POSTED: 3:12 p.m. HST, Nov 17, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 4:50 p.m. HST, Nov 17, 2012
SOUTH BEND, Ind. >> Everett Golson threw touchdown passes of 50, 34 and 2 yards, Cierre Wood scored on a 68-yard run and third-ranked Notre Dame beat Wake Forest 38-0 Saturday to finish the season undefeated at home for the first time since 1998 and keep its national championship hopes alive.
The Fighting Irish improved to 11-0 for the first time since 1989 and need to beat Southern California to finish a regular season undefeated for the first time since 1988, the last time they won a national championship. The Demon Deacons (5-6) fell to 1-33 all-time against top 5 teams.
The victory virtually assures the Irish of a berth in a BCS game. The Irish need to beat USC and likely need either No. 1 Oregon or No. 2 Kansas State to lose to slip into the BCS title game.
But Notre Dame players and coaches have said all along they are focused only on what they can control, and on Saturday they were in total control of Wake Forest. The Irish hadn't scored more than 20 points at home in regulation all season, but had 31 points at halftime behind Golson's 317 yards passing — which was 28 yards more than the season-high he had against Purdue.
Fourteen of Golson's 17 first-half completions led to first downs. Golson finished with 346 yards on 20 of 30 passing with one interception. Wood rushed for 150 yards on 11 carries and Tyler Eifert had six catches, giving him 130 for his career, breaking the school record of 128 set by Ken MacAfee in 1977.
The Irish dominated on both sides of the ball, outgaining the Deacons 584 yards to 209. It was the first shutout for the Irish since a 35-0 win over Nevada in the season-opener in 2009 and their first shutout against a major conference team since a 42-0 victory over Rutgers in 2002.
Tanner Price was 22 of 33 passing for 153 yards for Wake Forest with his longest pass for 16 yards. The Irish held the Demon Deacons to 55 yards rushing.
After posting a 17-16 record at home the past five seasons, the Irish victory Saturday improved their record at Notre Dame Stadium to 6-0 this year. But this was the first time they made it look easy. The Irish needed overtime to beat Stanford, triple overtime to beat Pittsburgh and won the three other home games by a combined 13 points.
The game was the final home game for linebacker Manti Te'o and many Notre Dame students showed their respect by wearing yellow leis to honor their Hawaiian classmate who has played a key role in the Irish resurgence. Te'o, senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore and senior safety Zeke Motta left to standing ovations with 13 minutes left and Te'o spent the closing minutes going down the sideline hugging teammates.
The Irish took control from the start Saturday, with Wood taking a pitch from Golson and racing up the right sideline untouched for his 68-yard touchdown on the game's fourth play. Three plays later, Wake tailback Josh Harris caught a 13-yard pass but fumbled after a hard hit by Irish linebacker Carlo Calabrese and safety Zeke Motta recovered. Harris, Wake Forest's leading rusher, didn't play the rest of the game.
A 20-yard run by Wood set up a 2-yard TD pass by Golson to Eifert. The Irish went ahead 21-0 on their next possession on a 50-yard pass by Golson to John Goodman.
Wake Forest wasn't able to stop the Irish until Golson made a bad decision, lofting a 24-yard pass into the end zone that was intercepted by cornerback Allen Ramsey II with 11:32 to go in the second quarter.
But Notre Dame quickly added a 34-yard TD pass to TJ Jones and a 25-yard field goal to take a 31-0 halftime lead. The 31 points were more than the Irish had scored at home all season. George Atkinson III added a nine-yard TD run in the third quarter.
The Irish have won eight straight games at home overall, but the only victories by more than a touchdown were the first win, a 56-14 win over Navy on Oct. 29, 2011, and the win Saturday.
When Notre Dame went 11-0 in 1989, when the Irish were beaten by Miami in the regular season finale and finished the season ranked No. 2 behind the Hurricanes.
The last time the Irish headed to Los Angeles to play Southern Cal undefeated was a year earlier, in 1988, when the squad coached by Lou Holtz beat the second-ranked Trojans 27-10 en route to the school's last national championship.
Brian Kelly is seeking to lead to a second undefeated regular season in four years. His Cincinnati team finished the regular season 12-0 and finished third in the BCS rankings. He then left to take the job at Notre Dame before the Bearcats lost to Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
The Deacons need to beat Vanderbilt in the season finale to become bowl eligible.