Between 1987-1989, the winner of the annual game between Notre Dame and Miami went on to win the national championship. Since then, both programs have gone through their ups and downs. But on Saturday night, a game between Notre Dame and Miami will be back at the center of the college football universe, as it should be. The Irish come in at #3 in the CFP rankings, looking to bolster their resume against the undefeated and 7th ranked Hurricanes. ESPN’s College Gameday will be in Miami to set the scene for this massive showdown.
With their undefeated record and turnover chain, many are claiming “The U is back.” However, the Canes still have some doubters on the CFP committee, explaining their ranking behind 4 one loss teams. While they have had some scares against mediocre competition, an undefeated record has to be respected. Plus, the atmosphere at Hard Rock Stadium seems to harken back to the days of the old Orange Bowl. Notre Dame will face a difficult challenge to keep its playoff hopes alive. If the Irish can survive they’ll be just two wins away from a playoff berth. Lose, and the dream is over. Let’s take a look at the matchups in this one.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Miami Defense
Notre Dame has displayed a dominant running game all season. The Irish rank first in the county in yards per carry at over 7 yards per attempt. Josh Adams will be back at 100% after carrying the ball just 5 times last week. In their biggest game of the season, the Irish cannot go away from their strength. Expect Notre Dame to run the ball at least 40 times in this game, and maybe even 50 times. The Irish’s veteran offensive line led by Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson should be able to create some holes for Adams, Wimbush, and others.
In the passing game, the key is for Brandon Wimbush to avoid mistakes. While he has not turned the ball over recently, Miami is the most aggressive defense Wimbush will have faced. As good as Notre Dame’s offensive line is, Wimbush will face pressure and have to make throws in tight spots. Although the Canes have an athletic secondary, they were burned by Kevin Stepherson last year and I think he will have another big play in this one. Wimbush may only throw 20 passes in this game, but he can still be extremely effective as long as he avoids mistakes.
The strength of the Miami defense is the front seven. Some analysts have even gone as far as saying every player in the front seven will play in the NFL at some point. Though I’m not sure I would go that far, it is an impressive group. Defensive tackles RJ McIntosh (brother of ND RB, Deon) and Kendrick Norton combine with ends Joe Jackson and Chad Thomas to form an imposing front four. Beyond the line of scrimmage, linebackers Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, and Jaquan Johnson have shown tremendous athleticism. Manny Diaz’s aggressive style of defense has allowed this group to thrive and lead the nation in tackles for loss per game.
Along with an imposing front seven, the Canes have a great group of playmakers in the secondary. Michael Jackson leads the group with four interceptions. Every member of the secondary wants to pick off a pass not just to help their team, but to put on that turnover chain. As much as it may seem like a gimmick, it has gotten into the head of Miami’s opponents all season. Brandon Wimbush will have to be cautious with the football in this one. Although the Canes have great talent at every level of the defense, I don’t believe they can take Notre Dame’s physicality for four quarters. Miami ranks just 67th in the country against the run, and they have yet to face an offensive line group nearly as physical as Notre Dame’s.
Edge: Notre Dame
Miami Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
The Miami offense has been rather inconsistent this season. The Hurricanes have not scored 30 points in their last five games. While they may not be an elite unit, quarterback Malik Rosier and company have certainly been clutch. When Miami needed a drive in the final minutes against Florida State, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina, Rosier came through. The redshirt junior QB has been aided by an athletic receiving corps featuring Braxton Berrios, Christopher Herndon, and Ahmmon Richards. The Canes will rely on the speed of their receivers to get over the top of this Irish defense. Rosier will have to be careful with the football as well though, as he has thrown 7 interceptions this season.
At running back, Travis Homer has filled in admirably for the injured Mark Walton. Homer has great speed, as shown by his long touchdown against Virginia Tech. However, the Canes offensive line has struggled at times this season. It could be difficult for Miami to pick up short yardage when they need it.
It has been well documented that Notre Dame played its worst defensive game of the season against Wake Forest. I’m sure it was a difficult week of practice for the Irish. In a top-10 matchup, I don’t expect another letdown on defense. The defensive line led by Jerry Tillery, Jay and Daelin Hayes should have the advantage against an average Canes offensive line. The secondary will face a major test against the speed of the Canes, but I believe Julian Love will come up with another interception in this one. With the way Notre Dame’s offense has played this season, the defense won’t need to be perfect, but they will play well enough to win the game.
Justin Yoon is a solid kicker from short to medium range, but may have lost some of the range he used to have. Tyler Newsome has shown flashes of being a great punter, but can be inconsistent. Kick returner C.J. Sanders nearly took a kick to the house last week, and there couldn’t be a better time for him to do it than this week.
Michael Badgley is a solid 12/14 on the season at kicker for Miami. Punter Zach Feagles has struggled a bit as he has averaged under 40 yards per punt on the season. Thankfully, the Hurricanes won’t have Ed Reed or Devin Hester returning kicks. However, Braxton Berrios has averaged over 16 yards per punt return.
Some critics are still doubting the legitimacy of Miami this season. However, after their performance last week against Virginia Tech it is clear this is not just smoke and mirrors. On the other hand, the Hurricanes have not faced a team that is close to as physical as Notre Dame. I would be shocked if the Irish were held under 200 yards rushing in this one. The aggressiveness of the Hurricane defense will lead to some negative plays, but it will also open up gaps for big runs. Along with running the ball, turnovers will be key in this one. In order for Miami to win, I believe they would have to have at least a +2 turnover margin. Against an Irish team that protects the ball and forces turnovers on the other side, that will be difficult to do. This will be an exciting game, but in the end the Irish just have too much size and experience on the offensive line.
Notre Dame 31 Miami 21
Tailgate Song of the Week
With this game being in Miami, I had plenty of options. I could go with Mr. Worldwide, Will Smith, Rick Ross, or old Uncle Luke. Still, this rivalry will always be defined by the 1980s and there’s nothing more 80s than Crockett, Tubbs, and Miami Vice. Hopefully, this one turns out just as well as 1988!