Notre Dame Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Wake Forest

Matt Smith@MattSmithCFBCorrespondent IIINovember 16, 2012

Notre Dame Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Wake Forest

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    We can almost start thinking about Notre Dame's trip to Los Angeles next weekend, but there is still one last hurdle, albeit a low one, for the Fighting Irish on Saturday afternoon in South Bend, Indiana when 5-5 Wake Forest makes its first trip to Notre Dame Stadium.

    While the Demon Deacons still have a chance at matching last year's six wins, this year's Wake Forest team appears far more incapable of upsetting Notre Dame than the team that played the Irish tough 54 weeks ago in a 24-17 loss in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    I could stick to the template and tell you that if Notre Dame runs the ball, avoids turnovers and pressures the quarterback, it'll be 11-0. Let's not make it that simple. Here are five keys to the Irish turning in a solid performance on Senior Day on Saturday before everyone can turn their attention to USC and the national title race.

Avoid Big Plays

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    Wake Forest doesn't have the offensive line to hold up on long drives against the Notre Dame front. The Deacons won't be able to dink and dunk their way down the field without disaster happening.

    Bob Diaco's defense is designed to take away "chunk" plays, so the Irish shouldn't have to stray too far from their norm. Use the Oklahoma game plan. Keep everything in front of them, and eventually the defensive line will force a punt or a turnover.

Prevent Long Returns

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    Again, Wake Forest is not going to sustain any long drives on Saturday. Big plays can counter that, but so can short fields. That's why it's crucial for the Irish to ensure the Deacons aren't routinely starting drives in good field position.

    Notre Dame's kick coverage units this year have been fairly underwhelming. With the ultra-dangerous Marqise Lee on deck next weekend, it would be nice to see the Irish clamp down their kick coverage and give the units some confidence before heading west.

Block Out Distractions

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    Senior Day at Notre Dame is an emotional day. Saturday may be the most special home finale in decades, however, as Manti Te'o plays his final game in Notre Dame Stadium.

    The Irish have struggled at home this year, failing to properly block out the "noise", as Brian Kelly so often explains it, that comes with a home football weekend at Notre Dame. It's perfectly acceptable for this day to be a celebration of the past four years, but the Irish must ensure that the celebration doesn't begin until after sunset.

Forget About Style Points

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    Notre Dame isn't going to helps its BCS Championship Game cause this week. Winning by 10 or winning by 40 are one in the same in terms of the team's chances to jump either Kansas State or Oregon without either losing a game.

    The Irish's only chance to make hay in that department will come next week. Voters won't be impressed by a blowout win over a fledgling Demon Deacons team. A 24-7 win is perfectly fine. A game as boring as last week's win over Boston College will suit the Irish perfectly fine before turning on their television sets to cheer on Stanford and Baylor against the Ducks and Wildcats respectively.

Score Early

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    It's hard not to get the feeling that if Notre Dame had scored a touchdown on either of its two long drives in the first half of its game vs, Pittsburgh, there wouldn't have been a need for a big comeback, a missed field goal and three overtimes.

    The Deacons are always well-coached under Jim Grobe, but the Irish can quickly zap their spirit with an early touchdown or two. Failing to do so nearly cost them everything against the Panthers. We'll find out Saturday if they learned a valuable lesson.