Wake Forest blown out as Irish stay perfect

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame got one first-place vote in the coaches’ poll last Sunday — head coach Brian Kelly’s.

Against Wake Forest, the Fighting Irish reinforced his faith in his team.

Everett Golson threw three touchdown
passes and Cierre Wood scored on a 68-yard run as No. 3 Notre Dame beat
Wake Forest 38-0 Saturday to finish the season undefeated at home for
the first time since 1998 and keep its national championship hopes
alive.

“I told them tonight I’m proud of them,”
Kelly said. “I voted them No. 1 for a reason, because I think they’re
the best team in the country. I think they played like that tonight.”

Kelly, who saw his 12-0 Cincinnati team
left out of the BCS title game in 2009, said he has no doubt his 11-0
team deserves to play for the championship if they win the season finale
at Southern California. That’s all he wants his players focused on, he
said.

“They cannot do anything else but beat USC,” Kelly said. “The rest is up to other people to decide.”

The reality of that situation is either
Oregon or Kansas State — the top two teams in the BCS rankings and,
separately, the AP Top 25 — will likely have to lose for Notre Dame to
get a place in the championship.

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe seemed to think the Irish have as much right as anybody to be there.

“No question about it. But maybe a
couple of others should be, too. That’s kind of the deal right now,”
Grobe said. “I can’t imagine anybody from what I saw today playing any
better than Notre Dame. But I think there are some other really, really
good teams. They impressed me today. I think there as good as any team
in the country.”

Wood got the Irish moving with his
68-yard burst on the game’s fourth play. Three plays later, Wake
tailback Josh Harris caught a 13-yard pass but fumbled after a hard hit
by Irish linebacker Carlo Calabrese and safety Zeke Motta recovered.
Harris, Wake Forest’s leading rusher, didn’t play the rest of the game
because of a head injury.

Golson kept the Irish going with his
best passing game of the season. He threw three touchdown passes of 50,
34 and 2 yards in the first half.

Fourteen of his 17 first-half
completions led to first downs as the Irish opened a 31-0 halftime lead.
He finished with 346 yards on 20 of 30 passing with one interception.

Wood rushed for 150 yards on 11 carries
and Tyler Eifert had six catches, giving him 130 for his career,
breaking the school record of 128 set by Ken MacAfee in 1977.

The Irish improved to 11-0 for the
first time since 1989 and need to beat USC to finish a regular season
undefeated for the first time since 1988, the last time they won a
national championship. The Demon Deacons (5-6) fell to 1-33 all-time
against top 5 teams.

The victory virtually assures the Irish of a berth in a BCS game, even if it’s not the title matchup.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o,
draped in leis after playing his final game at Notre Dame Stadium and
handing out candy to anyone within reach, wasn’t ready to make his
argument that the Irish deserve to be in the title game.

“If we don’t beat USC, there is no need
to say whether you deserve it or not,” he said. “You have to beat USC
first. You can ask me that question after.”

The Irish dominated on both sides of
the ball, outgaining the Deacons 584 yards to 209. It was the first
shutout for the Irish since a 35-0 win over Nevada in the season-opener
in 2009 and their first shutout against a major conference team since a
42-0 victory over Rutgers in 2002.

“They jumped on us quick, got momentum,
kept momentum rolling, and when the defense can’t stop them, it’s hard
for the offense to really play hard,” Wake Forest nose guard Nikita
Whitlock said.

Tanner Price was 22 of 33 passing for
153 yards for Wake Forest with his longest pass for 16 yards. The Irish
held the Demon Deacons to 55 yards rushing as Wake Forest dropped to 1-4
on the road this season.

“They were where they needed to be and
they just force you to execute,” Tanner said. “Obviously we weren’t able
to do that today.”

After posting a 17-16 record at home
the past five seasons, the Irish victory Saturday improved their record
at Notre Dame Stadium to 6-0 this year. But this was the first time they
made it look easy. The Irish needed overtime to beat Stanford, triple
overtime to beat Pittsburgh and won the three other home games by a
combined 13 points.

“We put it all together and played a complete game today,” left tackle Zack Martin said.

Many Notre Dame students showed their
respect by wearing yellow leis to honor Te’o, who is from Hawaii and who
has played a key role in the Irish resurgence. Te’o, senior defensive
end Kapron Lewis-Moore and senior safety Zeke Motta left to standing
ovations with 13 minutes left.

“I wanted to make it a special moment
for the seniors on defense. They have been obviously the rock. They’ve
carried us while we were trying to find ourselves offensively,” Kelly
said. “It just seemed to me to be a pretty good gesture to allow us to
honor those seniors.”

When Notre Dame went 11-0 in 1989, the
Irish were beaten by Miami in the regular season finale and finished the
season ranked No. 2 behind the Hurricanes.

The last time the Irish headed to Los
Angeles to play Southern Cal undefeated was a year earlier, in 1988,
when the squad coached by Lou Holtz beat the second-ranked Trojans 27-10
en route to the school’s last national championship.

Te’o said that’s the only focus now.

“I don’t care about anything else but
winning and being part of this team,” he said. “And now we have to work
on USC, and beating USC.”