Posted November 04, 2011 on AP on Fox
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Notre Dame running back Jonas Gray joked that coach Brian Kelly ''wants us to win the ACC.'' Of course, the Fighting Irish aren't in the Atlantic Coast Conference - though you couldn't tell that from their November schedule. They begin a stretch of three straight games against teams from the same ACC division Saturday night when they visit Wake Forest. Following that are matchups with fellow Atlantic Division members Maryland and Boston College. ''Now that you mention it, it seems like Notre Dame may be trying to make a statement to the ACC,'' Wake Forest receiver Terence Davis said, laughing. ''It'll be a tough stretch for them. The ACC is no easy conference.'' That league certainly hasn't offered much resistance to Notre Dame through the years. The Irish are a combined 78-31-2 against the 10 current ACC teams they've faced, and are .500 or better against eight of them. In the first of three scheduled meetings between the schools through 2014, Wake Forest (5-3) hopes to at least give the Irish (5-3) a tougher test than last week's opponent did. Notre Dame rolled up 442 total yards in a 56-14 rout of Navy in which nearly everything clicked. The Irish scored on five of their first six possessions, and their seven rushing touchdowns were a 19-year high. Gray scored three times and Cierre Wood added two more, and the offensive line didn't allow a sack for the fourth straight game. ''You start with five good players. You've got (a) really good offensive line coach in Ed Warinner,'' Kelly said. ''Then you have backs that are committed to blocking. Because this doesn't work without Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood. Then Tommy Rees gets the ball out of his hands really, really quick. ''So you got a number of things coming together there. You do not give up a sack in October just because you got five guys. They are, no question, the core and the center of this, but there are some other pieces (that) work together.'' Both teams have sophomore quarterbacks who want to get the ball in the hands of big-play receivers and can't afford too many mistakes. For Notre Dame, Tommy Rees has progressed since taking over from senior Dayne Crist and threw for 237 yards against Navy. That included a 56-yarder to Michael Floyd that marked his longest catch in two years. But the Irish have had trouble taking care of the ball, ranking 118th nationally in turnover margin. Wake Forest counters with Tanner Price, a lefty who is looking to bounce back from a three-interception performance against North Carolina and has thrown seven passes of at least 35 yards to deep threat Chris Givens. ''They're both learning,'' Kelly said of Rees and Price. ''They're both experiencing. They're both young in the process, but they're both the starting quarterbacks. Both teams are having some success. We want more. They want more. But I think that's the nature of a quarterback that's gaining experience. So I think there are some similarities there.'' The Demon Deacons have lost two of three following their upset of Florida State, and are coming off their worst performance of the season, a 49-24 thumping at North Carolina in which they committed a season-high five turnovers. Wake Forest was routed by Coastal Division leader Virginia Tech and in between needed a critical big play in the fourth quarter to hold off an upset bid by Duke. Coach Jim Grobe's team can't afford to let one loss turn into two, something that happened all too frequently during a miserable 3-9 finish in 2010 in which the Demon Deacons lost nine in a row. ''That's what happened last year, and that's one thing we're not going to let happen again,'' Givens said. ''We're not going to let one loss spiral and affect us for the rest of this season.'' In fact, the Atlantic Division title remains a possibility for Wake Forest. Next week's visit to division leader Clemson could go a long way toward deciding the matchup for next month's ACC championship game down the road in Charlotte. So, is it possible that the Demon Deacons could do the unthinkable - and look past Notre Dame and ahead to the Tigers? ''Oh, do we have Clemson? I didn't even know that,'' Davis quipped. ''I play it week by week. I mean, even if we played Gardner-Webb this week and we had Notre Dame next week, I would look at Gardner-Webb and be like, `We've got to take on Gardner-Webb and stay focused on them.' Because we can't game-plan for Notre Dame and play Gardner-Webb. We'd be thrown all out of whack.'' --- AP National Writer Nancy Armour in South Bend, Ind., contributed to this report
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