It’s going to come down to the last two games of the 2012 for the Notre Dame Football team.
Standing at 10-0 for the first time since the Fightin’ Irish last won a National Championship in 1988, the team meets the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest in South Bend on Saturday. This is another game where, on paper, Notre Dame appears it should have no problems rolling onto a victory.
Wake Forest’s offense averages a measly 309.7 yards per game, good for 111th out of 120 FBS teams, and ranks just 106th in points scored per game (20.1). Of that, the Demon Deacons’ offense has only scored 20-plus points in four games (wins against Liberty, North Carolina, and Army, and in a loss to Duke), only two of which were against teams with a .500 record or better (North Carolina and Duke). They aren’t much better on defense, giving up 417.8 yards per game (78th), and allowing 28.9 points per game (70th).
All of this points to an easy Irish win, but we thought the same about Boston College last week. Yes, Notre Dame came out on top and held the Eagles offense to just 6 points, but the team looked sluggish and apathetic in the win, something they absolutely must not allow again if they hope to overtake either Kansas State or Oregon for a spot in the BCS National Championship game. Oregon jumped Notre Dame this past week based on their high scoring offense and dominating wins. Kansas State hasn’t been as dominant, but has played a stronger overall schedule than Oregon. To squeeze into one of the top spots, the Irish must absolutely lay down the hammer in their final two games. If they fail to do so, not only do they risk missing out on their first potential title in 24 years, they can also get passed by a log-jam of SEC teams Alabama (#4), Georgia (#5), Florida (#6), or even LSU (#7). So as poorly as the offense has played to this point, it is imperative that in these last two weeks they not just win, but destroy.
3 Things to Watch
Everett Golson – The redshirt freshman quarterback is coming off the best game of the year last week (as yours truly accurately predicted), throwing for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns, with another on the ground last week against Boston College. He played well enough that the only snap he missed was when he was pulled after his helmet popped off in the first half of last week’s game. What we need to see in this game is more progress, particularly in getting the ball to senior tight end Tyler Eifert on a more regular basis – something they accomplished in the BC game. Chemistry between Golson and Eifert appears to be gaining steam, but we need to see more of it for the offense to really start to roll the next two weeks.
Theo Riddick – While we are on the subject of improvement being needed, the Irish definitely need a better game from Riddick, who has become the team’s clear number one weapon in the backfield. Yards have not been Riddick’s issue – gaining an average of 100+ yards over the last four games. But last week Riddick was responsible for two drive-killing fumbles that left head coach Brian Kelly irate at the senior tailback, but not enough to pull him from the game. Riddick needs to be better with his ball security these next two weeks if the offense is going to have the type of performance it needs to.
2nd Half Offense – And yet one more thing that needs to get better from last week. Against Boston College, the Irish did well at the start of the second half, going 65 yards in a little more than four minutes to score, making the game 21-3. After that? Not so much. After that touchdown, the Notre Dame offense managed to total just 63 net yards the rest of the game, punting the ball four different times. Expect that team to come out of the half against Wake with a bit more fire than they did last week.
Bonus Thing to Watch
Manti Te’o's last game at Notre Dame Stadium – It’s hard to fathom that it’s already been four years since Te’o shocked the college football world, choosing the University of Notre Dame over heavy-favorite University of Southern California. USC just made so much more sense for the young man from Laie, Hawaii. The proximity (relatively speaking) to his home, the weather, a more recent history of success (pre-Reggie Bush scandal), and of course the California lifestyle. Heck, even BYU made more sense for the Mormon prospect than did a Catholic institution. But on National Signing Day in 2009, Te’o put on the Irish hat, and the rest is history. 416 total tackles, 6 interceptions (all this season), 8.5 sacks, and leading the team to the best record since the Lou Holtz era. It will also likely see Te’o in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, and numerous Defensive Player of the Year awards in tow.
It will be a highly emotional day for the senior linebacker in an already emotional season. Expect to see standing ovations, tears, and applause out the wazoo as the Irish faithful give him a final send off against Wake Forest. Oh yeah – you may also see him make a play or two.
My 5 Predictions
Everett Golson – So last week I predicted Golson would go for 280 yards, 2 passing touchdowns, and 1 on the ground. With the exception of the yardage total, I nailed it (Golson had 200 yards vs. 280). I think the defense will do a better job of getting off the field this week than they did versus Boston College, so we’re going to put the same prediction out there.
Notre Dame Defense – Speaking of, against a struggling Demon Deacon’s offense, I’ll wager that they allow 250 yards total or less. As far as points – well – keep reading for that one.
Manti Te’o – This will be a supercharged game for Te’o. All the emotion and adrenaline pumping through this system and the through the stadium will lead to a 12-tackle, one interception, on forced fumble game. And just for S’s and G’s, toss in a safety.
Theo Riddick – Despite George Atkinson and Cierre Woods’ higher per carry averages, Theo Riddick has been the go to guy on the ground for the Irish the past few weeks. That probably won’t change this week as long as he can hold on to the ball better this go around. Riddick gets 125 yards and one touchdown.
Final Score – Notre Dame moves to 11-0 easily, winning it 38-0.
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