Wake Forest comes to Notre Dame this Saturday trying to become bowl eligible. The host Fighting Irish are trying to remain eligible for the bowl of all bowls. And after back-to-back weeks when Pittsburgh and Boston College gave No. 3 Notre Dame a run for its money, head coach Brian Kelly knows his squad can’t take the 5-5 Demon Deacons lightly.
Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe
Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe, on the other hand, hopes his program doesn’t let the weight of the situation, the prominence of its opponent and the history of the Irish and Notre Dame stadium become a crushing burden.
“Well, we certainly hope our guys don't go there for sightseeing,” Grobe said Tuesday, just three days after a 37-6 loss at ACC foe North Carolina State. “That's going to be a key. I think we just have to go play. I'm going to try not to make too big of a deal out of it. We've played a lot of good teams so far this year. This will be our third game against a top-10 team that we're playing. We just know that going on the road is tough and playing a great team like Notre Dame will be a challenge."
The first two meetings Wake Forest had with top-10 teams didn’t go so well. Grobe and the Demon Deacons limped home after a 52-0 loss to then-No. 4 Florida State on Sept. 15 and dropped a 42-13 decision at home against No. 10 Clemson on Oct. 25.
In nearly every statistical category, Wake Forest is either in the middle or near the back of the ACC pack, with nothing on which to hang its hat. Averaging only 309.7 yards of total offense per game, and allowing 417.8 yards each week. But just like Pitt and BC, the Demon Deacons know what’s on the line for the Irish, which are viewed by some as vulnerable after winning their last two games by a combined 18 points.
“I think what you find is that most good teams find a way to win,” Grobe said of Notre Dame. “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.
“I don't think the role of spoiler is big on players' minds, or at least it shouldn't be. I think certainly you'd be a spoiler if you got to sneak up there and get a win, but just playing Notre Dame is going to have your kids pumped up. One of our things is trying not to be too pumped up. I thought that we were against Clemson and started out really slowly, just kind of flying around and not really focusing on our keys. I think it's important to be pumped up and excited and it would be fun to play the role of spoiler, but I think more than anything we need to take care of Wake Forest and go play good football."
What might help Grobe’s team is that Notre Dame’s mystique isn’t quite as powerful as last season, when Wake Forest played the Fighting Irish for the first time. What’s clearly not in Wake Forest’s favor, however, is this Notre Dame team is in the national title mix, not en route to a pedestrian 8-5 record for the second consecutive season.
“We were very disappointed last year because we had a chance to win, or at least tie it late, and didn't get that done,” he said. “But I think playing at Notre Dame is a little different. This will be a great environment and make our job a lot tougher. I think playing at home last year really helped us. (We're) playing a better Notre Dame team than we played last year, a team that improved in taking care of the football offensively, and the defense is much better, one of the tops in the country. They do a great job on special teams. This is a different Notre Dame team and playing at their place will make it tougher.”