Well everybody, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has gone and done it again, winning in enough of a convincing fashion over Michigan State last weekend to make the pessimist in a lot of us start to think that maaaaaaaaaaaybe this team could have a really good rest of the season.
That rest of the season begins this Saturday against the Miami RedHawks, whose coach is former Brian Kelly assistant Chuck Martin and whose team is largely a huge question mark to Notre Dame fans.
To dispel the mystery surrounding the RedHawks, I talked to James Snyder of Hustle Belt, SB Nation’s one-stop shop for all your MACtion needs. He gave us some fantastic detail on Chuck Martin as a coach, Gus Ragland as a QB, and Tom Brady as president of the U.S. and A, along with answering a smattering of other questions I pelted him with earlier this week.
So, with all that said, let’s dive into James’ answers and learn a thing or two about THE University of Miami.
1. Tell me how you feel about Miami head coach Chuck Martin, a former Notre Dame OC and Brian Kelly assistant since the GVSU days. He's gone 13-28 in 3+ seasons in Oxford, but he did show some progress in going 6-2 in MAC play last year and taking the RedHawks to the St. Petersburg Bowl. Are fans happy with the trajectory of the program? Is the 2-2 start what you were expecting?
That 6-2 record doesn't really tell the whole picture from last season. They started the season 0-6, including 0-2 in the MAC, before winning 6 straight and losing a heartbreaker to Mississippi State in the bowl game.
The 2 losses this year were sloppy, much like the bowl loss last season, so there are mixed feelings about Martin from the fan base. On the one hand, he turned around a team that lost 6 straight to make them bowl eligible. On the other, there are a lot of woulda, coulda, shouldas in the three losses since.
In the Marshall game, Miami had 25 first downs to Marshall’s 15, and out-gained them 429 to 267. In the Cincinnati game, Miami was up by two scores late before an epic meltdown cost the RedHawks the win.
Losing two rivalry games, and the way they lost them, certainly has led to some discontent in Oxford. Me personally, I am really happy with the job Martin has done, especially in the last 10 games.
2. The RedHawks seem to struggle on offense, as the team is 101st in the country in total offense (76th in passing, 95th in rushing) and 88th in scoring. What has been the issue so far this year, and how do you see that playing into Saturday's game?
The offense is set up like a traditional Midwestern offense, where the QB manages the game and the defense keeps the team in the game. Make fewer mistakes than the opponent and win. That's the game plan.
In the loss to the Bearcats, there was a pick 6 from Miami's own side of the field late, and in the Marshall game the Thundering Herd had 3 return touchdowns. I think the statistical struggles of the offense are basically the system and the lack of a running back establishing himself as "the man" this season.
3. How do you see junior QB Gus Ragland performing against a Notre Dame defense that has been much improved this season, especially in terms of getting to the quarterback on passing downs?
The pick 6 late two weeks ago being the exception, Ragland has done a great job of not costing his team by making mistakes. He is capable of making some plays, but won’t completely wow you with athleticism or an amazing arm.
4. Who are the receivers most likely to give Irish DBs fits? Who are the go-to-guys and the playmakers, and how do you see them matching up against ND CBs Julian Love, Shaun Crawford, and Nick Watkins?
James Gardner is a big body that can make plays down the field. Look for he and the other Miami receivers to get open downfield when ND puts too much emphasis on the run game and short passing game.
5. Miami has a couple backs averaging over 4 yards per carry in Kenny Young and Alonzo Smith. How many touches do you expect that duo to get this weekend, and how effective will the Miami offensive line be in opening running lanes for them against this ND defensive front?
Miami is a running back by committee offense that looks for the hot hand. I think the offensive line will open a few holes, but Miami won’t be able to just line up and run the ball. It's not their MO.
They run to keep the defense honest, and efficiently try to move the ball down the field. If it isn't there, they are okay punting and letting their defense do their job.
6. While the RedHawks offense has been poor, the Miami defense has been, statistically speaking, very strong. Miami is 27th in the country in total defense (39th in pass defense, 37th in rush defense) and 33rd in scoring defense. What makes this defense go, and who are the best players on it that the Irish offense has to account for at all times?
They aren't the most athletic defense in the country, but they are usually very sound.
Heath Harding is one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Much like the rest of the defense, he is where he is supposed to be most of the time, and then makes the play.
7. Give me an X-factor for offense, defense, and special teams (if there is one for that unit) -- I'm looking for the guys whose performances are absolutely crucial to a potential upset bid, and why.
On offense, I will go with Gardner. He can make plays when the offense seems otherwise bogged down.
On defense, Brad Koenig at linebacker fits what the defense tries to do. Tough, consistent, and a playmaker.
8. Which ND players most terrify you heading into this game, and why?
All of them.
In a matchup of a power program against a MAC opponent, the athletic advantage can always play a key role. This is especially the case with a team like Miami. That 4 or 5 star guy on the ND side that is just a little bit faster and a little bit bigger than anyone Miami has can always come out of nowhere and have a huge game.
9. Brian Kelly vs. his old protege Chuck Martin in a dance-off -- what song does each coach pick, and who wins? Please reference this video from last weekend for film on BK gettin' down:
The Megaphone is coming home!#GoIrish ☘ pic.twitter.com/DHv0zz2r9l— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) September 24, 2017
That was awful. Brian Kelly looks like a 3 year old that does the same "moves,” regardless of the song being played.
As for Martin, he strikes me as a guy that can slap on a flat top hat and do a little barbershop quartet number, dancing included.
*Pat Rick note: Dexter Williams has heard what James said about BK’s dancing, and has come storming to his defense:
lol y'all got to chill on my head coach about his dance moves we slowly working on it— 2_JUICE (@DexterW_22) September 26, 2017
10. You have to pick two players from this Miami team to compete on the old Nickelodeon game show Legends of the Hidden Temple. Who do you choose, and why?
Ragland and Harding, because they are the best players on the team.
11. As you likely already know, Miami (Benjamin Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger) is one of four schools to have produced both a U.S. president AND a Super Bowl-winning QB, along with Michigan (Gerald Ford, Tom Brady), Stanford (Herbert Hoover, John Elway), and Navy (Jimmy Carter, Roger Staubach).
Excluding Gerald Ford (since he actually played football), which of the presidents who are a part of this fun fact would you choose to play QB for your team? Which of the QBs would you select to run the country as commander-in-chief?
Carter for QB, since he is tall and doesn't get rattled easy. He is athletic enough that he still helps build houses in his 90s.
I'll go with Brady for president, because so many in this country hate him. He must be doing something right.
12. ND has Equanimeous St. Brown and Greer Martini, among others. Who has the best/most ridiculous/funniest names on the Miami roster?
Matt Merimee. You could probably do an entire "who's on first" skit with a marriage proposal.
13. Give me a prediction for the game -- I need a winner and a loser, a score, and your reasoning.
Miami wins a defensive battle. They have had bad luck/mistakes in their last 3 big games, losing all three. I am not usually a superstitious guy, but I think the law of averages catches up, and Miami wins 28-24.
Also, Notre Dame had Georgia, BC, and MSU in a row, and is due for a let down. Notre Dame obviously "should" win, but this certainly sets up to be the legendary "trap" game.
14. Anything else ND fans should know about Miami's team, coaches, fans, program, traditions, etc.?
You did a good job only calling them Miami, without a state qualifier, but they want you to capitalize the H in RedHawks.*
*Pat Rick note: I have since gone through my questions and fixed this, to make me look much better and to make James’ answer seem juuuust a tad nonsensical.
Also, the Miami vs. Marshall game this season was the first game exclusively broadcast on Facebook. There were no commercials and it was very entertaining. The announcers would live time answer questions from posters on social media. I hope we see that type of broadcast more often.
I want to thank James for putting up with all my questions, and encourage all of you to go follow him on Twitter, as well as Hustle Belt, for all your Miami updates heading into Saturday. Additionally, be sure to check out the Hustle Belt site for all their analysis and takes for Saturday’s game.
Thanks everybody, and as always, Go Irish!