8:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Notre Dame -3.5, Over/Under: 59.5
The 1980’s have returned as one of College Football’s bitter rivalries is set to be reignited tonight in South Florida, with the Seventh-Ranked Miami Hurricanes looking to stay unbeaten as they host the Third-Ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish, from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. As captivating as this rivalry was in the 80’s, it’s been certainly set aside over the last two decades, with these two programs having met just four times since 1989, though this particular matchup is the first in which both teams were ranked in the Top-10 at the time of confrontation since 1989, when the Seventh-Ranked Hurricanes toppled the Top-Ranked Irish 27-10 in the Regular Season Finale en route to winning their third National Championship. Now, in 2017, these teams meet with a potential spot in the College Football Playoff on the line, which makes the stakes as high as they’ve been for either program in quite a while. For Notre Dame (8-1), a victory tonight would only further enhance one of the more impressive resumes in the country; Brian Kelly’s charges have endured a typically strong schedule, with convincing victories over the likes of Michigan State (38-18), USC (49-14), and North Carolina State (35-14), all of whom currently own a place in the Polls. Furthermore, their lone defeat came at the hands of Top-Ranked Georgia (20-19), whom got the best of them in a narrow, defensive battle. Since that loss, Notre Dame has done nothing but ascend in the eyes of the CFP Committee, with a win tonight potentially catapulting them even higher than their lofty ranking, particularly given the difficult matchups facing both Georgia and Alabama today. When we last saw the Irish, they managed to avoid the letdown of facing an unranked opponent on the heels of consecutive meetings with the Trojans and Wolfpack, outlasting a very game Wake Forest in a 48-37 affair in South Bend. Simply put, this one was a shootout, folks; the two teams combined for a staggering 1,297 Yards of Total Offense, with the hosts posting a whopping 710 of that total in the most balanced of fashions, with 330 coming through the air and another 380 on the ground. Granted, they did nearly allow a comfortable 41-16 lead to evaporate, but the offensive fireworks they provided were impressive nonetheless. Then again, those fireworks have often come via one of the most prolific Rushing Attacks in the country, with Kelly’s troops racking up a ridiculous 324.8 Yards (5th Overall) on a very healthy 7.0 Yards per Carry. Thus far, they’ve hung at least 300 Rushing Yards on all but two of their nine opponents, with six different players accounting for at least 100 Rushing Yards. Chief among them has been Tailback Josh Adams, who ranks Ninth in the country with 1,911 Yards and Nine Touchdowns. The imposing Junior has been very explosive when toting the rock, picking up 8.7 Yards per Carry, with six 100-Yard performances to his credit, though he was forced to exit last weekend’s jaunt with the Demon Deacons due to sustaining an upper-body injury. When he met the Hurricanes in last year’s 30-27 victory in South Bend, Adams ran for Ninety-Four Yards and a Score on just twelve Carries, with his 41-Yard Touchdown Run with 5:53 left to play in the Fourth Quarter tying the game, before the Irish could kick a decisive 23-Yard Field Goal. Also factoring heavily into the Rushing Attack is Brandon Wimbush, who in his first season as the Starter has erased the disappointment of the previous campaign. Wimbush has rushed for 639 Yards and Thirteen Touchdowns on 103 Carries, as Kelly has utilized him heavily as a rusher in not only the Option-Heavy scheme the team has adopted, but also on bootlegs and other designed running plays. With that said, don’t sleep on his ability to throw the ball downfield, for despite only completing 51.5% of his Attempts, the Junior has averaged 12.5 Yards per Completion, while tossing Eleven Touchdowns to just Two Interceptions. He too suffered an injury in the win over Wake Forest, leaving the game late after taking a shot to his throwing hand, which will need to be monitored throughout tonight’s affair.
Meanwhile, now is the time in which we’ll see if Miami (8-0, 6-0 in ACC) has indeed returned to the ranks of College Football’s elite, or if they’re once again being touted for greatness prematurely based on their reputation. There are a number of things working in their favor at the moment, particularly given the state of the rest of the major programs in the State of Florida (Florida and Florida State) being in complete disarray. The Hurricanes also currently own the nation’s longest winning streak, checking in at thirteen consecutive victories, which coincidentally began after last year’s aforementioned loss at Notre Dame. Furthermore, their most recent triumph, a convincing 28-10 win over Thirteenth-Ranked Virginia Tech, finally gave them a victory over a ranked opponent. It can’t be overstated just how important that win was for a team that despite beginning the season undefeated, had yet to face anything that could be remotely considered as stiff competition, and had recently struggled to defeat them at that. Case in point; in the four wins preceding the defeat of the Hokies, Mark Richt’s charges had beaten the likes of Florida State (24-20), Georgia Tech (25-24), Syracuse (27-19), and North Carolina (24-19) by an average margin of 4.5 Points, with the combined Win Percentage of those four opponents parlaying to a mediocre .371. No wonder the CFP Committee wasn’t showing them any love. However, last weekend’s win began to change the perception, as the ‘Canes thoroughly thrashed their Coastal Division Neighbors, outgaining them 429 to 299 in Total Yardage, while forcing Four Turnovers, which is something that the Defense has been highly adept at this season. Through eight fixtures, Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz’s troops have amassed a whopping twenty Takeaways, accumulating four in each of the last three outings, which is rather remarkable. Thirteen different players have registered a Takeaway, with Defensive Backs Michael Jackson (27 TKL, 2.0 TFL 4 INT, 4 PD) and Jaquan Johnson (58 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR) chief among them with seven Takeaways between them. This should make for an intriguing clash of strengths, for while the Hurricanes have thrived off of turning their opponents over, the Irish have been very cautious with the football, committing just seven Turnovers thus far, with only two in the last six games. Of course, a lot of that has been due to their ability to keep things grounded with the running game, and not giving their opponents many opportunities to pick off an errant pass. This could be a potential problem area for Richt and Co., who haven’t been overly consistent when it comes to defending the run this season; the 102 Yards they relegated Virginia Tech to aside, they had been gashed on occasion up front for an average of 182.1 Rushing Yards on 4.2 Yards per Carry, with 217.3 Yards having been relinquished in that aforementioned four-game stretch of close contests. This is a very aggressive Defensive Front that utilizes a number of Stunts and Blitzes, which while allowing them to lead the nation with a ridiculous Sixty-Eight Tackles for Loss, can occasionally get them into trouble as opponents have broken a number of long runs. It may sound cliché, but the old saying that the game is won in the trenches remains true in this particular matchup, for if Miami can make those splash plays in the Backfield and get Notre Dame in longer Down and Distance, then they’ll force them to throw the ball more frequently, which will in turn open up the opportunity of producing Takeaways. Again, as we stated earlier, it simply can’t be overstated how significant a win tonight would be for this Program, which appears to finally be back on the right path with Richt running the show. The Hurricanes played the proverbial disrespect card last week as the Hokies entered Hard Rock Stadium as favorites, though it remains to be seen if they can use that as motivation for a second consecutive week, particularly now that they’ve gotten quite a bit of love from the national media leading up to tonight’s showdown. Then again, this is Notre Dame, folks. Catholics versus Convicts, with a wealth of bad blood that in today’s social climate is just waiting to be exploited, which should provide both of these teams all the fuel they’ll need to be motivated tonight.