Hard Rock Stadium is the epicenter of college football’s Week 11 slate, as Saturday night’s matchup between two historic programs in Notre Dame and Miami will have major CFB Playoff and national title implications. The Fighting Irish ranked No. 3 in this week’s release, while the Hurricanes checked in at No. 7. With four weeks remaining in the college football season, every game is a must-win situation for both teams, as there is little margin for error the rest of the way. With that in mind, the loser of this game would face an uphill battle to get into the CFB Playoff.
After a disappointing 4-8 campaign last year, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wasted no time in reshaping the program. Kelly hired two new coordinators, with Chip Long taking over the offensive play-calling duties, and Mike Elko brought from Wake Forest to call the defensive signals. Both hires have paid big dividends for the Fighting Irish. Under Long’s direction, the offense has made steady improvement each week and has scored at least 33 points in seven consecutive games. Elko’s defense has allowed just one opponent (Wake Forest) to score more than 20 points and limited opposing offenses to just 5.04 yards per play.
In just his second year at the helm in Coral Gables, Mark Richt has Miami back in the national conversation. The Hurricanes delivered a statement victory over Virginia Tech last Saturday to improve 8-0 overall and 6-0 in ACC action. Additionally, the win extended Miami’s winning streak to 13, which is the longest in the nation. If Virginia loses to Louisville this week, Miami will clinch its first Coastal Division title since joining the ACC in 2004. With recruiting on the upswing and the on-field success over the last two years, the Hurricanes are poised to become an annual threat to the CFB Playoff under Richt’s watch.
Notre Dame holds a 18-7-1 series edge over Miami. The Fighting Irish have won four in a row over the Hurricanes, including a 30-27 matchup in South Bend last year. Notre Dame has lost its last five road trips to Miami.
Notre Dame at Miami
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Notre Dame -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Notre Dame’s Rushing Attack
While quarterback Brandon Wimbush continues to get better with each snap, the unquestioned strength of Notre Dame’s offense is its ground attack and offensive line. The Fighting Irish are pounding opponents for 324.8 rushing yards per game this season, with rushers averaging a whopping 7.04 yards per carry. Junior running back Josh Adams is having a terrific (and potentially worthy of Heisman consideration) season. Adams has rushed for 1,191 yards and nine touchdowns on 137 carries, averaging 132.3 per contest and 8.7 a carry. He also leads all players at the FBS level with seven rushes of 60 yards or more in 2017. Adams was banged up in the win over Wake Forest but is expected to be ready to go by Saturday night. When Adams needs a rest, Deon McIntosh (367 yards), Dexter Williams (280) and Tony Jones (198) are capable options.
Left tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson anchor the offensive line, which is one of the best in college football through the first 11 weeks of the season. In addition to the success of the offensive line in clearing the way for rushers, this unit has allowed only 14 sacks in nine games.
How will Notre Dame’s offensive line match up against a fast and athletic front seven for Miami? This is likely to be the key to Saturday night’s game. The Hurricanes rank 11th in the ACC in rush defense but are only giving up 3.9 yards per carry. Additionally, coordinator Manny Diaz’s group has allowed just four scores on the ground all season and limited Virginia Tech to 102 yards last Saturday. Shaq Quarterman (47 tackles and four tackles for a loss) leads the way for a trio of sophomore starters at linebacker, with Joe Jackson (7.5 TFL), Chad Thomas (7.0 TFL) and Kendrick Norton (6 TFL) the top performers in the trenches. Diaz’s defensive line was dealt a setback earlier this week, as Demetrius Jackson (7.5 TFL in 2017) was ruled out for the season due to injury.
Miami has the speed and athleticism to match Notre Dame’s strength and power in the trenches. Can the Hurricanes keep Adams in check and prevent the junior from breaking big plays on the ground? Not only is big-play prevention key, Miami has to put Notre Dame’s offense into obvious passing situations and force Brandon Wimbush to win this game with his arm.
2. The Quarterbacks
Since losing running back Mark Walton due to injury, the focal point of Miami’s offense has shifted to quarterback Malik Rosier. The first-year starter has delivered a handful of plays in the clutch to beat Syracuse, Florida State and Georgia Tech and overcame a couple of turnovers to knock off Virginia Tech last Saturday. Rosier enters Saturday night’s game completing 56.2 percent of his passes for 2,273 yards and 19 touchdowns to only nine picks. He’s also chipped in 295 yards and three scores on the ground and is second among quarterbacks in the ACC with four completions of 50 yards or more.
Rosier is far from the only offensive standout for Miami. Running back Travis Homer (607 yards) has been steady in Walton’s absence. Braxton Berrios (36 catches) is a clutch option at receiver, with Christopher Herndon (32) and Ahmmon Richards (17) headlining the other go-to options. Richards has been dealing with a hamstring injury for most of the season, but he’s caught 10 of his 17 receptions in 2017 over the last three games. The sophomore should be more involved over the final few weeks of the season.
While Rosier and Miami’s offense struggle on third downs, this unit has generated the most plays (16) of 40 yards or more in the ACC in 2017. Getting behind the chains and into third-and-long situations all night is a not a successful strategy, but the Hurricanes have a penchant for producing plays at the right time. Can Notre Dame’s improved defense keep this group from hitting on those big gains and force Miami to sustain drives? The Fighting Irish are giving up 5.04 yards per play but rank 17th nationally in scoring defense.
Notre Dame signal-caller Brandon Wimbush has experienced his share of ups and downs in his first year as the starter. Wimbush has struggled with his accuracy (51.5 percent) but has taken care of the ball (two picks) and passed for 1,286 yards over eight starts. And in an encouraging sign for coach Brian Kelly and coordinator Chip Long, Wimbush had his best passing effort of the season against Wake Forest (280 yards). While Wimbush is still developing as a passer, he’s an impact runner and a solid complement to Adams on the ground. The sophomore has rushed for 639 yards and 13 touchdowns this year, averaging 6.3 per carry. Additionally, he’s posted four games of 100 or more yards, including 207 in a win against Boston College.
Miami’s mission on defense is pretty simple on Saturday night: Stop the run and force Wimbush to win through the air. But if the sophomore has to hoist the ball 30-40 times to win, he’s got plenty of weapons to stretch the field. Chase Claypool (14.8 ypc), Equanimeous St. Brown (22 catches) and tight end Alize Mack (17) will put stress on a Miami secondary ranked No. 2 in the ACC in pass efficiency defense.
If Wimbush has to throw with the game on the line, will the sophomore deliver? And on the other sideline, can Rosier produce enough big plays to keep Miami’s offense on schedule?
With both teams among the best in the nation in turnover margin, this area could play a huge role in how Saturday night’s game is decided. Notre Dame is tied at fourth nationally with a margin of plus-12, and Miami isn’t far behind with a plus-11 margin. The Fighting Irish have forced 19 takeaways through nine games, with the Hurricanes generating 20.
Considering both teams excel at takeaways and don’t give it away often, one mistake by either offense could be significant.
This is a tough game to predict. Notre Dame probably won’t hit its normal production on the ground against Miami’s defense, and Wimbush will have to connect on throws early to keep the Hurricanes off balance. When Miami has the ball, Rosier is facing an improved Notre Dame defense – but also one giving up five yards per play. The Hurricanes need Homer and Rosier to make their share of gains on the ground, but the key for this offense will be the big plays downfield via the pass. The guess here is both teams land a few punches. However, Wimbush is getting better with each snap, and the sophomore leads a late drive in the second half to lift Notre Dame to a tight win in Miami.