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Highlights: Notre Dame 45, Wake Forest 7 — Irish defense shuts down Deacons, while Sam Hartman enjoys it all

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — To use “momentarily” by its most precise definition, “for a moment,” Wake Forest had No. 19 Notre Dame’s defense on its heels momentarily on Saturday. That moment lasted all of six plays and three minutes, the Demon Deacons (4-7) gaining 71 yards and tying the game at seven early in the second quarter.

But “for a moment” means just that, because the Irish (8-3) otherwise made Wake Forest’s life miserable in a 45-7 rout, though Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman could still express some frustration about that moment rather than focus on the rest of the game’s defensive domination.

“I know tomorrow we’ll be in there and critique every single play,” he said Saturday night. “I’m sure defensively there will be a lot to improve, but I like to be upset about seven points.”

There could not be that much to improve, not when Wake Forest’s only success hinged on a receiver pass as well as a reverse. Not when the rest of the game was a clinic in shutting down the Deacons.

“They did some things in the first half that really we hadn’t seen on film,” Freeman said. “The adjustments that we could make, that [defensive coordinator Al] Golden can make. It’s credit to coach Golden and his staff. Man, they have answers.

“They’re able to get the adjustments to the players, and they can go out there and execute.”

Five of Wake Forest’s nine drives gained 14 yards or fewer, four of those not managing to move the chains at all. Four forays into scoring range yielded just one score. Even a bumbling offense would have liked to fare a bit better than that in range of points. Even the Deacons’ season-long struggles finishing quality drives should have produced double digit points in Notre Dame Stadium’s 500th game.

Rarely do traditional offenses fall short of 100 passing yards, Wake Forest’s 24 dropbacks yielding 80 yards if taking yards lost to sacks off the passing yards total. Exactly one Deacons’ pass created an explosive play, that receiver pass from Jahmal Banks to Ke’Shawn Williams.

“That’s just a testament to the coaches and the plan they put in,” sophomore cornerback Benjamin Morrison said. “At the end of the day, they set the plan and we have to go out there and do it. … The back seven, I feel like we’re just having fun.”

Fun is an applicable word when Notre Dame’s last three home games have produced 11 forced turnovers.

So even if the headlines and the rest of these highlights focus on the Irish offense — mainly its passing game success on Saturday, an unseen perk since early September — the defense should get the bulk of the credit, shutting down Dave Clawson’s slow-mesh offense but for a moment.

Freshman receiver Jaden Greathouse has been playing injured and out of position for the better part of two months now. Neither was anyone’s fault. Hamstring worries happen; a dearth of outside receivers inevitably means a slot receiver moves wide. But it has been no coincidence Greathouse had not caught a pass since Sept. 23.

Healthy after this second idle week, he caught three passes for 71 yards including a 48-yard touchdown that was reminiscent of his early-season breakthrough.

Greathouse takes reception to the end zone
Jaden Greathouse pulls in the pass and runs away from the Wake Forest defenders to add to Notre Dame's big lead.

Greathouse’s classmate, Rico Flores Jr. tried to hold in a smile when he learned just how long it had been since a Notre Dame receiver had 100 yards in a game. It was very much an “irrepresible” smile, given his clear effort not to publicly bask in the moment.

“Been hearing about it, but not quite sure,” he said when asked if he knew the Irish had not had a receiver with 100 yards since Marcus Freeman’s very first game as head coach, the Fiesta Bowl shootout loss to Oklahoma State to close the 2021 season.

“It’s the little details that matter now,” Flores said after catching eight of nine targets for 102 yards. “It’s not like the big things, at least for myself. It’s the littlest thing. I could be an inch from where I’m supposed to line up, and that can make a whole difference of you catching or not catching the ball.

“I feel like I came prepared for that to learn better, because I came in, early enrolled in January.”

And it still took 11 games.

Notre Dame has long needed a healthy Greathouse and a properly-lined-up Flores. It finally got them Saturday.

Hartman lofts beautiful touchdown to Raridon
The play after Notre Dame recovered a Wake Forest fumble, Sam Hartman puts some air under his pass to Eli Raridon, who pulls it in to add to the Irish’s lead.

Sam Hartman’s one year at Notre Dame will be remembered for many things, perhaps most importantly how viable he proved the transfer portal to South Bend can be in the name, image and likeness era. Frankly, that is probably why he spoke to the media at all following the Senior Day win, usually a postgame press conference devoid of any seniors as they relish their emotions on the field with family and friends.

But Hartman has obligations.

The one season should also be remembered for just how easygoing he has been. Hartman notoriously suffered through media availability at Wake Forest, praised for how good he was at it but utterly reluctant to do it. He turned Saturday night into a stand-up routine, closing with a story of a Notre Dame student managing to loft a marshmallow into his celebratory sideline hot chocolate once sophomore quarterback Steve Angeli had taken over the offensive reins in the fourth quarter.

“The student section, it’s not everywhere in the country that everybody is staying, and the marshmallows,” he began. “... I’m not mad about this, it was incredible. I get a hot chocolate on the sideline, yes, we have hot chocolate on the sideline. I was done playing.

“I’m walking, and some girl, if I saw her right now I would know who she is but I don’t know her name, threw a marshmallow from the student section.”

Two quick things, for anyone not thoroughly familiar with the Notre Dame student experience. First of all, a 10,000-person campus is small enough that there are plenty of people Hartman may see multiple times a week without knowing their names. Secondly, it is an annual tradition that the undergraduate seniors have a “marshmallow fight” during halftime of the final home game, which naturally leads to stray marshmallows flying throughout the second half. Hartman may or may not have known that occurred at all.

“It was like a 30-yard shot, landing in my hot chocolate. I’m like, one of my teammates just did it, really funny guys. And I look up, and this girl is going nuts. She just dunked it in there.

“Obviously, ceremoniously I chugged it.”

Moments before that core memory for Hartman, the Notre Dame Stadium video board had cut to him on the sideline, giving him a brief curtain call. He tried to point the camerman to Angeli, about to take the field, Hartman backing away from the offensive huddle. When the camera instead stayed on the veteran, he moved back toward Angeli, attempting to keep him in the camera shot.

“It’s part of the position,” he said. “I try to give it to Steve because he’s as deserving as anybody. He’s got a big career ahead of him.”

Hartman’s 21-of-29 for 277 yards and four touchdowns was impressive, but as far as big days go, it was somewhat run of the mill. But his apt nature in the spotlight, be it behind center, handing off the reins to his understudy, surprised by a flying piece of coagulated sugar or at the podium recapping it all, that is what stands out.

“It’s a credit to everybody. Shoot, it’s a credit to a lot of the guys on the other team we just played, which is a weird thing to say. It’s a credit to just everybody around me making plays and making catches and blocks and all that other stuff.” — Hartman on reaching No. 4 all-time in career touchdown passes, acknowledging the 110 he threw in his five seasons at Wake Forest.

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