Notre Dame Will Be Unwilling and Unable to Cover at Wake Forest

Monday, September 17, 2018 2:56 PM UTC

Monday, Sep. 17, 2018 2:56 PM UTC

After three weeks of the season, Notre Dame’s strategy for winning has been consistent no matter the opponent. Their strategy is just one factor pointing to a Wake Forest cover in Saturday's matchup.

Betting Record on Notre Dame Games: 2-1

No. 8 Notre Dame (3-0) at Wake Forest (2-1)Saturday, noon ET (ABC)Free NCAAF Pick: Wake Forest +7.5Best Line Offered: BetOnline

[/]{"component":"oddswidget", "eventId":3448187, "sportsbooksIds":[1096,1275,139,169,238], "LineTypeId":1, "PeriodTypeId":1}[/]

At first I thought it was Michigan’s great defense awakening, then I thought it was the let-down factor against mega-underdog Ball State. Now I realize that there are many reasons for Notre Dame’s inability to maintain a multi-score lead.

The Vanderbilt game was revealing because that was Notre Dame’s first "normal" game. It wasn't a primetime season opener and wasn’t an automatic win, but it still proceeded similarly. Notre Dame started out strong. The offense found success from the pre-scripted plays and the defense was fresh. In all three games, Notre Dame opened a double-digit lead in the first half. Then, the second half. Against Michigan, the Irish were outscored 7-0 in the final quarter. Then, Ball State outscored Notre Dame 10-0 in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to eight. Lastly, Vanderbilt outscored Notre Dame 14-6 in the second half and nearly won. When Notre Dame accrues a multi-score lead, it becomes super conservative on offense. The play-calling becomes unimaginative and quarterback Brandon Wimbush gets confined to the pocket, where he’s ineffective, but avoids wear and tear from scrambling. Consequently, the Irish stop moving the chains, the scoring stalls, and the defense wears down. Notre Dame’s defense endured 97 snaps against Ball State and was evidently gassed, struggling to hang on against Vanderbilt. Both the offense and defense do just enough to win.

Wimbush is still the same quarterback: a 50% passer who can run. His mechanics and footwork need improvement, he makes poor decisions — often by throwing deep into double coverage — and doesn’t go through his progressions well, often locking onto the first receiver. Wimbush, whose placement is erratic, was lucky not to have two passes picked by Vandy. His coaching staff seems to be losing faith in him, flirting with backup quarterback Ian Book by installing him in goal-line packages (but only in goal-line packages), and by calling screens or quarterback draws on third-and-10. But also, he lacks playmakers who catch 50/50 balls and get open against man coverage. Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin, who is arguably his favorite target, were virtually absent against Vanderbilt. Also, the pass blocking is inconsistent.

I really like his running backs. Tony Jones is healthy and lost some weight and he averaged 6.9 YPC against Vanderbilt, and Jafar Armstrong is a change-of-pace threat. But they’re not Josh Adams, the superstar who could go the distance on every down, and the offensive line is missing two first-rounders and a coach. New right guard (moved from right tackle) Tommy Kraemer, for instance, can’t execute the pulls that last year’s right guard, Alex Bars, did regularly. It is hard to sustain, let alone finish, drives with just a good committee of running backs and a subpar pass attack. The thing is, the tendency to start strong and finish weak was already apparent last season. Two of Notre Dame’s three losses last season came in November and both were blowouts. Notre Dame was 0-4 ATS in November. In two of those non-covers, they lost the second half decisively. The difference was that Adams averaged only 3.7 YPC in November. While he had been putting up Heisman-like numbers, Notre Dame could blow out opponents. Without his dominance, Notre Dame lacked the same killer instinct that they miss now. Coach Brian Kelly realizes that Notre Dame’s offense won’t win him games. It ranks 87th in yards per play. So, he has the offense risk as little as possible and, instead, trusts the defense to ensure victory. All three games ended with the defense, not the offense, stifling the opponent’s last hope. The defense ranks 21st in yards per play.

No matter the opponent, Notre Dame has scored 22 or 24 points. We need 17 points from Wake and I think Wake can produce more. Ball State wore Notre Dame’s defense down with 97 snaps and outscored the Irish 10-0 in the fourth quarter. Wake Forest’s offense possesses the same key ingredient as Ball State: tempo. Wake Forest ranks first in plays per game with 102. Wake’s offensive line returns all five starters from last season. Three were all-ACC. Experienced backups and versatile teammates make up for the left tackle’s injury. Running back Cade Carney evidently took huge strides from last season, averaging 6.4 YPC last week against Boston College. Backup Matt Colburn averaged 5.1 and gashed the Irish for 120 yards on six YPC last season, showing that he’s a hard runner who excels at accelerating through holes and breaking away downfield. Greg Dortch is a unique playmaker on special teams and at wide receiver. He was All-ACC as a freshman last season. The offense is designed to get him in space and his explosiveness allows him to lead the NCAA in all-purpose yards. Quarterback Sam Hartman matches up well against Notre Dame’s defense because he likes to dink-and-dunk. The Irish allowed at least 60% completion to both Power Five quarterbacks faced. It also doesn’t generate much pressure, ranking 88th in sack percentage. Hartman will have time to find Dortch in space and also rely on his running game to sustain long drives.

[/]{"component":"video", "type":"youtube", "url":"https://www.youtube.com/embed/fLw5xy25LyU", "videoSize":"Large" }[/]

The Verdict

Notre Dame’s offense has two quarterbacks, each of whom comprises only half of Coach Kelly’s ideal quarterback. Book can stand tall, find the open receiver, and deliver an accurate ball to a big body; and Wimbush can scramble when nobody is open. Notre Dame wants to ride its rushing attack but is facing downgrades at running back and run protection. Because Notre Dame wants to do as little as possible to win and trust its defense to hang on for victory, it’s playing close games no matter the opponent. With Stanford on deck, it’ll face an up-tempo and dynamic offense in Wake Forest that can wear down the Irish defense and ultimately move the ball at will.

comment here