October 1, 2017
By John Heisler
Miami head football coach Chuck Martin, a former Irish assistant coach for four years earlier this decade, played the retro weekend thing to full effect.
He led his RedHawks team on a Friday afternoon tour of Notre Dame campus sites and touched base with all kinds of friends and associates.
And, after all, it had to be a little bit strange being on the other sideline and competing against the likes of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, assistants Mike Elston and Harry Hiestand—and even Tom Rees, a guy who played quarterback in all of Martin’s seasons in South Bend.
Martin wouldn’t even have minded hearing the “Notre Dame Victory March” again.
But certainly not that often.
Martin needed earplugs after the Irish scored on a 73-yard Josh Adams run on the second play from scrimmage, two touchdowns in the first 3:24 and four in the first period.
If Martin had forgotten even one of the words or lyrics, he had been well-reminded after six touchdowns and a field goal gave Notre Dame a 45-14 halftime lead.
It ended in a 52-17 Irish victory, Notre Dame’s third in a row and 900th in history.
And the Irish approach and mindset were just what their head coach had hoped for.
“The one thing I’m so proud of is the progress we’ve made in a very short period of time,” Kelly told his players just before kickoff.
“It’s only been months, but it’s really been four games. Let’s not stand in the way of progress today. We have another step we have to take, and we talked about that the other day. That next step is a big step—exhibit mental toughness today. That’s accountability to each other in making sure we play up to our standard today.
“You’ve done incredible things in making each step along the way part of what we do as a football team. This is another important step today—to play to our standards. Don’t get in the way of that today. Exhibit that mental toughness--you have it in you, you’ve built it, trust your teaching. Go out there and play Notre Dame football for four quarters—not two, not three, but for four quarters.
“We start it and we finish it. It’s our stadium. This is our home. Last time we were in here we played with passion and purpose. Every time we step in this stadium we do the same thing. Mental toughness. Live up to the standards of Notre Dame football. We’re going to do that today.”
Then Adams went right up the middle the length of the field and it was 7-0 after 25 seconds on a perfect 66-degree evening.
Greer Martini’s first career interception came on Miami quarterback Gus Ragland’s third pass attempt—and Martini’s 42-yard return set up Brandon Wimbush’s eighth rushing score of the season (Oregon’s Royce Freeman is the NCAA leader with 10). That made it 14-0 with 11:36 to go.
Adams finished the next drive with a 59-yard dash to make it 21-7, and Wimbush’s seven-yard scoring throw to Chase Claypool in the final minute of the period made it 28-7 after a forced fumble by Jerry Tillery. The Irish outrushed Miami 158 to minus-nine in those first 15 minutes.
This much already was clear—the Irish were simply too big, too fast and too strong for Miami.
Adams did not even play after the first period, and yet the Irish offense kept on marching. His brief eight-carry night pushed him past George Gipp, among others, on the Notre Dame career rushing list.
Even Kelly, generally not prone to call for hype for his players, gave Adams a shout-out postgame, suggesting he deserved some national attention based on his play.
Wimbush completed only six balls in the first two periods, yet three went for scores and he ran for a fourth. The Irish had 348 total yards at intermission.
Kelly’s message at halftime was short and sweet:
“I’m proud of the way you competed in the first half. You didn’t look at who you played. You just decided to play to the standard you were going to play at.
“But this game is four quarters of football, it’s not just two. We don’t play a half, we play a full game. So everybody needs to be committed to playing this thing the right way. We’re not going to go out and be sloppy. We start off in the third period, our defense has got to get on and off the field and we’ve got to attack them. Let’s do it the right way.”
Miami drove 49 yards for a field goal on its second second-half possession, but give Notre Dame’s defense credit for ending the Miami scoring for good at that point.
Ian Book played the final period at quarterback for the Irish. He threw a beautiful ball 48 yards to Chris Finke, rushed 26 yards on a quarterback draw and then watched as rookie Deon McIntosh ran 26 yards for Notre Dame’s final points.
Credit Ragland, too, for a game effort for Miami. He finished with 262 pass yards on 19-of-37 throwing with a pair of TD tosses.
The Irish ended up with a 333-115 edge on the team rushing line.
“I know what I said on Monday,” Kelly said to his players after it ended. “I said we’ve got one more thing we’ve got to accomplish and I challenged you to show me that you’ve got the mental toughness after playing on the road back to back weeks, tough opponents, expend a lot of energy, get home at 3:30 in the morning last week –and then playing an opponent where you know you have more than them.
“Do you have the mental toughness to come out and play dominating football? Do you have that mental toughness? That was the question mark. Well, you answered that question –you’re (darn) right you do. Check that box. Check that box.
“Mental toughness, accountability—you did that. It was getting in early Sunday morning, it was 90 degrees Tuesday, you came back and were gritty in practice Wednesday, you were locked in Thursday and Friday. I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys that wants to achieve something so badly that you are willing to do all these things to put yourself in this position.
“You put yourself in this position. You’ve achieved these things together with the work you put in during the week. You are able to handle anything in front of you.
“We’ve got one more on the road this week---we’ve got to become road warriors and then we reset for the second half. So this is a big one.
“We’ve got grit, we’ve got resolve, we’ve got resilience, we’ve got the mental toughness to win every football game we play. I’m proud of every one of you. The coaches did a great job of preparation, but all of you in this room decided this is what you wanted. You put yourself in this position.
“Congratulations, great job.”
The Irish rank seventh nationally in rushing (301.4 yards per game). They are 14th in scoring (41.4 points per outing).
Adams is averaging 9.01 yards per carry and only three other players have rushed for more than his 658 yards (131.6 per contest).
Notre Dame remains perfect in the red zone (one of 12 teams that can say that), pushing its 2017 count to 22 of 22. And the Irish are 5-0 in the turnover count over the last two weeks, now ranking 15th nationally at plus-1.2 per game.
When Kelly talks about checking boxes, the Irish are making a habit of that.
Irish fifth-year offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey was one of many Irish players who connected with Martin--who Kelly after the contest called “a special friend.”
“I committed to him when I was being recruited here,” said McGlinchey who sought out Martin both before and after the game.
“He’s really a good guy.”
If Martin appeared to be a bit hard of hearing when McGlinchey chatted with him after the event, there was good reason.
Darned that “Notre Dame Victory March.”