There was a time when this rivalry was so saturated and intense that after (roughly) a 7-game series from the early 1980’s through 1990 the powers-that-be decided it was best to take a break from Notre Dame-Miami football games. Since that break these programs have kind of mirrored each other a little bit. The big and obvious difference was that Miami claimed a title in 1991 before quickly falling into scandal and struggles during the remainder of the 1990’s and then had a 4-year run of white hot fire in the early 2000’s that seemed to last much longer in retrospect.
Notre Dame (-3.5) at Miami
Hard Rock Stadium
Miami Gardens, Florida
Date: Saturday, November 11, 2017
Time: 8:00 PM ET
Series: 18-7-1 Notre Dame
Miami’s mid-2000’s and onward wandering has been well documented to this point. They entered the ACC in 2004 and still haven’t won the conference once, haven’t had a season with fewer than 3 losses, and won their first bowl game last fall for the first time since 2006.
In 1️⃣9️⃣9️⃣0️⃣, No. 6 @NDFootball beat No. 2 Miami.
— The Fighting Irish (@FightingIrish) November 9, 2017
Right now, Miami appears to be “back” in the sense of being in place to win the ACC and possibly win a major bowl game. They’re also deep in the playoff race even if they’re not quite as well respected as other undefeated teams. This Saturday, the Irish and Canes meet again in the highest ranked matchup since that fateful 1990 series halter in South Bend. Now, Notre Dame travels down to south Florida.
3 Matchups to Watch
Stopping the Possession & Explosiveness from Miami’s Pass Catchers
If Nevin Shapiro could’ve created a Miami football player in a lab to ball out on the field and hang out with off the field that player would be receiver Braxton Berrios. The 5’9″ receiver teams up with 6’4″ tight end Chris Herndon to catch 68 passes this year for a super possession-y 866 yards.
Those seniors are backed up by sophomore Ahmmon Richards and true freshman Jeff Thomas who have only caught 28 passes combined this year but for a healthier 590 yards. We may see Berrios and Herndon get theirs underneath but the difference could be Richards and Thomas down field.
Miami’s Rush Defense vs. #33Trucking
The Hurricanes turned in their best rush defense performance of the year last week (43 carries, 102 yards) against a so-so Virginia Tech rushing offense. Otherwise, Miami’s defense hasn’t been all that impressive stopping the rock on the ground against a pretty easy run of a schedule.
That’s why their rush defense is ranked 82nd overall by S&P and they’re coming up against the No. 2 rushing offense according to S&P so this should be a major advantage for the Irish.
The Rise of Malik Rosier
Miami is averaging 2.8 points per game fewer than last year while the defense is giving up 0.9 points fewer per game. Quarterback Brad Kaaya left early this past spring (6th round pick by Detroit, cut by the Lions, signed by Carolina, cut by Carolina, signed by Detroit, cut by Detroit and placed on the Lions practice squad) and junior Malik Rosier has stepped into the starting job and has completed 6% fewer passes, already has the same picks (7) as Kaaya last year, and is hovering right around the same YPA as his predecessor from last fall.
And yet, the feeling across the country is that Rosier is taking Miami to a different place based on his play. It doesn’t totally feel like it adds up but his legs (295 yards on 82 carries) are definitely a major upgrade to Kaaya who was one of the least mobile quarterbacks in the country last year.
2 Stats to Consider
31.2% 3rd Down
Miami’s 3rd down conversion rate at 31.2% is really quite poor. That places them 118th nationally and 7th worst among Power 5 teams. If you look at the other teams in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff poll they average just over 16th nationally converting 3rd downs with 6 teams among the Top 13 percentage wise.
The Canes counteract this a bit by not getting into many third down scenarios. Their 96 attempts in 8 games is 2nd fewest nationally. If the Irish can force Miami into more 3rd downs than usual that’s a big win.
The run game for Miami is pretty weird. Junior Mark Walton looked unstoppable in their first 2 games (27 carries, 352 yards) then hit a brick wall in the next 2 ACC games (29 carries, 76 yards) before being hurt for the rest of the season. Sophomore Travis Homer has stepped in and mostly played quite well, coming off 6.79 per rush last week against Virginia Tech thanks to a 64-yard scamper.
Game respect game. That’s a great t-shirt.
Miami is 17th nationally in rushing average (5.36 YPC) and they are ranked the 23rd rushing attack according to S&P, too. Yet, they’re only 76th nationally in total rushing yards. With Walton out, they are almost exclusively reliant on Homer carrying the ball plus some attempts from Rosier.
Believe me, I want to completely dismiss Miami suddenly becoming a national power again. I love what commentator Underthrown Shoelace said earlier this week: “It just feels a year or two too early for the U.”
There were plenty of signs pointing to a good season for the Canes, though. They were bringing back a lot of starters and even though they suffered a bumpy middle of the 2016 season they finished with 5 straight wins, including over a pair of AP-ranked teams at season’s end. They were relatively young, gaining a ton of experience, pre-season #18, and the ACC Coastal division looked there for the taking more so than in recent memory.
The loss of Kaaya to the NFL was believed to put a damper on major expectations and I know that’s what I thought before the season. Yet, here they are possibly one game away from an undefeated regular season (UVA & Pitt should be wins) with arguably worse quarterback play than a year ago. Miami hasn’t scored more than 28 points in their last 5 games and still they remain unbeaten.
Something doesn’t quite add up and I know Irish fans can smell it.
A couple things that stand out to me if you’re pessimistic about Miami’s chances. One, using recruiting rankings this isn’t a very talented team by any means. Their 4-year Composite average is just over 18th nationally. In other words, their talent is closer to TCU and South Carolina than it is Georgia or LSU.
Secondly, this is a very untested Miami team that really hasn’t proven that much during this season. As a Notre Dame fan I can attest to the fact that this has the look and feel of a program whose brand has arrived before its football team has actually earned it on the field. After all, there’s a reason they’ve only moved up 11 spots in the AP over 2.5 months and why they are home underdogs against the Irish.
In a weird way, if Notre Dame was 8-0 with Miami’s schedule and exact same outcomes I have no doubt that the majority of the country would be extremely skeptical of the Irish. It’s just so many people are starving to have “Da U” back in their lives whether they want to admit it or not.
The problem with this narrative is that it sometimes doesn’t take much for a program to truly flip the switch. As I mentioned above, if the Canes win this weekend in a snap of a finger they could be in the ACC Championship with a playoff berth on the line. And to be fair, Miami is on a 13-game winning streak, has won their last 3 games against ranked opponents, and are a solid 5-3 against their last 8 teams over .500 in the Power 5 conferences.
Mark Richt and his team should be plenty confident and it may not mean much but Notre Dame has lost its last 5 games on the road against Miami, all inside the old Orange Bowl. The last road game in the series was 1989!
This is Notre Dame’s time, though. Miami’s doing their thing this year but they are probably a 10-3 type of team that’s going to be grabbing a ton of magazine covers going into 2018. I think this will be a sweaty, humid, and close game with Josh Adams punching his ticket to the Heisman ceremony in New York City.
- WINNER: Notre Dame 36 Miami 30 (2OT)
- VS. SPREAD (-3.5): Notre Dame
- OVER/UNDER (57.5): Over
- SPECIAL: ’88 GAME REFERENCES (12.5): Under