The bye week is over, everyone.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are officially coming down the home stretch, hosting the Miami Hurricanes tomorrow in a battle of disappointing teams with much higher ceilings than their current records would suggest.
Miami enters the game at 4-3, having lost three straight to Florida State, UNC, and Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, ND will be bringing its 2-5 record to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, looking to get back on track after a much-needed bye week.
So how do the two teams match up? Let’s take a look.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Miami Defense
The Notre Dame offense has not been great lately. Scoring 13 points total in its past two games, the Fighting Irish come into this one looking to rediscover the scoring tendencies put on display against Syracuse in the beginning of October.
They’ll be attempting to do that against the 22nd-best defense in the country, as Miami allows just 343 total yards per game. The Hurricanes are 12th in scoring defense at 17.3 points allowed per contest, 26th in pass defense (194.6 ypg), 51st in rushing (148.9 ypg).
Looking at those numbers, it will be crucial for the Notre Dame offensive line to overcome whatever has limited their performance so far this season and get a strong push up front, allowing Tarean Folston, Josh Adams, and Dexter Williams to get into the second level against an athletic, talented Hurricane defense.
That Hurricane defense is led by defensive backs and linebackers, as the top 4 tacklers are DB Rayshawn Jenkins (43 tackles), LB Shaq Quarterman (43 tackles), DB Corn Elder (41 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT), and DB Jamal Carter (39 tackles). Against the run, Quarterman will be especially crucial in his ability to shed blockers and make tackles, along with fellow LB Michael Pinckney (35 tackles, 2.5 sacks).
Holding the point of attack in the defensive front will be a group of solid defensive linemen, including RJ McIntosh (28 tackles), Kendrick Norton (25 tackles), Demetrius Jackson (22 tackles, 2 sacks), Trent Harris (12 tackles, 2 sacks), and Chad Thomas (22 tackles, 3 sacks).
That same group, along with freshman DL Joe Jackson (4.5 sacks), will look to get some pressure on ND QB DeShone Kizer as well in order to force him into making some bad throws. If they’re able to do so, athletic DBs like Elder, Sheldrick Redwine (16 tackles), Jaquan Johnson (23 tackles, 1 INT) and Adrian Colbert (12 tackles, 1 INT) can capitalize and come up with some momentum-changing plays for Miami.
Kizer will look to have his first good game since October 1st, as the future NFLer has 1775 yards, 14 TD, and 7 INT this year at a 58% completion rate. His last two games have seen him go 23-52 for 208 yards, 3 INT, and 0 TD, so he’s certainly looking to come out after the bye week and light things up.
Helping him do so will be the usual cast of receivers, led by Equanimeous St. Brown (31 catches, 611 yards, 6 TD), Torii Hunter Jr. (25 catches, 360 yards, 1 TD), CJ Sanders (18 catches, 260 yards, 2 TD), and Kevin Stepherson (10 catches, 209 yards, 3 TD). That receiving corps will need to find separation against future pros like Elder and give Kizer something to work with, or it will be a long day for the Irish on offense.
Miami Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
Offensively, the Miami Hurricanes have suffered their own woes in this 2016 season. A promising unit led by future NFL QB Brad Kaaya, the Miami offense has sputtered some in Mark Richt’s first season as head coach, ranking 64th in total offense, 42nd in scoring, 49th in passing, and 75th in rushing.
The group does have some major talent, though, as running backs Joseph Yearby (493 yards, 6 TD) and Mark Walton (604 yards, 8 TD) are fast, athletic players who can be extremely dangerous if given some daylight at the second level.
The Irish defensive front has struggled to bring down talented running backs all season, and so it will be up to Nyles Morgan, James Onwualu, etc. to corral those two players and keep the Miami run game in check.
If the Irish allow the Hurricanes to run at-will on them, look for Kaaya (1696 yards, 12 TD, 5 INT) to then open up the passing game a bit more, finding talented receivers like Ahmmon Richards (20 catches, 437 yards, 1 TD), Stacy Coley (29 catches, 352 yards, 6 TD), and TE David Njoku (17 catches, 301 yards, 1 TD).
It will be interesting to see how Cole Luke, Julian Love, and the rest of the Irish secondary are able to match up with some athletic, fast receivers, and the play of safeties Devin Studstill and Drue Tranquill will be crucial in preventing any big plays from the Hurricanes over the top.
The Irish have had basically no pass rush all season, but look for the defensive front to try to get some pressure on Kaaya to help out the secondary, as Isaac Rochell and co. will look to at least get a decent push into the backfield.
Overall, I see this going about the same way the rest of ND’s games have gone this season. The Irish will have a few decent scoring drives and probably get a couple defensive stops, but will for the most part look fairly hapless on both sides of the ball and watch as the Hurricanes beat them on the ground, through the air, and by just being more aggressive on the defensive side of things.
Miami 37, Notre Dame 24