NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The goal of the day was to finish the season with an unblemished home record. That goal was accomplished with a big exclamation point on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium as No. 3 Notre Dame demolished Wake Forest 38-0 on senior day.
“Getting off to a good start offensively I thought was going to be paramount for us,” head coach Brian Kelly began after the win. “So we could play with a lot of enthusiasm and not have to press and have all the things we’ve talked about during the year of not playing our best at home. We played very well today. We saved our best for the last home game.”
The Irish got off to that good start Kelly referred to with three first quarter touchdowns. The first one came on a 68-yard bolt to the end zone by running back Cierre Wood, who finished his day with 11 carries for 150 yards (13.6). It was the first three-touchdown opening quarter for Notre Dame since their 35-17 win over Michigan in 2008.
Notre Dame’s previous largest margin of victory at home this season were seven-point wins in the 20-13 overtime victory over Stanford on Oct. 13 and the 13-6 triumph over Michigan in September. In fact, the five previous home wins added up to a combined 23 point margin.
“It’s just a relief for us to win in the fashion we did,” Manti Te’o said of the resounding victory in his final home game. “(We were) just clicking on all cylinders. Everybody was playing with a lot of enthusiasm and energy on all sides of the ball and just getting after it.”
Notre Dame’s other two first quarter touchdowns came on passes of two and 50 yards by Everett Golson to Tyler Eifert and John Goodman, respectively. He would hit T.J. Jones with a 34-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter to put the Irish on top 28-0 and in cruise control for the remainder of the game.
Golson finished his day with a career-high 346 yards with three touchdowns and one interception on a pass he tried to force into the end zone to senior Robby Toma. He was 20-for-30 on the day - a completion percentage of 66-percent. Golson says he and Theo Riddick had a chance to talk about the growth he has made this season while standing on the sideline late in the blowout win.
“He reminded me there were times in the beginning (of the season) where I wasn’t aware of the play clock,” Golson recalled. “I wasn’t aware of the play clock and I was always kind of rushing. I think I’ve progressed a lot and that’s just with the help of these coaches and also the players building this confidence in me.”
“He’s a guy that makes explosive plays,” Kelly said of his ever-maturing quarterback after the win. “He’s got the ability to throw it He can run the football. He’s elusive. I think we’re seeing a guy that’s growing each and every week.”
After having nine possessions the entire game last week against Boston College, Notre Dame had seven offensive possessions in the first half alone today against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were held to three and out on their last three drives of the half by the Irish defense.
The win improves Notre Dame’s record to 6-0 at home this season. They have also won eight straight home games overall dating back to last season. ND’s last home loss was a 31-17 setback to USC on Oct. 22 last year.
A Senior Sendoff
With 13:27 remaining in the game the Irish were leading 38-0 with the team on defense and NBC coming back from a commercial break. Kelly sent his starting defense to the field, but then called a timeout to bring seniors Te’o, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Zeke Motta off the field one at a time as they each received ovations from the partisan crowd.
“I wanted to make it a special moment for the seniors on defense,” Kelly explained later. “They have been obviously the rock. They’ve carried us while we were trying to find ourselves offensively. It just seemed to me to be a pretty good gesture to allow us to honor those seniors.”
Te’o was more than appreciative of his head coach for that salute.
“Just magic,” Te’o said of the moment. “It’s like everything has come full circle. (I am) just very grateful. For a head coach to do that…he could have easily just taken us out or just not even put us on the field.”
“It was a TV timeout and he told us ‘Ok, I’m gonna send you guys out there and them I’m gonna call a timeout and one by one I’m gonna sub you guys out as your farewell’. That’s the type of coach that coach Kelly is. I’m just very lucky to play for him.”
All the close wins this season have not allowed Kelly to play many reserves and the blowout finally gave him a chance to get a lot more guys on the field in the second half.
“It was really important for us to get a chance to see some of these guys that haven’t gotten a lot of play,” Kelly commented. “Because we haven’t had many games of this magnitude where we could get some guys in the game.”
Kelly specified players like Ben Councell, Jalen Brown, Romeo Okwara, and Nicky Baratti as players he was particularly pleased to see get more time on the field.
The current group of Notre Dame seniors has won more games in the last four seasons than any Irish class since 1998. Today’s win ties this year’s class with the ’98 squad with 33 victories.
The 29 seniors recognized on the field before the game today were: Kevin Walsh, Blake Breslau, Grant Patton, Chris Salvi, Will Salvi, Dennis Mahoney, Matt Tansey, Nick Fitzpatrick, Tyler Stockton, Nick Tausch, Carlo Calabrese, Chris Watt, Dan Fox, Cierre Wood, Jordan Cowart, Ben Turk, John Goodman, Dan McCarthy, Jake Golic, Mike Golic Jr., Jamoris Slaughter, Braxton Cave, Robby Toma, Zeke Motta, Theo Riddick, Zack Martin, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tyler Eifert, and Manti Te’o.
More For Manti
Manti Te’o was named one of four finalists for the 2012 Rotary Lombardi Award prior to today’s game. It is one in a long list of honors the senior linebacker is up for this season. The Lombardi Award was established in 1970. It honors a collegiate lineman who displays courage, character and team spirit both on and off the field.
Te’o is also a finalist for the Nagurski and Campbell Trophies as well as the Senior CLASS Award. He is a semifinalist for the Bednarik, Butkus, Walter Camp, and Maxwell Awards as well as the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
The other three Lombardi finalists are: South Carolina’s Jadaveon Clowney, Barrett Jones of Alabama and Georgia’s Jarvis Jones.
Eifert Reels-in A Record
With his 15-yard reception on Notre Dame’s first offensive play of the second half, Tyler Eifert became Notre Dame’s top receiving tight end of all-time. It was Eifert’s fifth reception of the day and the 129th of his career to move him past Ken MacAfee in the Irish record books.
“It’s been fun,” Eifert said when asked what the record means to him. “I’m just thankful for a long, healthy career that’s put me in a position to have the record. I’m pretty excited about it.”
Eifert finished his day with six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. He now has 130 receptions for 1,710 yards in his career. Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe appreciated what he saw from the Mackey Award finalist.
“What we often see in tight ends is they’re one or the other,” Grobe began when asked about Eifert. “They’re either big guys and really good blockers or they’re undersized guys that can run and catch a football. He’s the perfect combination.”
“He’s a good blocker. He did some good stuff in the run game (and he is) very athletic and has some great hands. A couple of times tonight we had really, really good coverage. He just went up and took the ball away from us.”
Eifert’s touchdown was the 10th of his career. Only MacAfee’s 15 are more than Eifert for an Irish tight end. The Ft. Wayne native has 40 receptions this season and 29 of them have gone for either a first down or touchdown. His lingering memory of the day was an obvious one.
“When they told me I was done and just looking up at the students,” Eifert said of his most vivid senior day memory. “They were starting the third down chant and then just looking up and just thinking ‘I’m not gonna get this chance again.’ Everyone’s told me to just take it in and that’s what I did.”
- Notre Dame ran for 221 yards in the victory. The Irish have won 14 straight games when they crack the 200 yard mark on the ground. Their last such loss was in 2007 to Navy.
- Stephon Tuitt had ND’s only sack of the day. He has 12.0 this season and needs just 1.5 more to tie Justin Tuck’s Irish single-season sack record set in 2003.
- Golson improved to 9-0 as a starting quarterback. His nine straight wins to begin his career are second to Bob Williams’ 11 in 1949-’50.
- The Fighting Irish have held eight of their last 11 opponents to 300 yards or less in total offense. They have won eight straight when holding the opposition to below 300. Wake Forest gained just 209 total yards, including 55 on the ground.
- Notre Dame is 9-1 under Kelly in the month of November. The Irish had lost eight of their last nine November games prior to Kelly’s arrival in 2010.
- Since beginning last season with an 0-2 record, Notre Dame has now won 19 of its last 22 games.
- Kelly needs one more victory to tie Dan Devine’s Notre Dame record of 28 victories in his first three seasons as Irish head coach.