wake’s super fast offense and give the D a breather?

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

They pretty much tried that last week with 48 carries and 26 passes. And still barely controlled time of possession (30:48 to 29:12). The ND running game stalls out too much with negative plays, and Notre Dame under Wimbush is like 28% themselves 3-and-outs.

The ND running game starting with weak OT play, a RG who can’t pull and less than great RB’s hasn’t shown enough to believe they can establish a ball control, run heavy offense. Go that route, and you’re just going to punt the defense back on the field too much, which is precisely the argument for why to put in the more effective passer at this point.

denverirish
denverirish

True, we don’t have a good enough running game to bleed the clock. You know, maybe we will see the opposite of what we expected with Ball State. Book plays a few series and gets us a big lead, and then BW gets to come in with a nice cushion and practice his throws without as much pressure.

DrIck
DrIck

I guess I’m wondering why BW is QB1 if, after 3 years, he’s still not shown the ability to make “easy” throws? TFR has shown serviceable QB play can win a lot more games than it will lose. If Book has the lower ceiling, but is much more consistent – isn’t that a hell of a lot easier to build an offense around?

KG
KG

But OMG wow run amaze and our only chance for 11-1 and the playoff is if Wimbush gets it, etc. That’s why. If we lose 2 games, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a permanent change.

KG
KG

I’m not mocking the reasoning, I think it was a somewhat valid preseason hope that appears not to be panning out (in the “getting appreciably better at passing” sense)

IrishTexan
IrishTexan

I’m with you, KG. Frankly I’m surprised anyone is still seeing this as a potential 11-1 playoff team. I think it’s a question of whether they can find a way to gel somewhat on offense, get out of the cellar in the statistical rankings (which of course came against our “easy stretch”), and salvage a 9 or maybe 10 win season. At this point I’d be ecstatic with an offense generating more than 24 points.

Football was a verb
Football was a verb

I think Wimbush fits BK’s overall philosophy better. At his best, Wimbush can tax any defense with his running speed and his arm strength.

As we all know, his accuracy issues undermine everything. What struck me in the Miami game was when Wimbush was at his worse, they didn’t bother to cover receivers. There were several plays a simple slant to St. Brown would’ve changed the game. When he’s inconsistent, we simply can’t overcome a stacked box.

In theory, the short throws should be easiest to fix. I will say Wimbush looks better this season in this area but is still inconsistent. My guess is BK feels if it just clicks, everything will work.

gambit1077
gambit1077

On Wednesday I had this game 45-24, with the Irish finally getting the ball moving against a mediocre defense. This whole QB thing certainly makes me a little dubious about our chances of putting up those points, but I’m sticking with it.

On defense it sounds like Love is going to spend a fair bit of time following Dortch around the field as he shifts inside and Vaughn takes the outside CB position. That might hamper Bilal’s playing time a lot, but I’m in favor of whatever it takes to cover Dortch.

Pre-Wake 18S depth chart, not much in changes since Vandy except Flemister got moved down at KR (started against BSU but not Vandy): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Tuz1FdIW9k2JGIFk7CiWwDHx_hvHRoIqHSMGVQRiGBM/edit?usp=sharing

Football was a verb
Football was a verb

It seems possible to me this QB change is simply to exploit Wake Forest’s weak secondary rather than a big-picture shift. Book may start, but my guess would be they are prepared to use him in case Wimbush can’t move the chains through the air.

DrIck
DrIck

But let BW give it another go for a few series and then bring in Book. If BW can’t get it done against WF (like Ball St. & Vandy) there’s little chance he can against Sanford & VT. I’m still of the thought that his problems are still a larger portion mental than physical. If he struggles against WF, put in Book, let him eviscerate the secondary and get ready for Book v. Stamford.

MDIRISH
MDIRISH

Yeah this could end up being a tryout for Stanford and Virginia Tech. Could also be a big distraction/controversy going into those games. Gonna be fun.

Michael Bryan

Interesting diving into the advanced stats in this matchup… a few notes/thoughts:
1) Throwing out the FBS game, it’s fascinating to look at the stats from Tulane and BC. In both games Wake was actually won the efficiency battle, but was close to Tulane in YPP and got dominated by BC last week (-2.5ish YPP) because of the big plays given up. If ND can’t break some explosive plays, that will be a bad bad sign.
2) They averaged less than 5 YPP at Boston College, but still got over 500 yards running a zillion plays. Depth will be key and I think ND *should* win the turnover battle against a true frosh QB. I continue to like the matchup overall – Lea can feel them out a bit initially and make Hartman put together a long drive, then increase the pressure if they feel good about how they are covering Dortsch and the WRs.
3) Their defense is not good! This should be a big Chip Long game, and obviously with Book I’ll be very interested to see how our run/pass breakdowns look. I think running around 60% of the time is still the best route for the offense, but could be tempting with Book to pass more along with the match-up.
4) I think the offense has been pretty conservative with a quick lead in every game. Does that change at all knowing this will be a game w/ a ton of possessions, due to Wake’s pace, and maybe in recognition that they’ve placed a high burden on the defense to just shut things down once up 10+?
5) Even if we don’t hit a billion big plays, it would be encouraging to see a solid efficiency edge against an opponent who isn’t as good. That success rate advantage should be more sustainable than the randomness of big plays week to week, and we lost it against Michigan (again, game situation probably figured in heavily), killed Ball State in it but should have done even better, and then had a small advantage vs a Vanderbilt team that may be decent or could still be kind of trash.

Give me 38-24, Irish.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

One thing I’m not sure I understand is why Wake would want to run as many plays as possible against us. As a general matter, I would think that more plays is more favorable to the better team – i.e., reduces variation/the role of luck. If I were an underdog, I’d want to do the Navy thing and try to give the other team as few drives as possible

Michael Bryan

I think it’s the idea that the tempo allows their offense to be more successful. because they’ve been doing it since the start of last season and had more offensive success than before, and opponents are forced to adjust to it. I do agree that game situation and opponent may cause them to not go quite as fast on Saturday, but the flip side of that is that you have ND linebackers and DBs not really coming off the field and maybe you try to tire them out. They also may not see themselves as *that* big of an underdog!

spider-man
spider-man

I see your perspective, but I think that Wake is doing what Navy does — “build an offense that does something unique that the top teams do not see and prepare for regularly”. Instead of slowing things down dramatically, they are trying the complete opposite. Either strategy can cause issues and neutralize the talent advantage.

Football was a verb
Football was a verb

Eric, in my mind you are always the cautious realist. When most predict a 20 point win, you predict a 7 point win.

This week, it’s reversed. I’m not sure what to think. ND by 50?

DrIck
DrIck

62-6, mark it.

Football was a verb
Football was a verb

Rather than causing chaos, the 2QB system is the key to unlocking our offense. Book and Wimbush each account for 3 TDs.

Wake’s 6 is, naturally, due to special teams. Tillery blocks the XP.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

In some ways, if you squint really, really hard, it’s almost like Book is the Tua to Wimbush’s Hurts. Hurts/Wimbush have an impressive W-L record but warts. Tua, of course is way way better than Book so that’s past the point of where it really falls apart, but still. For now we can dream.

juicebox
juicebox

What’s that you say? Tua is transferring to ND! I am going to tell everyone I know and will give you full credit for breaking the news.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Well – just between me and you – there definitely is a Tagovailoa on the Notre Dame roster, so it’s confirmed.

(Also, jokes aside, that is an unanswerable question that burns me more than it should….Why couldn’t the Hawaiian ‘crootin shake out have been the DT to Alabama [very on brand for them!] and the QB to Notre Dame! Whyyyyyyy? Whyyyy?)

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

I’ve only seen ND-based media predict Notre Dame wins so far. Mandell and Feldman both chose outright Wake upsets. Then again those ninnies picked Michigan to win too.

goldendomer0209
goldendomer0209

I don’t think anyone has commented on this but Eric, you were really must have a premonition that Ian Book is going to start because c’mon the title of the article was BOOKING a trip to Winston-Salem. Nicely done!

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

And the other post is about Waking up to a qb controversy.

Clever, guys.