by Mike Coffey
Our guest author this week is jakam31
For the first time since 1990 the Miami Hurricanes make a trip to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Unlike that meeting when both teams were ranked in the top-10 and in the national title hunt, this game will feature two teams that are trying to turn their seasons around. Led by Mark Richt in his inaugural season as head coach, Miami was ranked as high as #10 back on October 8th but a three game slide (including a blowout loss 37-16 last week at Virginia Tech) has put their record at 4-3 and all but taken them out of contention in the ACC Coastal.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame comes off a bye-week that was filled with headlines as Jack Swarbrick gave a vote of confidence for embattled coach Brian Kelly stating, “Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel next year.” With a 2-5 record casting a long shadow, Kelly will have to try and rally the troops to salvage a season that started with the Irish ranked in the top-10 of most major polls. Despite Deshone Kizer being considered as a top-5 pick next spring and a change at defensive coordinator, things have gone from bad to worse in recent weeks. A stubborn game plan in hurricane conditions at NC State was followed by a lackluster performance against a Stanford team that ranks near the bottom of every major offensive category nationally. A strong performance this week is imperative if Kelly hopes to silence his critics.
There are a few storylines worth mentioning as this has the potential to be a showdown between Kizer and Miami’s Brad Kaaya, which could mean a lot of offense on Saturday afternoon. This game might be of greater urgency for the Hurricanes as the most difficult part of their schedule is over and this is an opportunity to build some momentum down the stretch. The weather forecast so far has temperatures in the mid-60s at kickoff, which should have little effect on the visitors from the south.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Miami Defense
Since a three game stretch where Deshone Kizer threw for almost 1200 yards, he has not been able to get going in either of the last two contests. Part of that was the weather in Raleigh three weeks ago but against Stanford the passing game had a particularly difficult time as the Cardinal defense held Kizer to just 154 yards on 14-26 passing. With Miami ranking 26th in the country at just under 200 YPG given up through the air, this is not an easy matchup for Kizer by any stretch. Statistically speaking the Canes have had trouble with mobile QBs this year so do not be surprised if Kizer ends up with 50 yards on the ground and a rushing TD this weekend.
A lot of Miami’s success defending the pass will depend on the health of safety Rayshawn Jenkins who went down with a leg injury in the third quarter last Thursday. He returned to practice today but if he can’t go that will make two starting DBs (CB Sheldrick Redwine is the other) who could be out for the Canes.
If Jenkins does end up being out, this would be a nice time to get the tight ends involved in the passing game as there were issues with the package changes with Jaquan Johnson moving from Nickel to Safety and Malik Young taking his place. Young was picked on quite a bit last week and I think this sets up as a potential monster game for Equanimeous St. Brown. He presents the biggest problem for the Miami secondary and is developing into a very good receiver. If Kelly is willing to move him around in the slot he could potentially see quite a bit of Malik Young in a matchup ESB will win with regularity.
I am hopeful to see more of Dexter Williams, Josh Adams and Tarean Folston (who looked as good as he has all year against Stanford), because teams have had success attacking Miami on the ground. Last week Virginia Tech used some two fullback formations (yes, that’s within the rules) to steamroll a banged up Hurricane front-7. The good news for Miami is that stud DE Chad Thomas is on track to return on Saturday. If that happens, he will combine with DT Kendrick Norton to boost the defensive line, which will make the task slightly more difficult for Harry Heistand’s group. This is a positional battle to watch as Kizer has not been the beneficiary of a clean pocket and if Thomas gets loose he could make things difficult. Overall I would give the edge to Miami up front on defense assuming they get Thomas back and Norton is close to 100%.
Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz understands the importance of this rivalry and he was quoted earlier in the week as saying that beating Notre Dame is a “big, big deal in this town and a big thing for this University.” If Miami gets some of their injured guys back on defense the dynamic of the game certainly changes. As of right now the best-case scenario for ND is that Jenkins and Redwine remain out so the matchups for the Irish receivers move into the plus range. In general I think Kizer will have a very good game (likely well over 300 total yards) but taking care of the football will be critical. Notre Dame cannot afford to lose the turnover battle because this team is simply not good enough to overcome lost offensive opportunities. Hopefully Kelly tweaked some things offensively over the break and the Irish come out looking more consistent as a unit.
Miami Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
Brad Kaaya was sacked eight times last week against Virginia Tech.
Notre Dame has six sacks on the season.
Something has to give, right?
Maybe. Or we might just see college football’s worst game of pattycake ever played on turf. In all seriousness, the Miami OL is depleted and lacks anything resembling depth. Kaaya was getting hit on the majority of his throws last week and had a noticeable limp in the 2nd half. For as bad as the OL as been, Richt refuses to lay blame on any one person:
“We don’t blame anybody,” Richt said. “We correct. … I’m responsible for everything. I’m the head coach. I’m not going to sit here … All I’ll tell you is when we meet, everybody’s got a piece of this pie, so to speak. Everybody’s got a job to do. Everybody’s got a responsibility to do. And it’s everybody. It starts with coaches. And it just goes through the players as far as maybe an assignment here, or a technique here. Sometimes you get whipped on a particular play. … These teams we’re playing, they give out scholarships too. They’re going to make plays. … We see the issues, we coach them, we correct them and we try to make sure they don’t happen in the future.”
Well said, coach.
If the Irish cannot get to Kaaya it will be a long day as the Canes talented receivers will challenge the secondary and are led by senior Stacy Coley and true freshmen Ahmmon Richards. Coley is their leading receiver with 352 yards and six TDs. He played quite a bit in the slot last week and if he continues to get motioned around in different formations there is potential for him to have a big day. Richards roams mostly on the outside and has impressive size for a true freshman. There is a good chance that Cole Luke will be assigned to him which should be a good matchup to watch.
The Hurricanes also have two talented running backs in Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby who have combined for over 1100 yards and 14 TDs. Yearby had the hot hand against Virginia Tech last week and is averaging almost 7 yard per carry. With the number of weapons in Miami’s offense, they should have little problem moving the football. The Irish defense will have to do something to slow down the running game because opening up play action for Kaaya would spell big time trouble for ND.
The Notre Dame return teams have been better than usual this year with CJ Sanders averaging almost 25 yards a return and he has a touchdown as well. While Miami kicker Michael Badgley doesn’t have an overpowering leg, the Hurricanes do a nice job of covering kickoffs. On the other side Braxton Berrios also has a punt return TD to his credit this year and the Irish need to be sure to take care of their assignments or else they see him go for #2. Tyler Newsome has not been especially impressive this year and in a game where the teams are this evenly matched, a big special teams play may make a difference.
Beyond the obvious turmoil surrounding both programs and their recent struggles, these are two historically proud teams that still bring plenty to the table in terms of name value. With the Miami defense seemingly being as healthy as it has been in weeks, this game may come down to Deshone Kizer and if he can regain his form from earlier in the year. It will be doubly important for Kizer to take care of the football because the Irish cannot afford to lose the turnover battle and still hope to win.
One thing working in Kelly’s favor is that he is 7-1 coming off a bye-week at Notre Dame so there is some evidence that this might be an Irish victory. Kaaya and Kizer are two of the top QBs in the country and there are plenty of playmakers on both teams so there should be plenty of points to go around. Let’s look at some questions that may help determine the outcome:
Can the Irish defense sack Kaaya three or more times?
Does Chad Thomas record two sacks of Kizer himself?
Will Miami be able to stop Kizer after getting shredded last week?
Will Yearby and Walton combine for over 150 yards rushing?
Will Brian Kelly give an ND running back more than 9 carries?
Did Kelly pay any attention to the defense during the bye week or will it be more of the same?
Will there be blue or green smoke when Notre Dame comes out of the tunnel?
Bonus Question: Will Doug Flutie’s head explode during the broadcast?
I want to pick Notre Dame because they are coming off the bye week and Kelly tends to do ok when he has additional time to prepare. Kizer is the better QB in the matchup and in a game like this that should make a difference but I keep coming back to a healthy Miami defense and how the potential return of three starters will bolster that unit. I think that there is a formula ND could use to win this game but the issue is that Kelly is wedded to his system and after the last week he is likely to try and show people his way is the only way. Kaaya can make enough plays and the running backs for Miami get going in a big way.
Miami 31 Notre Dame 24