The Deacs started the season with a two game homestand, so they’ll end it with a couple of road games. The first of those two games takes Wake back to South Bend, Indiana, where they will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Notre Dame is sitting at #13 in the first AP Top 25 poll of the season, and some analysts believe they will be fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the year—this will probably one of the tougher games Wake has this season.
- Opponent: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Date: Saturday, November 18th, 2023
- Location: Notre Dame Stadium | South Bend, IN
- Vegas Win Total O/U: 8.5
- 2022 Record: 9-4
- Previous Matchup: Wake 27—ND 56 (2018)
- All time vs Wake Forest: 4-0
While finishing the season 9-4 with a win over South Carolina in the Gator Bowl would be a great season for a lot of teams, I doubt there are many Notre Dame fans who weren’t disappointed with how 2022 turned out. The Irish started the season ranked #5 in the AP Top 25 but were quickly unranked after a week 2 loss to Marshall dropped them to 0-2. After some impressive wins against UNC and BYU made it seem like Notre Dame was back on track, the Irish lost to a Stanford team that finished the season 3-9. The Irish closed out the season winning 5 of their last 6 games, including a win over #5 Clemson.
When Notre Dame was able to run the ball on their opponent, they looked really good; when they had to rely on the passing game, the Irish started to struggle. In games where Notre Dame ran for over 150 yards on the ground, they averaged 40 points and 457 yards per game. In games where they had fewer than 150 yards on the ground, they were significancy worse, averaging 23 points and 324 yards per game. That’s probably why Notre Dame made the decision in the offseason (well, they claim it was the offseason anyways) to upgrade their passing game by grabbing former Wake Forest star Sam Hartman.
No one should have a better scouting report on Hartman than Wake Forest, as the 6th year veteran threw for nearly 13,000 yards and an ACC record 110 touchdowns in 5 years for the Deacs. While Hartman is a very good quarterback, I don’t think he’ll have the talent at receiver that he did at Wake Forest with guys like A.T. Perry or Jaquarii Roberson. Last season, Notre Dame had just 1 player catch more than 30 passes—tight end Michael Mayer, who was the 35th pick of the 2023 NFL draft. The Irish also lost their reception leader at wide receiver in Lorenzo Styles Jr. (30 rec, 340 yards, 1 TD), who transferred to Ohio State to play cornerback. On top of not having a solid go to target, Hartman will also be playing for an offensive coordinator with just 1 year of experience (2020 at WVU) in Gerard Parker, who takes over this season after Tommy Rees left for Alabama in the offseason. None of this is to say that Hartman won’t be great for the Irish, but rather that it’s not a given that he will be able to replicate the success he had a Wake Forest at Notre Dame this season.
While a new OC and inexperience at receiver might cause Hartman some issues, an incredible offensive line and running attack will definitely benefit him. The Irish return 3 starters on an offensive line that gave up just 21 sacks last season, including OT Joe Alt, who “could push Penei Sewell for the title of best offensive tackle prospect in the PFF College era” according to Pro Football Focus. They also get back leading rusher Audric Estime, who ran for almost 6 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns last season. Combined, the running game and offensive line should really help slow down the pass rush and keep Hartman from getting hit too often. That will go a long way in helping him avoid those games where he has 5 turnovers because the opposing defense is constantly in the backfield killing him on every play.
While the offense was shaky at times last season, the defense held things together for Notre Dame. The Irish gave up just 23 points and 329 yards per game last season, which was good for 39th and 22nd in the nation respectively. Notre Dame did not allow any opponents to score over 38 points, and they held Ohio State—the nation's 2nd best offense (44 points and 490 yards per game)—to just 21 points and 395 yards.
The defense does lose Notre Dame’s all-time leader in career sacks, All-America DL Isaiah Foskey. Foskey finished the 2022 season with 45 tackles and 11 sacks, giving him 26.5 sacks in his career. He was selected 40th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. While Foskey is a major loss, the Notre Dame defense still has plenty of talent on the line. Returning tackles Rylie Mills and Howard Cross III combined for 57 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season, and incoming transfer Javontae Jean-Baptise had 4 sacks for Ohio State in 2022. The Irish also gets back Freshman All-American Benjamin Morris in the secondary, who was 2nd in the nation last season with 6 interceptions.
Notre Dame is once again highly rated to start the season, but as we saw last year, that’s no guarantee that they will be a great team. Playing against Sam Hartman after everything he did for the Deacs is not going to be fun, but Clawson should know better than anyone else what is strengths and weaknesses are. Unfortunately, with an incredible offensive line and Wake’s troubles on defense recently, it may not be possible for Wake to do anything to stop Hartman. Add to that the fact that this game is on the road, and I am ok putting this one in the loss column.