SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The noise about a playoff bid and the Heisman Trophy is getting louder around No. 5 Notre Dame as it prepares for Saturday’s visit from Wake Forest.
Coach Brian Kelly and his staff are trying to tone down the hoopla surrounding the Fighting Irish (7-1), who have six impressive victories since losing by a point to No. 2 Georgia. Junior running back Josh Adams, fifth in the nation in rushing with 1,169 yards, has emerged as a legitimate contender for the Heisman and other postseason awards.
“We’ve made them aware of the fact that there will be more noise as you continue to win,” Kelly said after Adams rushed for 202 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown, in a 35-14 victory over North Carolina State. “Our process is to refocus on what’s important now. What’s important now is our preparation.”
And then, on Tuesday night, Notre Dame was ranked third in the initial College Football Playoff rankings , behind Georgia and Alabama and ahead of Clemson.
“I’m honestly giving you the truth in this answer: We just want to dominate this weekend (against Wake Forest),” Kelly said shortly before the rankings were released. “If we do that, we’d like three more chances. And then at the end of the year, if they say that (Notre Dame’s) one of the four best teams, that will be fine.”
After the Demon Deacons, the Irish play at No. 9 Miami, host Navy and close the regular season at Stanford. Including Wake Forest, Notre Dame’s remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .767 (23-7).
Kelly said he is confident his team knows exactly where it stands and how it needs to operate going forward.
“We talk about awareness,” Kelly said. “You can’t enhance until you’re aware. They’re aware. Look, if you embrace what you’re doing, people embrace you. If you don’t embrace what you’re doing, they’ll kick you to the curb. It’s the way it goes. They understand that. I’m pretty confident that they understand how to keep this thing moving in the right direction.”
Paced by a ball-hawking defense (11th nationally with 18 turnovers) and a ball-control offense that is averaging 317.9 rushing yards (sixth), Notre Dame has put together a website, 33trucking.com, to tout the postseason award prospects of Adams, offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, linebacker Nyles Morgan and others.
The primary focus, of course, is the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Adams, who has six games with more than 100 yards, four touchdown runs of 73 yards or longer and is averaging 146.1 yards a game (sixth nationally) and 8.86 yards per carry (third).
“It really is about offense, defense, special teams,” Kelly said Tuesday while speaking behind a rostrum on which sat a hat with the “33 Trucking” logo on it. “It’s all (about) working together to provide the opportunity for a guy like No. 33 (Adams’ jersey number) to be where he is. He doesn’t get to where he is without all 33 coming together as one.”
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson noted the challenge of facing the Irish along with a number of other top offenses.
“Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Notre Dame,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever defended a string of offenses like this in consecutive weeks that are all so different and all so efficient and so explosive and so good at what they do.”
As for those rankings, Morgan and Adams both missed the Tuesday night show.
“I feel like guys feel kind of like how I felt; outside looking in, it’s all hype,” Morgan said. “Heisman, playoffs, yada, yada, yada. I’m serious – we’re really just focused on beating Wake Forest.”
Fellow linebacker Greer Martini, a senior, said things do seem different on campus.
“There’s definitely a buzz,” he said Wednesday. “You go to class, guys are always saying congratulations. That wasn’t being said before Temple.”
Notes: Junior tight end Alizé Mack (concussion) is the only player doubtful for Wake Forest. Mack is in concussion protocol after suffering the head injury against N.C. State. Sophomore Tony Jones Jr. (hip) is receiving treatment but is not doubtful for Saturday. Morgan (shoulder), junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush (ankle sprain) and defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner (ankle sprain) are all practicing.