|Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o leaves the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday for the final time as an Irish player. Te'o led a strong defensive effort in a 38-0 win over Wake Forest. (US Presswire)|
Ever the son of a Boston politician, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly adroitly sidestepped a question about the Irish's national title chances following last Saturday's victory over Boston College.
Neither next week's game at Southern California, nor the final BCS standings mattered, Kelly insisted, if his team overlooked Wake Forest in Saturday's home finale. Heeding Kelly's message, Notre Dame led 31-0 at halftime and coasted in the second half for a 38-0 win.
With the victory, the Irish are 11-0 for the first time since 1989. Kelly's team is in good company. Of the seven previous Notre Dame teams to start a season 10-0, five won the national championship. The other two finished No. 2 in the nation.
Notre Dame also completed its home schedule undefeated for the first time since 1998. “For us to go undefeated at home was a goal for us,” Kelly told NBC after the game. “We're really pleased.”
The dominating win also underscored the continued maturation of QB Everett Golson. The redshirt freshman went 20 of 30 for a career-high 346 yards and three touchdowns before leaving the game in the third quarter. Eight Irish receivers had a reception.
Showcasing his arm strength, Golson had three completions of 34 yards or more, including touchdowns to WRs John Goodman and TJ Jones. When Goodman made a sprawling 50-yard catch for a touchdown in the second quarter, it marked the third time he caught a touchdown this season. Half of Goodman's six catches have resulted in scores.
“I think we're playing better offensively,” Kelly told NBC. “We know we've got a great defense, an emerging offense and a great quarterback that is coming together. We're playing good football right now. But we're going to have play good next week at USC.”
Golson also hit TE Tyler Eifert on a jump ball in the left corner of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown early in the first quarter. Eifert had six catches for 85 yards, setting a school record for career receptions by a tight end (129). Ken McAfee had held the record for the last 35 years.
Notre Dame has arguably surpassed Miami (Fla.) in earning the moniker of Tight End U. in recent seasons. Three of Eifert's predecessors -- Vikings TEs Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson, as well as Dolphins TE Anthony Fasano -- have put up productive numbers early in their respective professional careers.
“It meant a lot, it was a lot of hard work,” Eifert told NBC on setting the record. “I'm happy it's over, and I'm just thankful to have a lot of good guys around me to share the experience.”
Ground attack keyed by Wood: Notre Dame senior RB Cierre Wood opened the scoring with a 68-yard run for a touchdown in the first two minutes. The run was reminiscent of Wood's 62-yard first quarter touchdown against Oklahoma in the Irish win over the Sooners last month.
Wood finished with 150 yards on 11 carries. He entered this week with a 5.33 yards per carry career average -- good for the top 5 all-time among Irish backs.
Notre Dame finished with 221 yards on 30 carries, the sixth time this season it has rushed for 200 yards or more. RB George Atkinson III capped the scoring with a 9-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Picture perfect end to home career for LB Te'o: It was fitting that senior LB Manti Te'o ended his home career at Notre Dame by helping the defense pitch a shutout. As a true freshman in 2009, Te'o had two tackles in his first career game at Notre Dame -- a 35-0 win over Nevada. It was the last time the Irish shut out an opponent.
Te'o's parents, Brian and Ottilia, made the long trip from Hawaii to be in South Bend for senior day. The school also distributed hundreds of Hawaiian leis to the fans in the student section. Te'o, a fan favorite, could be invited to New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy next month.
“When I saw my parents crying I tried to hold it in,” Te'o told NBC after the game. “It was a special experience. I'm just so grateful to be part of this school and the tradition.”
(For more on the game, check out CBSSports.com's Eye on College Football blog)
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on Notre Dame football, follow bloggers Evan Hilbert and Matt Rybaltowski @CBSBigEast.