SOUTH BEND — After winning its first three games at home, the No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team heads on the road for the first time this year to take on Wake Forest.
It’ll be the first road game for guys like running back Jafar Armstrong and defensive back Houston Griffith. Some of the senior leaders have had to help guide the younger guys throughout the week.
“There is a different way you have to go about your routine for a road game versus a home game. The most important thing (this week) is that it’s a noon game,” graduate senior center Sam Mustipher said. “Them getting up early in the morning and understanding that it’s game time right now. You’re getting up and you’re getting ready to go to the stadium right away.”
The Irish are undefeated, but it hasn’t looked as convincing as fans, players and coaches would’ve hoped. After a strong performance in the opener against Michigan, Notre Dame scuffled against Ball State and Vanderbilt.
This has added fuel to the debate over who should start at quarterback for the Irish: Brandon Wimbush or Ian Book. Wimbush has been the primary starter the past year-plus, but Book has looked good in his brief appearances. He started and won last year’s game against North Carolina, and came in relief of Wimbush to lead Notre Dame to a Citrus Bowl victory over LSU.
It’s a debate that has raged on since the start of fall camp, and one that head coach Brian Kelly didn’t shy away from this week.
“We think he’s is a good quarterback. We recruited him to Notre Dame to win championships just as we did Brandon. That’s why we put him in the game against Vanderbilt — to win,” Kelly said of Book. “That’s why we put him each week. If we put him in this weekend, it’s because we believe he can help us win.”
Having a strong offensive attack will be necessary this week against the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest runs an up-tempo offense, meaning the Irish defense will be on the field for potentially 100 plays or more. Being able to control the clock will be Notre Dame’s greatest strength on the offensive side of the ball.
“Just don’t get behind the chains on first and second downs and convert on third downs,” Mustipher said. “Simple, basic football to keep them off the field as much as possible.”
The graduate senior knows they’ll be in for a battle against the Wake Forest defense.
“They’re a physical and talented front-seven. They do a lot of movements, and I have a feeling they’re going to throw the house at us,” Mustipher said. “They’re a great defense, a great challenge, and we’re looking forward to it.”
A wild card heading into Saturday’s contest is the Demon Deacons’ quarterback situation.
True freshman Sam Hartman has been the QB for Wake Forest the first three games. Junior Kendall Hinton, though, is back from suspension this week. While Hartman heads into the game as the starter, there’s a chance Hinton will see some snaps from under center.
“(Hartman) is really comfortable with the offense. You can see they’ve done a really good job of getting him comfortable with it and running it at a high level,” Kelly said. “This is the first team this year we have film on. We’ve got a pretty good sense of what we’re getting.”
Playing against tempo can be difficult for teams, but the Irish defense feel they’re ready to handle the challenge Wake Forest provides.
“We can handle it. It doesn’t matter how many snaps we play. We’ve got a lot of guys we can rotate in and keep fresh,” junior defensive end Julian Okwara said.
“It’s definitely tough, but we had Ball State to help us prepare for this,” junior safety Jalen Elliott added. The Cardinals ran 97 plays against Notre Dame in week two. “We got a little chance to see that. Wake, of course, runs a lot faster.”
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN
WHAT: No. 8 Notre Dame at Wake Forest (Winston-Salem, N.C.)
WHEN: 12pm ET