Oct. 28, 2016
Notre Dame-Miami 2016: Five Things to Watch
By John Heisler
Irish head coach Brian Kelly's 2016 Notre Dame football team returns to Notre Dame Stadium Saturday to play host to Miami following a week off. Here are five things to watch as the Irish play their fifth of six home games of the '16 season:
1.Both these teams are well-rested.
Miami has lost three in a row, and the last of those three came on the road at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night (October 20). So the Hurricanes have had two extra days to prepare for the Irish. Notre Dame, meanwhile, enjoyed an open date last weekend and, with the combination of a week off from classes for fall break, most of the Irish players had a handful of days to head home or otherwise rest. That means fans should expect both teams to come in healthier, better rested and better prepared than they've been for a game in a while.
2. Can the Irish make Miami one-dimensional?
The Hurricanes combined for 13 rushing scores over their first three victories, but ground yardage has come much tougher in Atlantic Coast Conference play. Over the last four league contests Miami has averaged 89.25 yards per game in that category—after averaging 272 per contest in its three nonleague wins. Meanwhile, Notre Dame's rush defense has been trending in a better direction. After allowing at least 208 rushing yards in three of their first four outings, the Irish now have permitted only an average of 153 per game over their last three contests. The Hurricanes roared out of the gate in the rushing department with 373 yards in their opener versus Florida A&M—then went down in that category in each of their next four games (279 yards, 164, 114, 62).
3. The Irish face good quarterbacks the rest of the way—and Brad Kaaya is one of them.
Notre Dame's final five games feature challenges for the Irish defense based on who opponents project at quarterback. Miami's Brad Kaaya threw for 323 yards and two scores last week against Virginia Tech and earlier threw for 385 and three TDs versus Appalachian State. Kaaya already has 8,132 career passing yards and 54 career passing TDs—more TD passes than Miami greats Gino Torretta, Steve Walsh and Vinny Testaverde. Kaaya has nine career 300-yard passing efforts—and the only other active ACC player with that many is Clemson's Deshaun Watson. Kaaya was sacked eight times last week by Virginia Tech, yet that has not been a Notre Dame strong suit (six sacks in 2016) this season. In other action Thursday night, USC's Sam Darnold led the Trojans to their fourth straight win with five touchdown passes (and his team finished with 629 total yards) against California, while Virginia Tech's Jerod Evans threw for 406 yards in leading his 6-2 team to a road win over Pittsburgh.
4. It sounds like a broken record, but ...
This is how close the Irish have come to winning in their five defeats in 2016:
-- In a double overtime loss at Texas, the Irish had a 35-31 lead and the ball with 8:35 left.
-- In an eight-point loss to Michigan State, the Irish had the ball at their own 29 with 4:18 to go.
-- In a three-point loss to Duke, the Irish had the ball at their own 26 with 1:27 remaining.
-- In a seven-point loss at North Carolina State, the Irish had the ball on the Wolfpack 16 with 2:01 remaining.
-- In a seven-point loss to Stanford, the Irish had three chances from second and four at the Cardinal eight in the final minute.
That's how fine the line has been in 2016 between winning and losing for Notre Dame. As Irish coach Brian Kelly has reiterated, success for Notre Dame moving forward is abut finishing games.
5. This is an old-school rivalry.
Don't blame Irish players like DeShone Kizer if their appreciation for the history of Notre Dame and Miami on the football field is limited. As red-hot as the rivalry was back in the 1980s, thes teams have met only twice in the last 25 seasons (though they face off again in 2017 at Miami). So Kizer and most players on both teams weren't born until some years after the 1988 clash at Notre Dame Stadium between the top-rated Hurricanes and up-and- coming Irish. (Miami won the '87 national title and the Irish followed suit in 1988.) The only time Miami has defeated the Irish in South Bend came in 1984 when the 14th -ranked Hurricanes won 31-13 over 17th-ranked Notre Dame as heavy rain plagued a prime-time contest. Alonzo Highsmith scored four touchdowns in that contest, as Bernie Kosar helped the visitors rebound from a 10-7 halftime deficit by completing 20 of 29 passes overall for 205 yards. Meanwhile, for those old-school fans, an ESPN "30 for 30" on that 1988 game will be previewed on campus this weekend in advance of its debut on ESPN Dec. 10
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler follows the Irish football scene for Fighting Irish Media. Look for his Sunday Brunch piece, an inside recap of what happens against Miami as Brian Kelly's squad continues its 2016 season.