Well folks, the beautiful, peaceful, not-aggravating-in-the-least-bit bye week is in the past, and it’s time for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to move on to the last five games of what has been a nightmare season.
ND will host the Miami Hurricanes this Saturday, meaning everyone will be stirring up Catholics vs. Convicts references and talking about the days of old, when the two programs didn’t have a 6-8 combined record.
So, to prepare you all for what could very well be a 6th loss for Notre Dame, we spoke to Jerry Steinberg of State of the U to find out what kind of Miami team ND will be facing, how they match up with the Irish, and who would win in a cage match between head coaches Brian Kelly and Mark Richt (among other topics).
Let’s get on with it.
Q: After a promising start to the season, the Hurricanes have dropped three straight. What is the fans' current impression of head coach Mark Richt, considering this is just his first season at the helm?
Jerry Steinberg (JS): Interesting question. I think fans are disappointed in the team, but understand Richt needs more time to get his own recruits and break some bad habits. Miami fans are anything but bashful about what they think of their Coach (just ask Al Golden). And the ones I have talked to or interacted with on social media have certainly questioned some decisions and play calls, but no one is ready to pull the plug just yet.
Q: Do you think the 1-point Florida State loss was devastating to the team's morale and caused this slide, or do you think the team just hadn't played anyone substantial up until the last three games, and playing solid competition has exposed some weaknesses in the team?
JS: The FSU game, as it has been for years now, certainly was a bubble buster. But the Hurricanes are still playing hard, and their losses to UNC and VT can be more attributed to error-prone football and poor offensive line play than lack of effort. The O-line (especially in pass protection) is a major weakness right now, and ACC defenses are teeing off on QB Brad Kaaya.
Q: For how bad the three-game losing streak looks for Miami, you now get to play a team that's been sinking essentially since the season began. Specifically, the past two games have seen the Notre Dame offense score a total of 13 points. How do you see the Hurricane defense matching up with this struggling unit?
JS: I am shocked how poorly ND has played on offense, although the NC State game was an aberration in my opinion due to the weather.
Still, the Hurricanes D has really been a strength for the most part this season. Manny Diaz has them attacking, and players like DT Kendrick Norton, DE Chad Thomas, DE Demetrius Jackson, and freshmen LBs Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman have thrived along the front seven. CB Corn Elder is a future NFL stud.
UM's defense, when on, can match up with anyone. They really have not been the problem over the losing streak.
Q: The ND defense has actually been better of-late (albeit against some bad offenses and/or against an offense playing in an actual hurricane), but overall this year the Irish defense has been bad. Do you see Brad Kaaya and the rest of the Miami offense easily moving the ball up and down the field on the Irish, and how will they do it?
JS: The Irish have had trouble stopping the run, and Miami's beleaguered O-line is better at run blocking than pass protection. That could be the key to this whole game. UM running backs Joe Yearby and Mark Walton are tough, instinctive, and explosive runners when given the room. Miami really needs to establish the run against ND's defense for Kaaya to be able to set up play-action passes and keep the Notre Dame pass rush honest.
Q: Give me an X-factor on each side of the ball for Miami - guys that Irish fans should be afraid of and whose play could be the determining factor in this one.
JS: TE David Njoku is a freak of nature. He's big, fast, and incredibly athletic. Unfortunately he's been plagued with drops, but has still produced a lot of big plays. He's a match-up nightmare for most defenses he faces.
As far as Miami's defense goes, I will go with Sheldrick Redwine. Because Elder is so good, he's been seeing the ball more. He needs to step up. If he can make some plays, and maybe produce an INT, it'd be huge for the Hurricanes defense.
Q: If you could bring back any one former Miami player to shore up a unit on this Miami team, who would it be and why?
JS: Easy. Joaquin Gonzalez at LT or RT. Gonzalez was not only a steady, sure presence on the O-line during the 'Canes most recent run at glory, he was a leader and respected by his teammates. Miami could use that big time right now.
Q: You're putting together an Ocean's Eleven-esque crew to pull off the heist of the century. What players/coaches in this game, from either team, would you choose for that squad?
JS: I am going to pass on this one LOL. It would be too Miami-sided.
Q: Give me your favorite moment from the Catholics vs. Conflicts days of this series.
JS: Again easy. 3rd and 43. This play epitomized Miami's guts and talent during the era.
Q: Brian Kelly vs. Mark Richt in a no-holds-barred cage match - who wins?
Richt is tough but would fight fair. I could see Kelly biting him on the face.
Q: More iconic quote: Ed Reed's "I'm hurt" speech or Santana Moss' "Big time players step up in big games" post-game interview?
JS: Reed's. Because it was against FSU and he started it out with "Joaquin said dominate, and we aren't doing it..." And as I alluded to before, Joaquin Gonzalez is a personal favorite.
But I also like the war chant that the late Al Blades used to start up to fire up his teammates (WARNING - NSFW due to language):
Q: Anything else ND fans should know about the team, coach, program, tradition, fans, etc.?
JS: We hate you, but not as much as Florida, Ohio State, or FSU. Wait, that's all a lie.
Prediction: Give me your prediction for the game, including a score and what you think will happen
JS: I like UM's running game and young talented defense to come through in an exciting 27-24 win. I could see this game going either way, but I think Miami's high point this season has been better than Notre Dame's.
I want to give a special thanks to Jerry for answering almost all of my questions, and encourage you all to check out the State of the U site and follow them on Twitter for any and all Miami football updates heading into Saturday’s game.