Miami at No. 9 Notre Dame
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. NBC (at Soldier Field, Chicago)
Line: Notre Dame -12.5
No, Saturday’s matchup between Miami and Notre Dame won’t be one of those great “Catholics vs. Convicts” matchups of the late 1980’s, but to the credit of these two teams, this game looks much better now than it did on paper back in August. The Irish are 4-0 with back-to-back wins over ranked teams, while Miami has shocked the college football world with a 4-1 start.
Each team also has plenty of concerns entering this one as well.
So who’ll have the edge Saturday under the lights in Chicago?
Let’s take a look.
For Miami to Win: If they get a lead, the Hurricanes can’t give it away, something they’ve done in narrow wins over Georgia Tech and NC State the last two weeks. Against the Yellow Jackets Miami blew a 19-0 cushion, while the matchup with the Wolfpack saw them jump out 23-7, and by halftime of each game, those leads had disappeared.
The good news of course is that Miami managed to survive each of those games, and pull out a win. The bad news is the same won’t likely happen against Notre Dame. Not only are the Irish the No. 3 ranked scoring defense in college football (allowing a meager nine points per game) they haven’t allowed a second half touchdown in each of their last two games either. Not good for a Miami club which has relied on big second half rallies all season to pull out victories.
For Notre Dame to Win: It sounds super cliché, but man, they’ve just got to keep doing what they’ve been doing.
Now, do the Irish have the prettiest four wins in college football? Of course not. But 4-0 is 4-0, and right now the Irish are back on top, by going old school on their opponents. Notre Dame is undefeated thanks to the strength of the strong defense we mentioned, and a running game which features three solid backs (Theo Riddick, George Atkinson and Cierre Wood).
Yes, the wins have been ugly, but there’s a reason Notre Dame is 4-0. To get to 5-0, the Irish just need to continue to keep doing what they have been.
Key Player, Miami: While true freshman Duke Johnson has gotten a lot of hype this season, the difference between the explosive Miami offense we’ve seen the last two weeks and the struggles of the early season has been quarterback Stephen Morris.
I mean seriously, if I told you that Morris has accounted for over 1,000 yards passing in just the last two weeks, would you believe me? Only, it’s true. After putting up 436 yards against Georgia Tech two Saturday’s ago, Morris was even better against NC State, threw for a staggering 536 last week.
Granted, nobody is saying Morris will get similar numbers this week against one of the best defenses in college football. But if he can complete just enough passes to keep Notre Dame’s defense from crowding the line of scrimmage, the Hurricanes should be able to put up points. And if the Hurricanes can put up points, they can win against a Notre Dame club that doesn’t score many of their own.
Key player, Notre Dame: While he’s obviously the Irish’s “best” player, this week Manti Te’o is their most important one too. And it’s for all the reasons we’ve mentioned above.
That’s because while Miami looked like a pushover on paper back in August, they’ve evolved into the most dynamic offense the Irish have seen yet this season. No, the Hurricanes aren’t Michigan or Michigan State, two teams which rely solely on one player (in their respective cases, Denard Robinson and Le’Veon Bell, respectively) but instead have a handful of dynamic playmakers which can expose Notre Dame in the right opportunity. We’ve already mentioned Johnson and Morris, but Mike James is running the ball well too, and Philip Dorsett has become a go-to receiver.
Add in those explosive Miami playmakers with a Notre Dame offense that is inconsistent each week, and more and more it looks like the Irish are going to rely on their defense to carry them Saturday.
It’s a defense led by Te’o. And it’s a defense that will have to be at its best this weekend.
Key Stat: “0,” which incredibly, is the number of minutes that Notre Dame has actually trailed their opponents this year. As in they haven’t trailed their opponents. At all. Not once.
At some point that stat will likely change, and could come as soon as this weekend against this dynamic Miami offense.
The question now becomes whether or not it’ll be enough for the Hurricanes to pull off the upset.
For all his articles, opinions and analysis on college football, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.