It was a competitive game in the first half but Notre Dame leaned on the running game and a suffocating defense in the second half to blow Miami off the field.
After a bye week there was a lot of pressure on the offense to not only play well against a weak Miami defense, but to dominate. The defense was also tasked with limiting the Canes' big play offense. Both sides of the ball got the job done in a very satisfying victory.
Let's break down each unit from Saturday night's 41-3 win.
Give the offensive line of Miami a lot of credit because they kept the explosive Irish defensive line out of Morris' face for most of the first half and did not give up a sack all game. However, in the second half Notre Dame's power rushing began seriously shrinking the pocket, hurrying some throws, and flushing Morris outside of the tackle box.
As a result, Morris began missing some throws, and when that happens the Miami offense comes to a screeching halt. The Canes had limited success early with some runs, but overall the Irish line bottled up that part of their offense as expected, and Miami eventually went away from the ground game as the score got out of hand.
It wasn't a dominant performance that we've come to expect, but the staff was content with sitting back (did we blitz more than twice all game?) and letting this line eat up blockers and wear down Miami. All things considered it wasn't a bad day at the office for Tuitt (1 PBU, 1 QBH), Lewis-Moore (1 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH), Nix (1 QBH), and Shembo (2 QBH).
Further, Notre Dame continues to utilize the entire two deep up front. Schwenke, Springmann, and Day were all rotated in heavily almost to the point where it seemed like they were getting half the defensive snaps. So, Miami scored 3 points facing a ton of Notre Dame's backups on the line---this isn't normal in college football and we should be excited about that.
We've been spoiled with this unit's production in recent weeks but two or three years ago we would have been very pleased with how they played this Saturday, particularly while using up to 8 players (if you count the Cat linebackers) and facing an athletic quarterback who ran away from some opportunities for sacks.
Miami ran just 53 plays from scrimmage so there wasn't a ton of opportunity for the linebackers to make a huge impact. In what felt like a quiet game, Manti Te'o still racked up 10 tackles (8 solo) and added a pass breakup.
Z-Mart & Co. had plenty of reason to celebrate. Matt Cashore/US Presswire
Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese played well, shooting through some gaps and making a couple big hits. There were a couple plays where Danny Spond got lost in coverage early on, but he made some adjustments and played well, particularly as it looked like Miami was trying to take advantage of him in coverage. We also saw Ben Councell get a lot of time on the field, ending up with 3 tackles, so that's good news to get him some live reps.
Miami completed a lot of short passes and although I would have liked to see a little better coverage from both the linebackers and secondary, they limited Miami's YAC with solid and timely tackling. One gripe would have been to let Jarrett Grace get more playing time. He was listed with making one tackle but I would have used him extensively in the 4th quarter this weekend.
After a scary first series (Herm Edwards voice: HELLO, this team is going to try and beat you deep as often as they can!!) the secondary settled down and kept the Hurricane receivers in front of them.
It was a quiet day from Motta, Farley, and Jackson but Russell continues to impress with his physicality and tackling ability, finishing with 6 tackles. Like I mentioned during the game thread, he tackles way above his weight and he is turning into a major surprise this season.
The secondary benefited from several Miami drops but there's not a whole lot to complain about with just 18 completions and 200 yards---most of which was short and non-threatening underneath stuff. That's always part of the Diaco gameplan and the secondary did its job in wrapping up ball carriers.
They earned that game ball.
Yes, Miami's rush defense was poor coming into this game but the Irish went way beyond what the Hurricanes had been giving up in 2012. For as many yards as Miami was giving up on the ground, they hadn't giving up worse than an average of 4.95 per carry in a game---and Notre Dame pushed it to 7.4 yards on Saturday night. And that's on the back of a big second half output where all the Irish did was continually pound the ball on the ground.
Miami knew we were running the ball, and there was nothing they could do to stop it...the offensive lineman's dream!
The protection could have been a little better but they were bailed out a few times by the athleticism of Golson and his ability to get outside the pocket and prevent sacks. Still, no sacks is no sacks and Miami was officially only credited with 1 quarterback hurry.
This was simply a massive domination for the offensive line, and a much needed one following the disappointing first third of the season. They will be tested again this Saturday when Stanford comes to South Bend---let's hope they are up to the challenge.
The blocking in spots was downright phenomenal, and it looks like Troy Niklas is finally starting to figure out this position. Ben Koyack was called for holding, but I'm not expert enough to say if he struggled at any others times. Given the amount of rushing yards I'd guess he did pretty well on this night.
Eifert caught a huge third down pass for 23 yards, but was held to just 2 catches overall. We'll probably have to get used to Eifert not putting huge numbers this season but if that means developing the likes of DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown, spreading the ball around more often, and rolling running plays towards Eifert's excellent perimeter blocking---then I'm A-OK with that.
The passing game has yet to take off this season, so we're still stuck with very modest numbers from this group.
Toma uncharacteristically dropped a pass, but came right back with a nice 8-yard gain on a reverse on the very next play and chipped in 2 receptions for 22 yards as well. Bonus points for calling out TJ Jones for owning a pair of red skinny jeans---that's legitimately the funniest player intro in the history of televised football.
Speaking of Jones, he's continuing to be the leader of this receiving corps and quietly putting together a very solid season. A team-leading 4 catches and 45 yards is going to get the job done most nights for him and he's proving a lot of the doubters wrong this season.
DaVaris Daniels chipped in 3 more catches and led the team with 48 yards. I know it doesn't truly feel like he's breaking out but Daniels is leading the entire team in receiving yards. Like Golson, it's so exciting to think of how much football this kid has left in the blue and gold.
Welcome back Cierre Wood! 18 carries, 118 yards, 2 touchdowns, and the spark plug that ignited the second half domination on the ground. I think he's solidified himself as the feature back once again.
George Atkinson picked up his first career 100-yard game (he just missed the milestone by a single yard against Navy) and is now averaging 9.3 yards-per-carry on the season. It's scary that he's getting better, and while I don't agree with all the touches he's taken away from Wood in recent weeks, he showed why the coaches are willing to feed him the ball today so that he's even better tomorrow.
Theo Riddick bruised an elbow and was limited to just 21 yards on 5 carries, but he did score another touchdown and chipped in 3 receptions. With Wood "being back" to his old self and Atkinson continuing to improve it will be interesting to see if Riddick's role diminishes a little bit.
What a game for Cam McDaniel as he shines once again when given the opportunity to play. 55 yards on 11 carries (nearly every carry right in a row) and he displayed his elite foot quickness, agility, and underrated toughness. Just a wonderful player to have on the team right now.
Many people are saying that this was Golson's best game of his young career, and I agree.
First off, consistency. This was the first game where it felt like Golson had complete control of the offense, and where it felt like he wasn't a redshirt freshman anymore.
Golson made plays in the open field on Saturday. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Second, this was the biggest game for Golson in the running game. Not only his ability to escape the pocket when pressured, which we've seen this year, but his ability to be a major part of the running game. 51 yards on just 6 carries might not seem like a lot, but with this running game it's a major added bonus and something that can take this offense to the next level.
Third, he took care of the football and made a ton of great decisions throwing the football. He was very accurate on the night and showed off his arm strength on a number of cross-field throws.
I was a little apprehensive about this being Golson's "breakout game" and let's remember that he threw for less than 200 yards, benefited from soft coverage at the end of the first half, barely had any work in the second half, and didn't throw any touchdowns---but he solidified his role as the undisputed starter of this team and flashed his immense talent at the same time.
Who knows if it will be a turning point, and there will still be highs and lows in the future, but we're seeing growth from Everett Golson and that is a good thing for Notre Dame football.
I'm really harping on the kicking out of the end zone on kickoffs, and it appears Kelly doesn't want to do this all the time. I'm not really sure why, especially given how dangerous Miami has been this year, but I have a guess that maybe they really think it's important for young guys like Shumate and others to get as much playing time as possible and get used to laying the wood on opponents.
At the time, Brindza's missed field goal felt like it could be big but in the end it didn't matter. He's largely done a great job making his kicks so that was forgivable as it was a close miss. Turk's lone punt wasn't great, and I'd rather we have more games with 1 punt, don't you? Okay, it was 2 punts but doesn't it always seem like Turk draws an inordinate amount of penalties? Seems like 1 in 10 from him he's getting run into.
Punt return still remains a mystery. I truly think Kelly and his staff are taking a page out of the new school of football and looking at the punt return game as a place where the Irish just can't mess up---a fair catch is a victory for them. It makes some sense, but with the poor blocking it does make Neal's job more difficult than it needs to be. If you're going to be conservative AT LEAST try to block people anyway, right?
A 5-0 start was pretty unimaginable by many, yet here we are at No. 7 in the AP poll with ESPN College Game Day and the rival Stanford Cardinal coming to town next weekend.
This game couldn't have gone any better for Notre Dame, and although I'll still hold back my enthusiasm for major things to come this year, it certainly feels like the Irish are turning into a very strong program and ready to inflict damage across an entire season.
After a couple mistakes early that could have cost the Irish a touchdown, the defense hunkered down and continues it's quest to never let anyone in the end zone ever again. We've seen glimpses over the past year-plus of a very good defense, but now they have made into elite territory---allowing just 7.8 points per game this season behind only Alabama.
Even better due to their uneven performance in the past, the offensive line finally got back on track and whipped some tail this weekend. Yes, it was just a weak Miami team but they truly owned the field this weekend.
If Golson has taken a step forward and can play like he did Saturday, watch out. Especially if he can run and make plays with his feet, the offense is really going to open up and play much better than we saw in the early part of the season. The last remaining goal is to start throwing the ball down field more often.
The emergence of Cierre Wood---which feels weird to type given his productivity since 2010---is something I am really taking away from this game.
To me he really is the biggest difference maker in the offense, more so than Eifert. He fills the role that Atkinson is not ready for yet and which Riddick isn't quite explosive/savvy enough to take every game. With Cierre Wood playing at a high level, I don't see this offense struggling very much even if Golson takes a step back at some point down the road.