Following Flynt - What To Watch for at Wake Forest

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10.22.11 Gameday 2.JPG The Fighting Irish travel to Winston-Salem, N.C. for their first-ever game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Here are a few things to keep an eye on this weekend....

November Perfection: As the leaves fall, the temperature drops and the days become shorter, November is probably not a favorite month for many people. Yet head coach Brian Kelly might be one person who looks forward to the final month of the regular season. In the past three seasons, Kelly is a perfect 10-0 in November, and in his 21 years as a head coach, he has won nearly 80 percent of his games (51-13).

Last season, the Irish were 4-5, and it looked like they would need an eleventh hour miracle to become bowl eligible. Beginning with a 28-3 victory over No. 15 Utah, the Irish won three straight November games, and closed the season with a Sun Bowl victory against Miami.

On Saturday, Kelly will seek to continue his November success against Wake Forest. Both the Irish and Demon Deacons enter the game at 5-3, with the winner moving one step closer to bowl season.

Born To Run: Last week the Irish rode seven rushing touchdowns to a 56-14 win, their most lopsided victory of the season. Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood are the only pair of running backs in the FBS with at least eight rushing touchdowns each. The duo has provided Notre Dame with a strong ground combination of power and speed and both backs have provided a spark in the last two Irish away games. Gray dashed for a 79-yard touchdown run against Pittsburgh, while Wood broke off a 55-yard rushing touchdown at Purdue.

Wood and Gray have been superb for most of this season, but a lot of credit should also be directed towards the offensive line, which did not allow a single sack in October. A strong rushing game and a great offensive line can take a lot of pressure off of the quarterback, a situation the Irish have not found themselves in for a few years.

Continued strong play from Running Back University, as the players affectionately call it, would go a long way towards building an Irish winning streak in the last third of the season.

Hendrix Time: After a strong first performance against Air Force, sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix saw very limited action against USC and did not play against Navy. His absence against the Midshipmen was of interest to many reporters at Tuesday's press conference, but Kelly insisted that no one should read too far into it. Notre Dame scored almost at will last week, and there was no need to mix up the offense with Hendrix. That might not be the case on the road against the Demon Deacons, and calling upon Hendrix could be a good curveball in the Irish offense. 

ACC Territory: In the ever-changing landscape of college athletics, there is a lot of speculation about whether or not Notre Dame will be able to keep its independent football status. Starting with the game against Wake Forest, the Irish will begin a stretch of three straight matchups with ACC teams. Next week, Notre Dame and Maryland will meet at FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Redskins. On Nov. 19, Boston College pays a visit to South Bend for the final game of the year at Notre Dame Stadium.

While Notre Dame is hopeful that it will be able to remain independent, the expansion of other conferences has jeopardized the future of the BIG EAST. If Notre Dame is destined for football conference affiliation, the ACC is one of the possible homes where the Irish might wind up.

North Carolina Night: At the start of the season, the game between Notre Dame and Wake Forest was listed as TBD and many people expected a late afternoon start. Last month, the ACC announced that it would be played at either 7 PM or 8 PM ET. This past weekend, the conference chose the latter. The game will be televised nationally on ABC and ESPN2, depending on geographic location.

As I mentioned in this week's Tradition Tuesday, Wake Forest is the third-smallest school in the Football Bowl Subdivision in terms of undergraduate enrollment, and the smallest in an automatic-qualifier BCS conference. Nationally televised primetime matchups are a rare occurrence at BB&T Field in Groves Stadium, a venue that only holds 31,500.

All five of the largest Wake Forest crowds at BB&T Field have been against fellow ACC opponents, so it will be interesting to see how the crowd compares for what is sure to be one of the biggest games in the university's football history.

Notre Dame has already played in Michigan Stadium this season, a venue with a capacity of over 110,000. It is safe to say that Saturday night will be a significant contrast from that atmosphere, but it should still be an exciting atmosphere in Winston-Salem.

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