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  • Irish Battle Canes in Chicago Showdown

    by John Vannie

    Undefeated Notre Dame heads to Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday night to take on the University of Miami Hurricanes in this season’s Shamrock Series matchup. The 4-1 Canes are coached by Al Golden, who is attempting to rebuild the program with a youth movement in his second season after a 6-6 campaign in 2011 and the continued specter of player suspensions and NCAA sanctions. The Irish are coming off a bye week that came at an opportune time as several players were dealing with nagging injuries and starting quarterback Everett Golson was shaky against Michigan. The game will be televised nationally by NBC beginning at 7:30 PM Eastern time.

    It’s probably an understatement to view this game as a contrast in styles. Notre Dame has relied on a stout defense and solid execution on offense with few penalties and turnovers. Miami is an explosive offensive team that has managed to outscore most early season opponents despite defensive breakdowns and a rash of mental mistakes. Golden was asked about his efforts to prepare his team to play the Irish on a national stage, and offered the following:

    “It’s getting our kids to bunker down and block out external and really stay with the process. We didn’t do a great job with that when we went to Manhattan [Kansas]. We kind of unraveled and weren’t ready for that stage. Three weeks later, we’ll see if we’ve grown up. There really are no freshmen anymore. This is our fourth road trip. We want to see who can respond to this challenge.”

    Meanwhile, Coach Brian Kelly understands that his offense must be more productive going forward, but he will not discard the current style for breakneck speed if it opens the door to the drive-killing mistakes and turnovers that plagued his squad last season. “Yeah, we ran it fast last year”, he said earlier this week. “You saw what happened. We got a lot of speeding tickets, and a bad analogy. But clearly we want to be more of an offense that can have big play capabilities. We need to score more points, no question about that. We’re not scoring enough points. But as you can see, and it’s been the theme, we’re going to be careful with the football. We’re not going to be careless with it. Until we’re ready to amp it up, so to speak, we’ll be careful with the football.”

    The Irish will be relatively injury free, as defensive linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore and Sheldon Day have substantially recovered from leg injuries and wide receiver DeVaris Daniels is ready to go after being slowed by an ankle sprain. The Canes will welcome middle linebacker Denzel Perryman back to the lineup, but offensive tackle Ben Jones is out and defensive tackle Olson Pierre is questionable at best.


    Like most coaches during a bye week, Kelly has self-scouted his offense in an effort to modify any predictable patterns that will show up on film for Miami and future opponents. One-on-one instruction with Golson also took place to heal the bruises in his confidence and continue his education in reading blitzes and pass coverages.  Since the Irish have not trailed in a game this season, there is uncertainty as to whether they have the ability to come from behind. Late game-clinching drives against Purdue and Michigan were gratifying, but both were lead by Tommy Rees with Notre Dame ahead or tied. As of now (Thursday), it is not certain whether Golson or Rees will start on Saturday.

    The Irish would dearly love to score first in this game. Miami has quick strike capability and could put pressure on Notre Dame’s offense by jumping out to an early lead. The first offensive series represents an opportunity for Kelly to give the Canes a few looks they have not seen on film while also getting Golson comfortable in a big game should he get the call. Miami’s defense has allowed nearly 500 yards per contest and has only two seniors in the starting lineup in tackle Darius Smith and cornerback Brandon McGee.

    Perryman’s return helps out at linebacker in the Canes’ 4-3 alignment. He will be flanked by talented athletes in Eddie Johnson and Paul Gionni, who will rotate with Tyrone Cornileus. The front four has been inconsistent and has not pressured the quarterback to the extent Golden would like, but there is promise among several young players. End Shavon Green is the team’s leading tackler, which is a rare achievement for a lineman. If Pierre is unable to play, sophomore Jalen Grimble or one of several freshmen will have to fill in.

    The Canes have also been vulnerable to the pass, as teams average over 17 yards per completion against them. Golden is still searching for an answer at cornerback opposite McGee while three players (A.J. Highsmith, Kacy Rodgers and Deon Bush) share the duties at safety. While the overall team speed on defense is very good, Notre Dame can have success by keeping them off balance and taking advantage when young players inevitably become confused and miss assignments. We should also expect the Irish to throw the ball downfield a bit more in this game in search of a high impact play or two.

    Miami’s speed along the back seven and relative youth up front suggests that Notre Dame attack straight ahead in the running game. Traps and misdirection might also be effective, as fans are waiting impatiently for George Atkinson to get several touches in a game. Slow-developing running plays and bubble screens to the flat are not likely to be effective against the Canes.


    Junior quarterback Stephen Morris has been outstanding thus far for Miami, completing 60% of his passes for 327 yards per game. His last minute 62-yard bomb to Phillip Dorsett won last week’s game against North Carolina State and capped an ACC record 566 passing yards. In the past two games, Morris has thrown for  1,002 yards. Dorsett is the leading receiver and an emerging star. He is joined by Rashown Scott, Allen Hurns and Davon Johnson, all of whom have big play capability. Dyron Dye is at tight end along with Clive Walford, who is the better receiver.

    Morris is similar to Notre Dame’s Golson in that he is mobile behind the line but is not really utilized as a runner. The Canes have veteran Mike James and freshman sensation Duke Johnson at tailback. Both are productive in the ground game and are also used extensively as receivers out of the backfield. Johnson in particular is very dangerous in open space. This balance and overall team speed make it very difficult for any defense to contain Miami. Morris and company will certainly pose the greatest challenge that the Irish have faced to date. This quick strike attack has completed 12 of 26 scoring drives this season in under two minutes.

    The key for Notre Dame is to pressure Morris before his receivers have time to shake loose downfield. The Irish must also account for Johnson out of the backfield when Morris looks to dump the ball to him. If Morris has time in the pocket, the Canes will likely be able to create several big plays. Ideally, Notre Dame will be able to keep Miami on a long field and force them to fight for every yard. The relative youth and inexperience of the Canes are bound to surface if the Irish can control the line of scrimmage.

    A healthy Lewis-Moore and Day, along with stalwarts Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt give Notre Dame an advantage against Miami’s offensive line that features three sophomores and two juniors. Former national top recruit Seantrel Henderson has been a disappointment at right tackle, but may get the start due to the injury to Jones.


    Kyle Brindza will continue to handle the place kicking duties for Notre Dame as Nick Tausch is not yet fully recovered from a leg injury suffered earlier this season. Brindza has performed well, and his accuracy on field goals has been a difference-maker for the Irish. Miami counterpart Jake Wieclaw has not converted a field goal of more than 38 yards and missed three attempts last week.

    Johnson has returned a kickoff for a touchdown this season and usually puts the Canes in good field position, so Brindza’s ability to kick the ball through the end zone will be critical. Most of Wieclaw’s kicks are returned by opponents, which should mean that Atkinson will get opportunities for the Irish. Both teams have room for improvement in the punting game. Notre Dame’s Ben Turk has been inconsistent of late and Miami’s coverage team has surrendered quite a bit of return yardage.


    Notre Dame will have to score more than 25 points to win this game. Fortunately, the bye week gives Kelly an opportunity to recharge an offense that faltered for long stretches against Big-10 opponents. Miami is a talented team, but youth makes it vulnerable to mistakes. Note that Golden played 13 true freshmen against NC State. The Irish must take advantage of its strength in the trenches to put pressure on the Canes and force them into mistakes on both sides of the ball. Morris is a better player than he was two years ago against the Irish in the Sun Bowl, and he has been looking forward to this rematch.

    “I’ve been waiting for this game since freshman year”, he said. “It’s going to mean a lot to me and my family. It’s going to mean a lot to the program.” Although the emotions surrounding this contest are not as extreme as in the “Catholics vs. Convicts” battles during the Lou Holtz era, the special atmosphere created by the unique venue and national television will give both schools extra motivation. The teams are very much aware of the strong feelings held by former players on each side.

    Several former Miami players were allowed to visit the Canes practice facility this week.


    Here are a few questions that will be critical to the outcome:

    Can the Irish limit the number of explosive plays by Miami?

    Will either Notre Dame quarterback be able to throw the ball accurately and with authority?

    Which team will run the ball more effectively?

    Can the Irish pass rush generate enough pressure to reduce Morris’ accuracy and effectiveness?

    Which team will be more disciplined and mistake-free?

    Will the kicking game be a significant factor in the final result?

    Will Notre Dame be able to generate long plays of its own?


    Although the Irish are regarded as favorites, they may be overrated at this point until such time as the offense can provide the defense with a greater margin of error against a capable opponent. Golson’s maturity and ability to finish this game in competent fashion are vital if Notre Dame is going to have BCS level success this year, and this game is a key step in that process. If the Irish fall behind the explosive Canes by more than one score, I do not like their chances regardless of whether they have Golson or Rees at the helm. That said, the bye week should give Notre Dame a boost and make the difference in a hard-fought battle that will be closer than many people think.


    22 Responses to “Irish Battle Canes in Chicago Showdown”

    1. Miami’s offense has benefited from some pretty lousy defenses. I think that is the overrated squad coming in…and Vegas knows it. The only quality D they played, Kansas State, held them to 1.4 yards per carry and 222 yards passing, mostly when the game was long decided. They are ranked 45th at present in Total D.

      I watched the NC State game…it was sandlot football where Stephen Morris had all day to roll out and the skill players for BOTH teams had truck-sized holes to run through. My main point is this: is Stephen Morris and the “potent” Miami offense better than Denard Robinson and the Wolverines O?? Not a chance. This should not require 25 points to win, but the Notre Dame offense if they are ever going to execute, should at least be able to put up the same numbers as the NC State offense, with ease. Miami’s D is ranked about 115th out of 120 in defense. Notre Dame without the benefit of a Savannah State to shutout early in the season is 15th.

      This may be close, but it most certainly should not be. Turnovers are the only thing that keeps this thing tight. Otherwise the ‘Canes are way outclassed this year.

    2. This is Golson’s breakout game.
      ND 47
      Canes: 16

    3. This is one of the games that somewhat scares me as an Irish fan. Miami has fast team speed, unlike Michigan State or Purdue. Miami will test our defense in particular our secondary. We will see if the Irish are up to the challenge. Our offense needs to rev it up and score some points as this article suggests. I predict the Irish to win a close on as well 24-21. Golson must maintain composure throughout and cannot get rattled like he did in the Michigan game.

    4. Irish 84, Miami 0. Kidding of course, but I do not think this will be close. I stole the score from the OSU Sandlot state game.

    5. The thing about “disliking each other” is, at best, a marketing prank. At worst, it is a sorry excuse for squaring off. Just play the game with the required alacrity, and quit the tired “convict thing”.

    6. I agree with Kevin, this game scares me. Miami is much improved over the team that faced Kansas State and Jimmy Johnson has been much quoted in the local news about his disdain for Lou and ND. As of yesterday, the IRISH are 13.5 point favorites, which also gives me pause. The weather could be a factor for both teams. It’s an old cliche but “anything could happen.” GO IRISH!! beat Canes!

    7. I saw Miami play Boston College live. Two bad football teams.

      ND should have no problem pounding it between the tackles all day. This game could be over by half time.

    8. irishhawk50 says:

      I think this game will tell us if ND is over the hump and now regularly beats teams that it should easily beat on paper. I think this game will give us a good idea of where the Irish are going for the rest of the year. It shouldn’t be close (I hope). Go Irish!

    9. Sat, Sept 1 @Boston College W41-32 1-0 (1-0)
      Sat, Sept 8 @#21 Kansas State L52-13 1-1 (1-0)
      Sat, Sept 15 vsBethune-Cookman W38-10 2-1 (1-0)
      Sat, Sept 22 @Georgia Tech W42-36 OT 3-1 (2-0)
      Sat, Sept 29 vsNorth Carolina State W44-37 4-1 (3-0)

      Not exactly the toughest defensive teams in the country that Miami has faced so far. I agree that it will be a real challenge for the Irish, but let’s keep the UM offense in proper perspective.

    10. Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

      Although I’d prefer to see Golson start, the key question is whether Kelly will have done anything in the bye week to improve the speed and communication of the plays to the QB and whether his play-calling improves. Getting the plays to the QB would seem easy, particularly given that everyone’s wearing an arm band, but it seems like it takes forever for the QB to get the play and then he has to look at Kelly for 20 seconds after calling the play to get the check down. This sort of approach to play-calling leads to false start penalties and makes it very difficult for the offense to get and sustain any real rhythm. It will also be interesting to see if Cierre Wood gets more touches. He’s clearly been better than Riddick, but he’s gotten so few attempts, he must’ve been in Kelly’s doghouse. The D will be fine. The only question is whether the O takes care of business. Ables 35 Cains 21.

    11. You are spot on with the assessments of this game. The only difference i see is that Miami has not had a win against a good team, and they got blown out by a really good team. So it is hard to use their statistics as a gauge. Their speed is always a problem for nd and it almost turned the sun bowl game around two years ago. Remember that is is still nd and we tend to lose a game or two that we should win.

      Having said that…our lines dominate the game. If our offensive stays on the field and runs the ball effectively that will give our defense rest ( john madden comment). Secondary needs to cover their receivers to the whistle while our front four force Morris to throw on the run. I say the outcome is similar to the sun bowl, and eg has a good game. 30 to 20 nd.

      8-4 season until i am more sure that eg is more consistent. Then 9-3.

      • JDriveSthND says:

        ex long island dan:

        8-4? What are you smoking? We’re going to take at least one game off the USC, Stanford, Oklahoma trio. And we’ll win all the other remaining games. That’s 10-2. 8-4 after a 4-0 start is a bit pessimistic.

        John Vannie:
        Kelly had a Thursday press conference where he stated, again, that Golson was the starter. I’m not sure how many times he has to say it, but quit trying to add drama that isn’t there. Rees has really only relieved Golson once this season. I don’t count Purdue. Kelly could have and should have let Golson wrap that one up. He also should have called a running play for his senior RB Theo Riddick not his redshirt freshman QB on the run Golson fumbled. The fact Golson didn’t finish that game is more on Kelly than it is on Golson. Again, Golson’s the only reason we were in that game to begin with.

        • John Vannie says:

          Jason, multiple sources reported earlier on Thursday that Rees might indeed start. Perhaps that is what prompted Kelly to confirm later in the day that it would be Golson. In any event, I’m not trying to stir up anything. I simply reported what I heard from people I know and trust. Besides, I would be shocked if Rees were to sit on the bench for the entire evening. You might want to save some of your outrage for something more meaningful, like your inability to get a job outside of the fast food industry.

    12. I think we’re all ready for Golson to have his big “break out” game. Golson might very well be the future for Notre Dame, but having said that, without Rees, I think we’re sitting at 2-2 right now. Wouldn’t be shocked to see them both play Saturday night but hopefully, no offense to Tommy, it doesn’t come to that. I look for the running backs, especially Woods, to have a great game.

      I’m eager to see our defense stand up to a high power Miami offense. I hope after this weekend even more people will be exclaiming Manti for Hiesman!

      ND 21 – Miami 20. Go Irish!

    13. Meant to type, 31-20! Go irish!

    14. Without a doubt this is the kind of game ND has not been able to win in the past ten years. MSU away was the same kind of game we would have lost in past years. I think that was the signature win we have not had in a very long time. We need another … and Miami is the game. Michigan at home exposed M’s weakness and our D’s power. No way we can move forward without the same D effort and a revitalized Golsen offense that throws everything at Miami…mobile threat, running game and stellar passing. If we want to compete with the SEC we should look to this game and how well we handle a “fast team”. Miami may be fast but they are no Alabama or LSU both of which bring speed on both sides of the ball and a defense that kills. Let Golsen play BK …although young and mistake prone…he is the future. Tommy has been admirable in saving games but in the spotlight against heavy hitters like the SEC he does not match up. Not even close. If you have to take some lumps with Golsen..a few losses are still relevant in changing the face of the program. Remember Tony Rice and the teams of Lou…take what they give you and play to your strenghts. It worked..It can again with a defense strong enough to handle it.

    15. Mr. Vannie;

      If Coach Kelly does not allow Golson to run, and he has done so very few time so far, what is the advantage of having him at QB? His accuracy has been only average so far and his inexperience causes concern. Also, if Golson develops into a solid QB what happens next fall when Gunner Kiel is ready to play? Thanks, and I have enjoyed your astute and humorous take on ND football over the years!

      • John Vannie says:

        Tom, I think the issue is Rees’ limited ceiling. He is the best of the group right now at reading the defense and executing Kelly’s offense, but the investment in Golson and his greater athletic potential was meant to put the program in a better place by the end of the season. If Rees started this year as he did for most of last season, Kelly would have little choice next year other than to start him again as a senior. If the offense is ever going to progress beyond the limitations of Rees’ arm strength and athletic abilities, Kelly had to make the move this year. Let’s face it, Kelly’s job is secure right now, but another pair of 4-5 loss seasons in 2012-13 with Rees at the helm while Golson and Kiel sit would make his position a lot more dicey next November. By committing now to develop more talented QBs, he’s going to get the benefit of the doubt much longer and hopefully reap the rewards for his patience.

        It’s true that Golson’s progress has been slower than I’m sure Kelly would like, but the defense has saved the day. Kelly is also not reluctant to put Rees in the game if he thinks it gives him the best chance to win at that moment in time. I expect this scenario will continue, but hopefully the bye week will be beneficial for Golson and we’ll see a different QB than the one we watched against Michigan. As for Kiel, I doubt he will play this year but I believe he is the future of the program starting in 2013 unless the light really goes on for Golson and he takes full command of the offense. I see Rees as a capable backup but nothing more.

    16. ND 34- canes 10
      Defense too strong
      Week off Irish dominate

    17. Indy ND fan says:

      The defense is too good to waste this year. It’s win now. Leaving Golson in to take his lumps and perhaps lose…not going to happen. If comes down to it start Rees to get ND to BCS.

    18. golson not starting


    19. Great win last win… especially for the 30 and older ND fans who remember the “HEATED” days of this rivalry!

      Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, October is a daunting task for the IRISH including a match with BYU!

      Need to keep improving on the “O”line each week!

      Avoid any major injuries week in and week out is a key!!!!!

      Nice to have good feeling again on sunday morning about the IRISH…it has been along time!!!!