The third-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish continue their run at a perfect season when they welcome the Wake Forest Demon Deacons to South Bend for the first-time ever.
The Irish knocked off Boston College in Chestnut Hill last weekend, 21-6 to move to 10-0 on the year. It marks the eighth time the team has started a season with 10 straight wins. Five of those campaigns ended in a national title. Still, sitting at third in the BCS rankings, the general thinking is that Brian Kelly's team will need some help to earn one of the two spots in Miami on January 7th.
Jim Grobe's Demon Deacons have no national title aspirations, but they are still in the hunt to become bowl eligible. At 5-5 overall, a sixth win would make Wake Forest bowl eligible for the fifth time in the last seven years. The team's first bid at that elusive sixth victory has come and gone with last weekend's 37-6 lopsided loss at NC State.
Grobe doesn't view Notre Dame's close games as a sign of weakness.
"I think what you find is that most good team find a way to win. It's not always the prettiest win, but a win is a win and they've won them all. You know that they know how to do it. I think if you have a chance late, you have to make plays. We have a big challenge. This is a really good Notre Dame football team."
Notre Dame won the first-ever meeting between the two schools, 24-17, last year in Winston-Salem.
The Demon Deacons have been wildly inconsistent on the offensive side of the football this year and come into this contest after managing a mere 185 yards of total offense against the Wolfpack. That certainly isn't something to feel good about heading into South Bend against one of the most dominant defenses in the country.
On the season, the numbers have been mediocre at best, with the team averaging just 309.7 yards of total offense.
Quarterback Tanner Price has struggled this season, connecting on just 55.4 percent of his throws, for 1,965 yards, with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. The team's top offensive threat, wideout Mike Campanaro, has flourished despite missing time with an injury and having to deal with inconsistent offensive play. He leads the team in receptions (65), receiving yards (618) and TD catches (6). Tailback Josh Harris (607 yards, five TDs) leads the Wake ground game, but has also struggled to produce on a regular basis.
Still, Brian Kelly thinks highly of Wake's skilled players.
"Campanaro on offense gave us fits last year; Tanner Price is very elusive in the pocket, can make plays, extend plays. Harris is the veteran running back. You know the guys on offense."
Much like the offense, the Wake Forest defense has been vastly uninspiring. The Demon Deacons are yielding just under 30 points per game (28.9), while allowing 417.8 yards per game.
Linebacker Justin Jackson leads the team in tackles (75), TFLs (8.5) and is tied with defensive end Zach Thompson (48 tackles) for the team lead in sacks (4).
Notre Dame is averaging just over 400 yards of offense per game, but the team is far from an offensive juggernaut.
Young quarterback Everett Golson has shown flashes of brilliant play, but does seem to be getting better with each game. He has completed 58 percent of his passes, for 1,572 yards, with eight TDs against four INTs. The Irish do call on veteran QB Tommy Rees and he has also aided in a couple of wins.
Still, this is an offense predicated on the run and Notre Dame does that quite effectively, averaging almost 200 yards per game (198.7). Instead of using a workhorse in the backfield, the Irish have employed several rushers. Theo Riddick (714 yards, 4.6 ypc, four TDs), Cierre Wood (570 yards, 6.3 ypc, three TDs), George Atkinson III (312 yards, 7.4 ypc, four TDs) and Golson (258 yards, five TDs) have all made sizeable contributions on the ground.
Make no mistake about it, Notre Dame's success has been the result of stingy defensive play. One of the top units in the country, Notre Dame is allowing a meager 11.1 ppg (second nationally), while showing equal disdain for the run (sixth nationally at 95.9 ypg) and the pass (24th nationally at 199.3 ypg).
There are a number of playmakers on the Notre Dame defense, but the undeniable leader is two-time All-American Manti Te'o. The senior middle linebacker has had an incredible season thus far, posting a team-high 92 tackles, with 5.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, six interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Prince Shembo has been a bit overshadowed in the linebacking corps by Te'o, but has put up big numbers himself (43 tackles, 10.0 TFLs, 7.0 sacks). The secondary features standouts Bennett Jackson (52 tackles, four INTs) and Zeke Motta (52 tackles), while Stephon Tuitt has been a monster along the defensive front (37 tackles, 12.0 TFLs, 11.0 sacks).