Notre Dame Football: Kenny Okoro

Week 11: Nov. 17 vs. Wake Forest (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)

Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 1-0

2011 record: 6-7 (5-3 ACC; tied second place, Atlantic Division)

Head coach: Jim Grobe (68-67, 11 years)

Returning starters: Offense: 3; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Tanner Price, WR Michael Campanaro, C Garrick Williams, DE Zach Thompson, NG Nikita Whitlock, OLB Joey Ehrmann, ILB Scott Betros, ILB Riley Haynes, CB Merrill Noel, FS Kenny Okoro

Key losses

RB Brandon Pendergrass, WR Chris Givens, TE Cameron Ford, T Dennis Godfrey, T Doug Weaver, G Joe Looney, G Michael Hoag, DE Tristan Dorty, DE Kyle Wilber, SS Cyhl Quarles, FS Josh Bush

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Brandon Pendergrass (823 yards)

Passing: Tanner Price* (3,017 yards)

Receiving: Chris Givens (1,330 yards)

Tackles: Cyhl Quarles (101)

Sacks: Kyle Wilber/Nikita Whitlock* (3.5)

Interceptions: Josh Bush (6)

Three questions for ... ACC blogger Heather Dinich:

Wake returns plenty of talent at the skill positions, but it is tasked with replacing four starters on the offensive line. What's a realistic timeline for the newcomers to jell and form a cohesive unit?



Heather Dinich: Well, it’s more like three starters at this point, because Steven Chase, who missed the spring for undisclosed reasons, has since returned. The group also got a huge boost from the move of Frank Souza from the defensive line. Chase’s return has allowed the staff a little more flexibility with the depth chart. He or Souza -- whoever develops into the better pass protector — will likely slide into the right guard position. Souza was backup to talented noseguard Nikita Whitlock and saw the writing on the wall: Whitlock wasn’t coming off the field anytime soon. So he jumped at the opportunity to see more snaps on offense. Coach Jim Grobe told me they “hit a home run with Souza.” Right now he’s got five guys he’s comfortable with. Depth? That’s another question.



Head coach Jim Grobe rarely has much staff turnover, but three new assistants are aboard for 2012. What's new, and how will that translate on the field this season?



HD: Yes, the Deacs have long been one of the most stable staffs in the ACC, but there are a few new faces in new positions, and I think overall, it will make Wake Forest a better team. Tim Duffie will be in his first season coaching the secondary, and he has lots of talent to work with back there, particularly at the corner position. Jonathan Himebauch is in his first year coaching the offensive line, and Derrick Jackson is in his first season coaching the outside linebackers. The move of OC Steed Lobotzke to tight ends and fullbacks should help him manage his time better as a coordinator because he won’t have to deal with so many offensive linemen.



The Deacs surprised everyone but themselves last season, falling a field goal short of playing for the ACC title. There are obvious shortcomings (O-line, secondary) on this year's roster, but will they be able to overcome those and make another push at a division crown?

HD: If they did it last year, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be able to make another run at it. They’ve got to be able to win those close games, though. The close losses to Syracuse, Clemson -- and of course Notre Dame -- are still stinging, and just about anyone in that program will tell you they could’ve played better against UNC. Jim Grobe has a very good football team to work with this year, and he has a defense that could be reminiscent of the old days with Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith. There are some diamonds in that group, they’re just not very experienced. It wouldn’t be wise, though, for Wake Forest opponents to take this year’s team lightly.

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