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Notre Dame Football

Wake Forest Scouting Report - Defense

October 31, 2017

I think there was an assumption that a drop off would occur for Wake Forest on defense after losing Mike Elko. It would make sense when you consider how much Notre Dame has improved with Elko now running things on defense for them.

That really hasn’t been the case for Demon Deacons. Coordinator Jay Sawvel came over from Minnesota and they’ve been playing at about the same level since he has taken over. He did a heck of a job with Golden Gophers with them finishing 22nd in S&P+ last season. Wake finished 23rd in 2016 under Elko and is now currently 29th under Sawvel. They lead the nation in tackles for loss and are 10th in Havoc Rate.

One thing you will hear all week is that Wake has the 89th rushing defense in the country and I think that’s misleading. That number would look much different if they didn’t play Georgia Tech and when looking at who they have played, the numbers come out a little bit stronger for Wake with them 45th in S&P+ against the run. They are good versus the run, but not great. (Teams probably need to be great to stop Notre Dame’s run game)

The scheme hasn’t changed a ton since Sawvel took over with only a few tweaks here and there. They also have several veterans on all three levels of the defense. That includes two who were playing like elite players last season and are continuing to play at that level in 2017.

Ejiofor a unique match-up on the D-line

What’s been most impressive about the Notre Dame offensive line and how they’ve played this season is the fact that they have played against so many great players on the defensive line. This week will be more of the same. They have a good group overall, but the standout is Duke Ejiofor.

He plays the strongside end for Wake in their base package and he can get after it off the edge. At 6’4” 275, he’ll also line up inside on passing downs to rush from there. His lateral movement is outstanding and he practically lives in the backfield. 17.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks says a lot about his game already.

Those stats just back up how he is a great fit for what they do up front with the frequent slanting and stunting. That’s what gets them into situations where they are making tackles behind the line of scrimmage and putting offenses behind the chains. That’s why this is a game where Notre Dame may want to play even faster than they have been to force them to play more vanilla with that stuff.

They are more quick than powerful with their regular group of interior linemen. That helps with the movement, but I think the interior three offensive lineman for Notre Dame should have a big advantage at the point of attack. Especially in short yardage.

One thing I have noticed as well is that the interior guy on their stunts tends to work the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle to shoot through the B gap. While that makes it harder to pass that off for the guard and tackle, it also means that Brandon Wimbush should be able to get outside without contain on some occasions. If that happens, look for him to have a big day running the football.

They rotate a lot in their front seven

This is something that I think will be interesting to watch in this game. Obviously Mike Elko, Clark Lea, and Bill Rees have an extensive knowledge of the personnel for Wake. How can Notre Dame use that to their advantage, specifically when it comes to them subbing in backups for starters in the front seven?

A good example may be with the two Rovers they have in Demetrius Kemp and Jacquez Williams. Both are more big safeties than linebackers in my opinion, unlike Drue Tranquill who is built like a traditional linebacker despite being a safety as recently as last season.

We might see Chip Long decide to go with more heavy packages and run that four tight end I-formation look that he used against NC State more often to force Kemp and Williams into having to play against something that may not be as natural for them to deal with.

The inside linebackers they play are all physical, especially the two seniors, Grant Dawson and Jaboree Williams. However, they all are not the biggest guys either. Playing with big personnel to combat against that seems like something Notre Dame will likely do.

The one thing that they are really good at is blitzing. Justin Strnaud isn’t a starter, but he is explosive and slippery when Sawvel calls for him to blitz. He jumped out to me in the games I watched.

Strong in the secondary

They are pretty good all around in the secondary. I like both of their corners. Amari Henderson is the better out of the two in my opinion, but Essang Bassey is a good football player as well. He is a bit smaller, though, at only 5’10”. Wake has 47 passes defensed this season (14th in the nation). These two have 18 between them, which includes three interceptions.

Safety Jessie Bates might be the best player on their team. That’s not slight on Ejiofor. That’s just how highly I think of Bates. He had a major impact last season with five interceptions and he looks faster and stronger this season. He leads the team in tackles and has a 5.5 tackles for loss.

Some of those aren’t even when he is playing in the box. Many times he is filling the alley on the perimeter while tackling screens and the outside run game. Bates closes in a hurry in coverage as well.

It would be easy to say Notre Dame really whiffed on not offering the Fort Wayne native, but pretty much everyone made a mistake by not offering him out of high school. He is one of the best safeties in the ACC as a redshirt sophomore and is good enough to be getting All-American attention.

UPDATE: Bates will not be available in this game after hurting his knee. I assumed he would be back. 

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