Can Manti Te'o keep Miami's offense in check?
With a combined record of 8-1 and both teams riding a wave of momentum after key wins over the last few weeks, Miami-Notre Dame is one of Week 6’s most intriguing games. These two teams haven’t met in a regular season game since 1990 but there’s plenty of history in this series. The Irish and Hurricanes met 19 times from 1972-90, including the infamous “Catholics vs. Convicts” game in 1988.
With Notre Dame teaming with the ACC for a football scheduling agreement, these two teams will meet more regularly in the future. Games between these two teams are currently scheduled for 2016 and 2017 but that could change as ACC’s alignment with Notre Dame takes shape.
There’s plenty at stake on Saturday, as the Irish need to win to keep their BCS hopes alive, while Miami hopes to add to its three-game winning streak. Notre Dame has not allowed more than 17 points this season, but the Hurricanes have scored at least 38 in each of their last three games.
Storylines to Watch in Notre Dame vs. Miami
Can Miami’s passing attack test Notre Dame’s secondary?
Scoring on the Irish defense has been nearly impossible this year. Notre Dame ranks third nationally in points allowed and is giving up under 300 yards per game (291.3). The success of this defense starts up front, as junior Louis Nix III, sophomore Stephon Tuitt and senior Kapron Lewis-Moore are playing as well as any defensive line in the nation. The Irish are averaging 3.5 sacks a game, and the last three opponents have recorded less than 300 yards of total offense. Linebacker Manti Te’o is off to a terrific start, recording 38 tackles, two forced fumbles and three interceptions through the first four weeks of the season. However, if there’s one weakness of the defense, it’s a secondary that has yet to be tested. Notre Dame has played two quarterbacks in their first year of starting, while Purdue’s Caleb TerBush and Michigan’s Denard Robinson aren’t the best pocket passers. Miami quarterback Stephen Morris has been on fire the last two weeks, throwing for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns. If Morris has time to throw, he should be able to hit a few big plays to his receivers. However, if Notre Dame’s pass rush gets to Morris, the inexperience in the secondary won’t be a concern.
Everett Golson or Tommy Rees?
Redshirt freshman Everett Golson is going to be a future star in South Bend, but is he the best quarterback to beat Miami? In the win over Michigan, Golson took a back seat to Rees, as the sophomore threw for 115 yards on eight completions. Rees also filled in against Purdue and led the Irish to a game-winning field goal. Golson was expected to take his lumps in 2012 and all things considered, he’s played relatively well considering this is his first year under center. Barring an injury or struggles by Golson, he should be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback against Miami. However, don’t be surprised if Rees is brought in to provide a spark. Considering the Hurricanes are allowing 269 passing yards a game, regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Irish should move the ball through the air with ease.
Duke Johnson…Miami’s X-Factor?
Miami’s roster is littered with youth but there’s also plenty of promise as this team looks to 2013 and 2014. Running back Duke Johnson has been one of the nation’s top true freshmen, leading the ACC with 184 all-purpose yards per game. Johnson will share carries with Mike James, but the freshman is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Johnson has double-digit carries in each of the last three games and will need at least 20 touches on Saturday night. Although the Hurricanes think they can exploit Notre Dame’s secondary, Johnson has to be a key piece in the gameplan.
Will Notre Dame get its rushing game on track?
The Irish can lean on their defense to win games, but the offense needs to pickup its production if this team wants to make a BCS bowl. Notre Dame ranks 84th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 140.3 yards per game and 3.8 yards per rushing attempt. Three players have received a chunk of carries this season, with Theo Riddick leading the way with 242 yards on 63 attempts. As mentioned above with the quarterbacks, Miami’s defense isn’t exactly a shutdown group. The Hurricanes rank 112th nationally in run defense, which should ample opportunities for Notre Dame to establish its running backs. The Irish don’t need to rush for 300 yards, but getting consistent production from Cierre Wood and Riddick would reduce the pressure on Golson.
With a struggling defense and a surging offense, Miami has been one of the most entertaining teams to watch over the last few weeks. However, the Hurricanes have yet to face a defense of Notre Dame’s caliber, which will be the difference in the game. Although the Irish aren’t a high-scoring offense right now, the opportunities will be there against a Miami defense that is struggling mightily.
The Hurricanes might make this one more interesting than some expect, but Notre Dame’s defense eventually puts the clamps on Morris and his receivers late in the game, while Golson and tight end Tyler Eifert have a big day against Miami’s defense.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Miami 24
by Steven Lassan
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