Nov. 5, 2017
By John Heisler
The 33 Trucking Company has more than one capable vehicle in its fleet.
Wake Forest found that out the hard way Saturday on a misty, wet late afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium.
The visiting Demon Deacons might have been emboldened after Irish Heisman Trophy candidate Josh Adams sat out the final three periods. Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said Adams simply wasn't 100 percent: "He wasn't feeling right." And give Wake Forest credit for putting 597 yards on the stat sheet and scoring 17 more points than the Irish had allowed to anyone else in 2017.
But, even without Adams much of the day, the Demon Deacons were no match for an Irish offense that ran on all cylinders.
On turn-back-the-clock day, Notre Dame nearly did just that -- finishing just 10 yards short of the all-time single-game record for total yards (the Irish had 710 Saturday, just behind the mark of 720 in 1969 against Navy).
The Irish led 31-10 at halftime, 41-16 with two minutes to go in the third period and then closed out a 48-37 victory -- their seventh in a row.
"There's no name on your jersey. These are your blue Notre Dame jerseys. You represent Notre Dame," said Kelly to his team before the game.
"You represent the standard of play that you have set. That's the only way we play this game. We've already decided how we're going to end this game. We've already talked about that. Now it's about six seconds. Focus, refocus, every single play, one play at a time and it's physicality.
"Let's not be anybody else. Three quarters through the season I don't want a new team today. I want the same group of guys that play for each other, that run to the football, that celebrate with each other, that care about each other, for one goal and for one goal only -- to win a championship. So let's do that again today and let's be who we are--Notre Dame football."
The visitors kicked an early field goal, but Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush completed throws to Equanimeous St. Brown (12 yards) and tight end Durham Smythe (23), then ran it in from six yards. And the Irish were off to the races.
Justin Yoon kicked a 34-yard field goal to cap a 70-yard drive (half those on a Kevin Stepherson end-around) -- then Julian Love made yet another game-changing interception (only the third of the year thrown by Wake Forest's John Wolford), running it back 25 yards to the Demon Deacon five. Tony Jones Jr. ran it in to make it 17-3.
Notre Dame's 19th turnover gained translated into a 108-10 edge in points scored after those miscues. Love finished with three passes broken up (his third straight game with three) and already owns the Notre Dame single-season record in that category.
Wake Forest rebounded with a three-play, 69-yard TD march before Wimbush took matters into his own hands with a 50-yard scoring run up the gut. Notre Dame's 11 runs of 50-plus yards are best in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.
Then, thanks in great part to a 45-yard run by Deon McIntosh followed by a 28-yard run by Wimbush, the Irish knocked on the door again. With Wimbush banged up on his run, Ian Book came on to throw a one-yard scoring pass to Nic Weishar to finish a 99-and-a-half-yard drive.
At halftime Notre Dame already had 423 total yards, 258 on the ground.
Said Kelly, "Alright, let's clean it up, clean up your assignments, take care of your business, all the little details in the second half. Everybody's playing with great energy, with the same kind of standards that we set -- but we've got to clean it up. Detail, details, details.
"Take care of your job, do what you've been coached to do. Please trust your coaching in the second half. Don't do things you haven't been taught to do. Stay with it -- four quarters. This team is not going to go away -- you know that. They rallied once, they'll rally again. Let's get our job done and let's go."
Wake Forest played a game second half, scoring four TDs. The Demon Deacons finished with 34 first downs (one short of the Irish opponent record) and Wolford ended up 28 of 45 passing for 331 yards and a pair of scores.
But the visitors simply could not keep pace with the Irish.
A 27-yard pass to Chase Claypool (he finished with a career-best 180 receiving yards). A 32-yard run by Dexter Williams on first down midway through the third period to put Notre Dame over the 500-yard mark in total yards. Consecutive passes by Wimbush to Claypool for 44 and 34 yards. A 43-yard dash by Book.
The Irish had 602 yards after three periods. Wimbush earned the game ball thanks to a career-high 280 passing yards and 110 more on the ground. McIntosh added 63 rushing yards, Jones Jr. had 59 -- and Book ran for 54 and completed all eight of his passes for 50 yards.
Notre Dame's defense knows it will have better days, yet Te'von Coney finished with 12 tackles, three for losses.
"What do we know about this process? This process is hard," said Kelly to his team after the game.
"It's hard. It's not easy, every single day having to do what we have to do to find ways to win football games. You have to embrace it. You have to do all the things we talk about every single day and if you don't do all those things right you see how close it is. You see that tonight.
"Even tonight where we don't play our very best we still win the football game. But we know how close it is, that if we don't do all the things we need to do on a day-to-day basis, we could be on the other side of that. If you weren't working as hard as you work, you were easily on the other side of this. We went through that and we saw that. This is hard. Paying attention to detail is hard. Being focused is hard. Having grit and all the things we've talked about, those are difficult things to do.
"You won a football game and you have to celebrate that. But you also have to know that if you don't go back and look at everything you are doing, it's easy to be on the other side in a second. It goes away in a second. That's how quickly it can get taken away from you.
"Let's use tonight to self-evaluate. We're going to do it as coaches. Collectively we're in this together. We've got three games left and you all know what we want. We've got to play better offensively and we've got to clean up the mistakes we made. We still saw physicality and effort. Nobody's questioning anyone's effort or physicality or commitment or caring -- you've got all that. That's awesome. But we've got to clean up our process and our detail--we know that.
"We're coming back with Miami on the road and we have to do the little things better. It's hard what we do, so enjoy it. We know what we've got to do. We are all in this together. We've all got to work harder. We know the plan, we know the blueprint, we've got to get on top of it."
Survive and advance, borrowing a phrase from NCAA basketball tournament lingo.
All of Notre Dame's goals remain in sight, with the three-game regular-season stretch run now in full swing.
And it's good for the Irish to know that #33Trucking features a full range of styles in terms of its vehicle options.
In a nod to Eddie Kendricks and his 1973 Motown hit, Notre Dame will keep on trucking.