SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It took until the final home game of the season, but the Irish finally blew an opponent out at Notre Dame Stadium.
Everett Golson was spectacular, dismantling Wake Forest's secondary as Notre Dame cruised to a 38-0 win. It was easily the best game of the season for the redshirt freshman, with his only mistake coming on an ill-advised heave toward the end zone in the second quarter that went for an interception.
But Golson completed 20 of 30 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns, frequently linking up with Irish receivers downfield as Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin continued to open up the playbook for the first-year starter.
"We showed our explosiveness and what we could do on the field," wide receiver John Goodman said. "We had a lot of spurts of that throughout the season but I think really, tonight that showed a lot throughout the whole game."
Golson completed six passes to tight end Tyler Eifert for the third straight week, with the senior captain racking up 85 yards and a touchdown. T.J. Jones caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown, while Goodman caught a 50-yard touchdown as well.
Cierre Wood, playing in potentially his final game at Notre Dame Stadium, rushed 11 times for 150 yards and a touchdown, which was a 68-yard dash in the first quarter.
"I think we're playing really good football at this point offensively and defensively," coach Brian Kelly said. "Our special teams have been okay, but I think offensively we're growing. We're very explosive. We had nine explosive plays in the first half. I think if you can match with what we've done defensively, we're playing pretty good football."
It was Notre Dame's first home rout of the 2012 season, with the team's 38-point margin of victory larger than the combined margins in the Irish's five other home wins (23 points).
"You can never look past one team, because if you lose then what, you drop in rankings, you're not going to get where you want to be and that's the 'ship, so you can't look past one team," defensive tackle Louis Nix explained. "We almost looked past Pitt and the outcome was almost different, they could've won the game. You can't look past any team, you just gotta stay focused on the next one, and that's USC."
The blowout came off an emotional senior day celebration, which saw the Notre Dame student section packed with lei-wearing fans chanting Manti Te'o's name as he embraced his parents at midfield prior to the game.
"I was emotional, but I held it in and managed to hold it in," Te'o said. "But I shed a few tears when I embraced my parents."
Early in the fourth quarter, Kelly called a timeout to give seniors Kapron Lewis-Moore, Zeke Motta and Te'o proper ovations from the home crowd.
"I wanted to make it a special moment for the seniors on defense," Kelly said. "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."
Last Sunday, Notre Dame received one first-place vote in the coaches poll. It was from their own coach, which looked like more of a ploy to boost Notre Dame's BCS number than anything else.
"I voted them number one in the country for a reason because I think they're the best team in the country," Kelly said. "And I think they played like that tonight."
Kelly won't be alone in voting Notre Dame No. 1 in the coaches poll released Sunday morning. And when the BCS standings are released Sunday night, they'll reveal Notre Dame as the No. 1 team in the country.
Just where Kelly had them a week ago.