Greg Dortch, a redshirt sophomore receiver for Wake Forest, has vivid memories of last season’s loss at Notre Dame. It was one that saw cold and wet weather hit South Bend, Ind., saw Notre Dame pile up 710 yards of offense, 10 shy of a program record, and saw the Irish win 48-37 in a game that wasn’t really that close.
Dortch saw it all from his sister’s couch, having been released from the hospital earlier that day.
“Last year, I looked really forward to playing Notre Dame in that beautiful stadium, with that big ole crowd,” Dortch said. “So now this year, now that I get to play, just blessed. I’m looking forward to taking every advantage.”
The trip to Notre Dame last year was the first of five games Dortch missed because of his punctured small intestine, a freak injury sustained on one of his four touchdowns against Louisville. Dortch spent the week in the hospital, frequently visited by teammates and coaches and trying to come to grips with his breakout season abruptly ending after eight games.
Three games into this season, and so three games into Dortch’s return, he has taken almost every advantage. His 28 catches lead the ACC, and are eight more than the player in second. His 336 receiving yards are second in the conference. Dortch’s average of 224.7 all-purpose yards per game leads the country — last week’s 164 snapped a four-game streak with over 200 all-purpose yards.
Wake Forest hasn’t beaten a top-10 team since 1946, when the Deacons won at Tennessee. Dortch didn’t know that until this week.
Asked what a win would mean to the Deacons, given the historic significance, Dortch doesn’t get drawn into thinking about extra meaning or future rankings — although he does point out an aspect of why he’s such a good fit at Wake Forest.
“It would just mean we went 1-0 this week,” Dortch said. “They’re a really good team, they’re the eighth-ranked team in the country. We’re the underdogs right now — I’ve been an underdog my whole life, so I’m looking forward to this matchup.”
Notre Dame, with one of the top cornerbacks in college football (Julian Love) and another who’s a rising star (Troy Pride Jr.), will represent the 12th game in Dortch’s career and probably presents the toughest challenge. Love and Pride, and the rest of the Notre Dame secondary, play a lot of man-to-man coverage — in no small part because of the faith that defensive coordinator Clark Lea, a former Wake Forest assistant, has in their cover skills.
This also figures to be the first time the Deacons have their full stable of top-four receivers available. Dortch and redshirt freshman Sage Surratt have been the constants, while Coach Dave Clawson said earlier this week he was optimistic Alex Bachman and Scotty Washington will play.
“Notre Dame is obviously very comfortable putting them in positions against really good teams. So, it’ll be a challenge,” Clawson said of the Irish’s secondary. “Now, when we’re healthy, we think we’re really good at receiver. Obviously last week not having Bachman (against Boston College) was another, you know, another challenge for us.
“But hopefully we’ll get Bachman back and hopefully we’ll get Scotty back. I think when we’re at full strength at receiver, with having Bachman, Scotty and Sage, and Greg, I think we feel really good about that group.”
So, that part about Dortch taking almost every advantage of his chances this season?
The only reason the word “almost” exists there is because of a fourth-and-2 from Boston College’s 8-yard line last week. On that play, a beautifully lofted pass from quarterback Sam Hartman took Dortch into the back of the end zone, but he was unable to complete the catch. Wake Forest came away empty, giving the ball back to Boston College while trailing 28-24.
A few plays later, the Eagles scored on a 71-yard touchdown pass. The Deacons spent the rest of the fourth quarter unable to catch up.
And Dortch spent last weekend thinking about the play he didn’t make.
“I don’t know, it kind of got on me for two days, just thinking about it because we needed that play as a team, for me to step up and I didn’t make it,” Dortch said. “I just try to have a one-play mentality, so if I drop that ball … I just tried to move on to the next play.
“I don’t like to lose, so it’s just going to replay in my mind about what happened, until I get another chance.”
Dortch has moved on from last season. He’s moved on from last week’s loss to Boston College.
And his chance to make that next play comes against Notre Dame.