For Notre Dame and Miami, it is strength versus strength.
Notre Dame has one of the nation’s best rushing offenses and nearly twice as many touchdowns on the ground as it did last season. Miami’s undefeated start and re-emergence in the national picture has been fueled by a defensive front seven that likes to describe itself as violent.
So when No. 3 Notre Dame (8-1) visits No. 7 Miami (8-0) for a nationally televised showdown between longtime rival programs on Saturday night, that matchup will likely tell the tale of who emerges with its national-title hopes still looking realistic.
”It’s an outstanding front four,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said about Miami. ”The linebackers run and tackle as well as any group that we’ve played. … They can play a number of different coverages by keeping three linebackers on the field and that’s pretty hard to do today in college football. A unique skill-set in that group.”
Kelly spent much of his weekly news conference Tuesday raving about the Hurricanes’ defense. In Coral Gables, Miami’s Mark Richt offered similar sentiments about the Irish offense.
”Their offensive line, probably the best in America,” Richt said. ”I don’t think very many people would argue that. … Very experienced but very, very talented. They’re paving the way, over 300 yards per game rushing and this isn’t triple-option football. This is just line up and physically move people off the ball, a kick-your-tail type offensive line and great runners.”
Notre Dame has rushed for at least 318 yards in each of its last five games. The Irish already have nearly 1,000 more yards on the ground this season through nine games than they did in all of last season. Only one team has slowed the Irish ground game in 2017 – and it was Georgia, Richt’s former school.
His current school now has to figure out a way to do what the Bulldogs did. If the Hurricanes succeed on that front and extend the nation’s longest current winning streak to 14 games, there will be a bit of symmetry that will put all of 2016’s disappointments to rest for good.
In a four-game span last season, Miami lost to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame – in that order. The Hurricanes now have a shot at going 4-0 against those teams this season, winning in the same order as they lost a year ago.
”It’s really been a payback season to everybody that we lost to last season and we’re just working down the line,” Miami linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said. ”We just can’t wait to line it up Saturday. We’re preparing right now so on Saturday we can fly around all day.”
Miami’s defense has bent from time to time this season against the run, but rarely breaks. The Hurricanes are giving up 3.9 yards per carry, yet have yielded only four rushing touchdowns – tied for fourth-fewest in the nation. Notre Dame leads the nation at 7.0 yards per carry, and its 34 rushing TDs is tied for second-most among FBS teams (one behind Florida Atlantic).
”I think when we broke through with over 500 yards rushing against Boston College, I think that that was really where everything started to kind of show itself, that this is who we were going to be,” Kelly said. ”And then it’s certainly taken shape from there.”
Georgia held Notre Dame to 55 yards rushing in Week 2, a one-point win and the only blemish on the Fighting Irish schedule. A week later, Notre Dame ran for 515 on Boston College. Like Kelly said, it’s been rolling since.
Miami understands the challenge.
”Us versus them,” linebacker Zach McCloud said. ”We’ve got to man up and do what we’ve got to do.”
NOTES: Kelly said top RB Josh Adams, who had only five carries last week against Wake Forest, and QB Brandon Wimbush have no injury-related concerns heading into this week. ”There are no concerns about their readiness and what their physical stature is for going into the game,” Kelly said. … Miami’s honorary captain this week will be Ed Reed, the longtime NFL star who sat in on practice and meetings Tuesday.
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