This isn’t exactly the “Catholics versus the Convicts” of the late 80′s but the rivalry between the Miami Hurricanes and Notre Dame Fighting Irish is back. Miami is a very young team that was expected to struggle out of the gate. Outside of the shellacking they took from the Kansas State Wildcats they have been impressive. Nice victories at the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, despite blowing a big early lead, and another near choke against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at home have led to some early buzz for a possible ACC title run. Notre Dame meanwhile is on track to perhaps make a run back at a BCS bowl game. We’ve seen Irish teams threaten before early but they didn’t have big wins over two ranked squads in the Michigan State Spartans on the road and the Michigan Wolverines at home, not to mention a victory over a very good Purdue Boilermakers squad. What looked like a one sided battle a few weeks into the 2012 season should instead be one of the highlights of a wild Saturday across college football.
OFFENSE: Both teams are filled with play makers who don’t tend to show up to the party. Notre Dame’s quarterback situation is still a mess with head coach Brian Kelly clearly wanting to go with sophomore Everett Golson thanks to his athleticism and potential but he just can’t quite pull the trigger. So enter junior Tommy Rees. He’s been the closer for the Irish in close games and has done a fine job. However, I’d stay with Golson and lean heavily on the Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick led running game. Stay “old school” in this modern era despite Kelly’s penchant for explosive offenses in the past.
Miami has elevated their play behind junior quarterback Stephen Morris. He was just ridiculous against NC State throwing for over 550 yards including a late bomb that won the game. I can’t wait to see how he performs against the multiple blitz pressures from Notre Dame’s defense. My bet? Not good. He’s a guy that generally won’t stand tall and make the tough throw. Therefore, Canes head coach Al Golden better hope freshman speedster Duke Johnson gets back on track. He burst on the scene in Week 1 against the Boston College Eagles but has been put back in a box since then. I’d try to get him involved in the passing game early. Flex him out wide and then throw in a variety of screens and draws when he’s in the backfield. Traditional inside running won’t work against the Irish who held down Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell and Purdue’s Akeem Shavers. Different runners, same problem.
DEFENSE: Notre Dame is living through their defense and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Their speed and power combination up front has protected a somewhat shaky secondary. They have perhaps the best 3-4 line in the country with Louis Nix III, Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore. Everyone knows what linebacker Manti Te’o does in the middle showing virtually no weaknesses in his game all year long. Miami’s “D” on the other hand has some problems. They are getting gashed in the run game although those numbers are skewed a bit since they played a triple option Georgia Tech team. One of the keys to plugging that leak is starting defensive tackle Olsen Pierre. However, he isn’t expected to play due to injury. Therefore, the defense will continue to have to rely on turnovers to sustain their offense and this Notre Dame just isn’t giving the ball up.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Miami has a slight edge and you can thank the “Johnson jitterbug” for that. He’s already taken a kick return to the house earlier this season. Once he gets to top speed in the open field….. lookout. If it comes down to a kick late I’m taking the Irish sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza. Miami’s kicker Jake Wieclaw still hasn’t made a field goal over 40 yards this season.
PREDICTION: Both teams are reading the papers and hearing the buzz for this one. Notre Dame even had Adidas create a special uniform for their “Shamrock Series” collection. I expect the Irish to start slow but take control in the 3rd quarter as their running game finally has that breakout game. If they can do that, it sets up a huge matchup with a ranked Stanford Cardinal team next week at Notre Dame Stadium. For now….Notre Dame 30 – Miami 17.