SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Wake Forest's bowl hopes are all but officially over, that much is clear. At 3-7, the Demon Deacons would need to win out and hope that there are not enough bowl-eligible teams in order to sneak into the postseason.
A 13th game was the program’s goal entering this past Saturday’s game at No. 4 Notre Dame, offensive lineman Dylan Intemann had said, and even though things did not exactly play out the way the Deacs had hoped, they are not scoffing at the opportunity before them as they ready for a trip to face No. 1 Clemson.
“We’ve only gotten better as the season’s gone on,” Intemann, a redshirt senior right guard, said last week. “So we have to play like a veteran team, but we have to realize that these last three games aren’t throwaway games. They’re games where we need to win.”
The positives were in abundance this past weekend: Wake actually out-gained Notre Dame, 340-282. The Deacs controlled the time of possession battle, holding the ball for 11:36 longer than the Irish. They forced five punts. They held ballyhooed receiver Will Fuller to three catches for 37 yards.
In many ways, they rose to the challenge of what head coach Dave Clawson deemed a measuring-stick game. But they were also their own worst enemy, costing themselves any chance of pulling off something special.
“I’ll tell you what I told the team: I think when the team plays with that much energy, that much effort, that much enthusiasm and you execute 90 percent of what you want to get done, we should be a happy locker room,” Clawson said after the 28-7 loss. “But we beat ourselves, and we’re a team that does that too much."
While under pressure in the first quarter, John Wolford threw a pick-six that put Wake in an early 14-0 hole. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the second quarter, Tyler Bell was stuffed at the goal line. Two plays later, Josh Adams broke off for a Notre Dame-record 98-yard touchdown run to make the Wake deficit 21-0 -- a play that accounted for nearly 35 percent of the Irish’s total offensive output Saturday.
There was a third-down red-zone penalty that forced a long field goal attempt before the half, which missed. And there was another empty red-zone trip in the fourth quarter -- on a series that began with a first-and-goal at the 1.
“Obviously, the red zone is one of our keys to victory,” Wolford said afterward. “We have it up on our big board in our meeting room that you’ve got to convert in the red zone, whether it’s field goals or touchdowns. We missed that field goal because I took a sack and we had that dumb penalty. Two times we were on the one-inch line and we came away empty-handed.
“Everyone has those plays where you wish you had them back, and we had a bunch of those (Saturday).”
Wake may be up just three spots nationally in rushing offense this year -- from a paltry 124th to a paltry 121st -- but that hardly underscores the gains that the offensive line has made: From averaging 39.92 rushing yards per game last year to averaging 111.1 this year.
The Deacs had just one 100-yard rushing game last year, and they have six this year. The defense remains stingy, ranking 23rd nationally. And, like last year, they have continued to play with an edge late, which showed in a close November loss to Clemson last year two weeks before upsetting Virginia Tech.
Now comes another game against the Tigers -- a team that has already clinched its division, a program that hopes its next trip to Death Valley is for the pizza party its coach promised should Clemson make the College Football Playoff.
In between, there is the Senior Day tilt with the Demon Deacons.
“We’ve seen our potential this year and what we can do,” Intemann said. “We’ve had close games, (against) Florida State, a lot of teams, so we’re definitely excited. … We want to see what we can do when we’re faced with adversity like this, so it just presents itself with a great opportunity to do something awesome.”