Miami (+12.5) at Notre Dame
Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois
Kickoff: 7:30 PM ET
Last Meeting: 33-17 Notre Dame (2010 Sun Bowl)
The annual Shamrock Series game is upon as the Miami Hurricanes fly north to play the Fighting Irish inside Soldier Field on that
wonderfully groomed shoddy turf. These two programs met less than 2 years ago in the Sun Bowl which ended with a big Notre Dame rout.
This weekend the Hurricanes travel to the Midwest with a surprising 4-1 record and a perfect 3-0 record in ACC play, while also living off the play of an explosive offense in recent weeks.
Here is the One Foot Down preview for this Saturday night's game.
That is the year of the last regular season matchup between Notre Dame and Miami. The Irish won that game 29-20 inside Notre Dame Stadium and will be looking to win their third straight in the series after winning the 2010 Sun Bowl in El Paso to cap off Brian Kelly's first season in South Bend.
That is the average number of yards that Miami quarterback Stephen Morris has thrown for this season, bolstered by 1,002 yards against Georgia Tech and NC State in back-to-back weeks leading up to this Saturday's game.
12, 81, 1
Those numbers are the carries, rushing yards, and touchowns scored by Cierre Wood during the 2010 Sun Bowl against Miami. Coming off a 2-game suspension and limited carries against both Michigan schools, the Irish might want to turn to their most dynamic running back on Saturday.
That is the all-purpose yardage by freshman running back Duke Johnson, good for 4th nationally and first among all BCS conference players.
This is the number of plays from scrimmage in which the Hurricanes have gained 40+ yards, good for a tie for 1st nationally with Georgia Tech---truly a big play offense.
4 Players to Watch
QB Stephen Morris
A true junior in his first full season as starter, Morris has had a successful 2012 and is on fire right now. He's not terribly accurate---despite 566 yards last week he still had 23 incompletions---but he has a strong arm and is very athletic.
Morris has been on fire in recent weeks. Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
By no means a runner, Morris is still athletic enough to make a guy miss (see the game-winning touchdown against NC State) and he will use his legs to buy time in the pocket. Morris' skills have allowed the Hurricanes to throw down field much more often this year and look for him to rollout and take some chances to test the Irish secondary.
RB Duke Johnson
The true freshman and former 5-star recruit is having an outstanding first season in Coral Gables. In addition to his impressive all-purpose yardage mentioned above, he's also leading Miami in rushing yards and rushing scores.
He's quite small (5'9" 188 pounds) but as you can imagine Johnson is lightning quick and very elusive. He'll share carries with senior Mike James, and both will get around 15 touches in the running and receiving game.
The Hurricanes lost their top two receivers from last year in Tommy Streeter and Travis Benjamin, and coming into 2012 the wideout position was a big question mark. However, a couple guys have stepped up and that includes sophomore Phillip Dorsett.
After catching 14 balls as a freshman in 2011, the shifty Dorsett already has 28 receptions, 464 yards, and 3 touchdowns this season. He's quickly turned into Morris' favorite target in the passing game and has totaled 80.8% of his yards over the last two weeks. As a favorite of head coach Al Golden, he will also see some time in the return game as well.
You may remember Chickillo from the 2011 recruiting cycle as he came down to Notre Dame and Miami before choosing the Hurricanes. The agile Tampa product ended up starting 9 games last season for Miami and tied for the team lead in sacks with 5 and finished 7th in tackles with 38.
This year Chickillo has 21 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 fumble recoveries. He's a great mixture of power and speed and is likely the Canes best defensive lineman, and certainly one of the up and coming top defensive ends in the country.
Notre Dame has had a great season so far with turnovers, but quarterback Everett Golson is coming off an ugly 2-interception game on just a handful of throws against Michigan.
What's more, the Hurricanes have forced the 11th most turnovers in the country (although 6 of their 12 takeaways came last week alone, although the Irish were the recipient of 6 as well in their last game too) and you can bet taking care of the football will be stressed big time this week.
Football Outsiders FEI Stats for 2012
It's been the hot topic for the past couple weeks and it's undoubtedly the biggest concern for this game for many Irish fans. One or two touchdowns and a sub-300 total yard performances is not going to keep this team undefeated for very long.
Somehow, the offensive line has to play to its potential, Cierre Wood has to inject some life in to the running game, and Golson has to get back to his pre-Michigan style of protecting the ball and running the offense. The impending predictions of doom in the vein of the 2002 team seem overblown, but this offense has to improve and fight from being so stagnant.
Secondary Getting Beat Deep
Despite a young and mostly inexperienced secondary, the Irish have done a good job limiting big plays through the air. After the first month of the season Notre Dame has allowed just 9 pass plays of 20+ yards (t-11th nationally) and only 2 plays of over 30+ yards, good for a tie at 5th nationally. The Irish have also yet to allow a 50+ pass play this season.
However, Miami lives off big pass plays and will test the Irish secondary by rolling out Stephen Morris and trying to hit a few long bombs. Limit these big pass plays, or eliminate them altogether, and Notre Dame will have a great chance to win this game.
2 Sides of the Line
Miami's offensive line has been decent this year, pretty average on the whole in pass protection and run blocking. Only two starters return from last season, three if you count former super-recruit Seantrel Henderson who may start at right tackle after 5th year senior Ben Jones has been ruled out with injury. Jones had been backing true freshman Ereck Flowers until two weeks ago, but it appears that the Canes are ready to give the ever-disappointing Henderson a shot this weekend.
Notre Dame should have a big advantage with their defensive line against the Miami offensive line, as the Canes haven't seen the talent and size the Irish can throw at them. If Kansas State held Miami to 40 yards on 29 carries then Notre Dame shouldn't have too many problems slowing down the Hurricanes rushing attack.
Miami will have to move QB Stephen Morris around in the pocket because he shouldn't have much time to throw the ball.
Miami is typically known for their stout defensive line, but this is not one of those teams. The aforementioned Anthony Chickillo is very good, and the only other returning starter in senior DT Darius Smith is decent as well. Senior DE Shayon Green played very little prior to this season but has performed well now leading the team in tackles.
True sophomore DT Olsen Pierre is injured for the game and will be replaced by lightly recruited fellow true sophomore Corey King. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Notre Dame's O-line should dominate this game, but Miami's D-line is a couple steps below Michigan State and Purdue's, and one below Michigan's, while only Wake Forest is giving up more yards on the ground among BCS teams.
The 225 yards per game given up on the ground does factor in two run heavy teams in Kansas State and Georgia Tech, and Miami's YPC given up isn't nearly as bad (but still poor at 83rd nationally), but Notre Dame should find success running the ball. Protection shouldn't be a huge issue either as Miami has had trouble getting after the quarterback with just 7 sacks in 5 games, but that assumes Golic and Lombard don't derp it up on the right side.
I wouldn't begrudge someone for thinking this line is a tad bit high (spoiler alert!) but there is good reason for it.
The Irish defense has been dominant this year, Miami rarely travels this far north this late in the year, and only Baylor and Arkansas have statistically worse defenses than the Hurricanes among BCS teams---in addition to Miami giving up the 2nd most yards in their school history just last week to NC State.
The Canes do get Denzel Perryman back at linebacker this week which should help, but that makes only 5 returning starters on the defense from last year with a sixth, safety Vaughn Telemaque, struggling with injuries and relegated to a backup role right now.
A starting defensive tackle is injured, multi-year starting linebacker Ramon Buchanan is out for the year, and perhaps the team's best defender in safety Ray Ray Armstrong was dismissed this summer. All for a defense that is giving up 6.36 yards per play---for reference the 2009 Notre Dame defense, regarded as maybe the worst in school history, gave up 6.19 yards per play and that's without playing Bethune-Cookman.
The Fighting Irish are currently only giving up just 4.43 yards per play and in many ways the Notre Dame defense is leaps and bounds better than Miami's.
Duke Johnson is sewing up a freshman All-American debut season. Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
However, the Hurricanes have enough firepower on offense to make this a miserable day for the Irish. Throwing up 600+ yards in back-to-back weeks against tomato cans is one thing, but Miami has done it against Georgia Tech and NC State, and that output deserves respect.
Their offense is averaging 6.47 yards per play (a full yard better than ND) and even in their blowout loss to Kansas State the offense produced a not-terrible 4.6 yards per play. They just couldn't get the Wildcat offense off the field as Kansas State held the ball for over 37 minutes and limited Miami's offense to just 57 plays---a full 20 plays fewer than the Canes averaged in their 4 other games.
Most Irish fans will see QB Stephen Morris and remember him immediately throwing an interception in the Sun Bowl after relieving Jacory Harris, and let's be honest, he's probably guilty by association with the aforementioned Harris.
Yet, Morris is athletic enough to escape Irish defenders on occasion and make plays. It's still a little early to tell if he's really good, but he's the hottest quarterback in the country not-named Geno Smith and even against his stiffest competition in Kansas State he produced a decent stat line: 19 for 26, 215 yards, no picks. Heck, he did wind up throwing for nearly 300 yards against Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl too.
I can see Miami using some up-tempo and finding some success moving the ball, maybe nothing like the past couple weeks, but just enough to stay very competitive. Morris might lack accuracy at times, but he should be competent enough to utilize playmakers Mike James, Duke Johnson, Phillip Dorsett, Allen Hurns, and Rashawn Scott. There's plenty of inexperience and it's certainly not the most frightening group, but this could be the most well-rounded and potent collection of playmakers that Notre Dame has faced in 2012.
Nevertheless, Notre Dame's defense has been playing at such a high level and Miami's decidedly so poor that this should be a win for the Irish. Only a truly inept offensive performance (like <300 yards) with a handful of turnovers from Notre Dame's offense should result in an Irish loss and I just can't see this Miami defense doing that well on the road in the cold.
Tuitt, Nix, Shembo & Co. will force too much pressure on the quarterback, Te'o will clean up any screens and attempts by Miami to get to the edge, while the Irish have proved they will slow down any pro-style offense's attempt to run the ball. Miami might hit a couple long passes as is their MO this season, but I don't see a recipe for success for 4 quarters.
A stronger defense in the cold weather should get the job done for Notre Dame, although it might be closer than many expect.
God help the internet if we lose this game wearing the Shamrock Series uniforms.
Notre Dame 34