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Notre Dame Football: Miami RedHawks Game Preview

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Notre Dame gets to take part in the wonderful world of MACtion tomorrow!!!! Let’s talk about what will happen.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio) Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Y’all are never going to believe this, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have ANOTHER football game tomorrow, this time hosting the Miami-Ohio RedHawks (sorry for using the state identifier, Miami fans!) at 5 PM ET at Notre Dame Stadium.

The RedHawks, coached by former Brian Kelly assistant Chuck Martin, enter the game with a 2-2 record, having defeated Austin Peay and Central Michigan while losing close ones to Marshall and Cincinnati.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

*SIDE NOTE: The above picture of Chuck Martin reminds me of this amazing video a friend showed me last weekend...I know, it’s a stretch, but damnit if I didn’t want to include this video in an article at all costs:

Anyway, Martin and the RedHawks will look to pull a MAJOR upset against the 22nd-ranked Fighting Irish, who are fresh off an absolute demolition of the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing last weekend. The Irish will certainly look to continue to blow out lesser opponents as they work toward being 5-1 when USC rolls into town in October.

So how do the underdog RedHawks match up with the surging Irish? Let’s talk.

Miami Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense

The Miami offense is nothing to write home about, as the RedHawks stand as the 101st -best offense in the country in terms of total offense (76th in passing yards, 95th in rushing) and 88th in the country in scoring, averaging 24.8 points per game.

The unit is led by junior quarterback Gus Ragland, a solid field general who has thrown for 881 yards, 8 TD, and 2 INT at a 52.6% completion rate this season. Ragland won’t make too many spectacular plays with his arm or his legs, but he’s solid all-around and likely won’t lose the game for the RedHawks. With that said, he has already thrown one game-clinching pick-six this season (and both his INTs have been returned for scores overall), so ND CBs Julian Love (17 tackles, 1 huge pick-six against MSU last week) and Shaun Crawford (2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 huge FF on the goal line against MSU last week) have gotta be licking their chops in hopes that he gives them a chance to make another big play.

Meanwhile, the RedHawks running game is good-not-great as well, with a tandem of junior RBs sharing the load -- Kenny Young (220 yards, 4.2 ypc, 2 TD) and Alonzo Smith (204 yards, 4.1 ypc).

The Fighting Irish defense has done a good job this season in containing some great running backs (Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, LJ Scott, Gerald Holmes, Madre London), so don’t expect much different from ND defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s group. Leading tacklers Nyles Morgan (34 tackles, 3.5 TFL), Te’von Coney (32 tackles, 1 sack), and Greer Martini (29 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 FF) will be all over Young and Smith tomorrow, flocking to the ball and providing sure tackling. Drue Tranquill (20 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT) will be big in run support as well, as he always seems to be around the ball and making big plays for the ND defense.

If the ND defensive front holds serve against the Miami running game, Ragland will be forced to throw over the top to his go-to WR James Gardner, who has 16 catches for 294 yards and 2 TD already this season. Gardner is a big target at 6’4”, and the junior has made his share of big plays in his career. It should be fun to watch the ND DBs, especially Nick Watkins (15 tackles, 2 PBU) and Julian Love (4 PBU this season), match up against the big, talented receiver.

Other RedHawk receivers to look out for include TE Ryan Smith (10 receptions, 144 yards, 2 TD) and WRs Sam Martin (7 receptions, 123 yards, and 1 50-yard TD) and Jared Murphy (9 receptions, 112 yards).

After MSU’s Brian Lewerke turned out to not be nearly as dangerous as expected last week, Ragland could actually be one of the better QBs the Notre Dame defense has faced in this still-young season. With that said, don’t expect Elko’s squad to get lit up by a MAC team — 4 games in, I think he’s earned fans’ trust that his unit will be sound and make a few big plays.

Speaking of big plays, look out for DEs Daelin Hayes (11 tackles, 1 sack), Jay Hayes (14 tackles, 1 TFL), and Julian Okwara (5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL) in this one, as the Miami offensive line likely does not have the athleticism to hang with the Irish’s best pass rushers. Similarly, Jerry Tillery (19 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Jonathan Bonner (13 tackles, 1.5 TFL) shouldn’t have too much trouble getting a good push in the middle.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan State Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Along with those two, watch out for true freshman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (6 tackles, 1.5 TFL), who has been playing a lot on the inside and who has looked very strong so far this season. He and fellow freshman Kurt Hinish will likely get a lot of playing time in this one, assuming the Irish pull away enough to get the young guns a lot of PT.

This Notre Dame defense is fairly average nationally in terms of total defense (72nd), but they are 29th in scoring defense and have already accumulated 9 takeaways in 4 games (4 INT, 5 fumbles recovered), so expect more of the same tomorrow with Miami potentially amassing yardage without ever getting much to show for it on the scoreboard.

Notre Dame Offense vs. Miami Defense

The Notre Dame offense has been a strange one this season, with a penchant for running ALL OVER folks and an okay, but certainly not good or great, passing attack. This shows in the Irish’s offensive rankings, as ND is 112th in the country in passing but 7th in rushing (something we never thought we’d see from a Brian Kelly team). That’s good enough for 41st in total offense and 28th in scoring overall, so the Miami defense certainly has its work cut out for them.

Miami’s 27th-ranked defense (in terms of total defense) will have to first figure out how to stop ND QB Brandon Wimbush. Wimbush has been nearly unstoppable on the ground this season, picking up 366 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and scoring 7 rushing touchdowns through 4 games.

Miami LBs Brad Koenig (32 tackles, 1 sack, 3 PBU), Junior McMullen (13 tackles, 1 sack), and Sam Connolly (10 tackles, 1 INT) will have the tough job of trying to run Wimbush down before he gets to the second level, where is incredibly dangerous with his combination of speed and shifty, slippery moves.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Cincinnati David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

If they’re able to contain Wimbush (a huge IF), the RedHawks will still have to worry about the team’s leading rusher Josh Adams, who has picked up 499 yards and 2 TD (7.7 yards per carry) this year as a junior captain of this offense. His backup, fellow junior Dexter Williams, has amassed 214 yards and 4 TD at a 10.7 yards-per-carry clip, making him one of the most explosive players on the field whenever he’s out there.

Those two, combined with Wimbush and the ND offensive line who appears to finally be manhandling opponents as it was expected they would, will likely be too much for a defense who hasn’t faced an offense anywhere close to this in terms of talent and strength.

However, if the RedHawks defensive front can make some plays and get a better push than anticipated on the backs of DL Doug Costin (17 tackles, 5 PBU, 3 QBH) and Pasquale Calcagno (11 tackles, 1 sack), then Wimbush will be forced to throw to win the game. And, up until last weekend against the Spartans, Wimbush had NOT been throwing well.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first 3 games of the season, Brandon Wimbush had thrown for 491 yards, 2 TD, and 2 INT while completing only 50.5% of his passes. However, last week against MSU, Wimbush put together a much-improved game, completing 14 of 20 passes for 173 yards and a TD in what was an extremely efficient performance.

Wimbush will likely be able to top it against Miami, as well, as his receivers are finally starting to step up and make big plays for him. He got big receptions last week from Equanimeous St. Brown (11 receptions, 160 yards, 1 TD in 2017), Durham Smythe (4 receptions, 88 yards in 2017), and Chase Claypool (7 receptions, 80 yards in 2017), and Alizé Mack is finally looking like the tight end he was expected to be, sitting second on the team with 11 receptions and 116 yards.

Suspended WR Kevin Stepherson returns this week as well, which will be huge for Wimbush going forward. Stepherson was the team’s third-leading receiver as a freshman last season with 25 catches for 462 yards and 5 TD. He will be expected to re-emerge as one of the best receivers on the team by the end of the year, and provides Wimbush with probably his most dangerous deep-ball threat, which will be huge for opening up the passing game even more.

The RedHawks have a pretty strong secondary, headlined by Heath Harding (22 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 PBU) and De’Andre Montgomery (33 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 2 FF, 2 PBU). The two of them are the big playmakers in the group, and if Miami wants to flip the script and slow down ND enough to give the RedHawks offense a chance in this one, they’ll need to create a few turnovers. Intercepting Wimbush is probably the most likely option in that regard.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio) Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Montgomery and Harding will be joined by Tony Reid (26 tackles, 1 INT), Joshua Allen (18 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT), and the trio of Deondre Daniels, Matt Merimee, and Cedric Asseh (17 tackles, 2 INT among the three of them) in trying to make that happen.

Nevertheless, I expect a lot of ground game dominance from the Irish, as the Miami defense just doesn’t have the horses to run with the ND offense. Expect Wimbush, Adams, and Williams to run all over the place, Wimbush to drop in a few efficient dimes to his receivers, and backup QB Ian Book and RB Deon McIntosh to be in the game in the 4th quarter.

Special Teams?!?

Per usual, not much exciting to report here. Miami’s kicker is named Samuel Sloman, and he is 12 out of 12 on extra points this season, and 5-for-6 on field goals.

Based on those stats and on his plodding last name, I think Samuel picked the right position for himself in football — he certainly wasn’t meant to be a kick returner.

Prediction Time

Alright, so time to make a prediction. As I said above, I think the Notre Dame offense will run basically at-will on the RedHawks defense, and the ND defense will play its usual game of creating opportunistic turnovers and containing any threat the Miami offense throws at them, including standout WR James Gardner.

Notre Dame wins this one going away, 44-20

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports