Sure, there was that meaningless bowl game a few seasons ago. A little tussle in El Paso between two then-7-5 teams. The Irish rolled, 33-17 behind their unexpected MVP, Canes quarterback Jacory Harris, who coughed up four interceptions – but still, it was a game of impostors and not the Miami / Notre Dame showdowns that made the 80s legendary.
Modern-day kids wearing heroic jerseys, but playing middle-of-the-road football with ten combined losses between them.
The 2012 meet-up between these two squads is hardly late-80s-worthy, but it’s a legitimate step in the right direction. The Irish roll in undefeated and their 4-0 record got some juice with back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Michigan, which helped bury a near loss to a good-not-great Purdue team.
The Canes only blemish was a big one – a 52-13 beat down in Manhattan when Miami was throttled by Kansas State the second game of the season. Since then, three straight wins – including comebacks and nail-biters against Georgia Tech and NC State. Neither a juggernaut, but UM’s offense still rolled both squads, who were expected to bring more on the defensive side of the football.
While Miami and Notre Dame have played a combined nine games this season, there are still questions surrounding both programs and Saturday night – under the lights of Soldier Field in Chicago, nationally broadcast on NBC – answers will be had.
Are the Irish a true defensive power, or are the Spartans and Wolverines simply not that potently offensively? Michigan State was held to a field goal when playing Notre Dame, but only mustered up twenty-three in a win over Eastern Michigan a week later.
Last week they scored sixteen against an Ohio State team that gave up twenty-eight to a bad Cal team in mid-September and before that, even Central Florida scored sixteen in The Horseshoe.
The Canes sit at 3-0 in ACC play, but could just as easily be 0-3. Miami had to rally from a 14-0 deficit to beat Boston College week one and while putting up a combined eighty-six points and 1,260 yards against Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, the Canes surrendered 1,083 yards and seventy-three points to the opposition.
Scarier for UM, the ‘feast or famine’ style of play. A 19-0 lead against the Yellow Jackets was met with the defense giving up thirty-six straight.
The Canes responded, scoring the game’s final twenty-three points, keeping Georgia Tech off the board from the 10:07 mark in the third quarter, but only put up three points in the middle quarters, bookended by nineteen in the first, fourteen in the fourth and six in overtime.
Against North Carolina State, a similar performance. Up 23-7 after one, Miami could’ve led 37-7 early in the second, but left points on the field with two dropped passes in the end zone – on separate drives.
The first four Wolfpack turnovers the Canes forced yielded zero points and after twenty-three in the first, it was a scoreless second quarter and UM didn’t find the board again until the final minute of the third.
From there, two fourth quarter touchdowns – including a sixty-two yard ‘Hail Mary’ in the final moments, after squandering a scoring opportunity the previous possession and the teams appearing headed for overtime.
Saturday’s showdown in Chicago has all the makings … of something. The big stage. The long-time powerhouse programs. The national audience. The rare meeting – as well as the sub-plot of two teams seeking their identity and a signature win.
No one outside of South Bend is as enamored with Notre Dame’s 4-0 record as Irish fans, while everyone not on board with “The U” is putting more precedence on shoddy defense as opposed to an explosive offense and a never-say-die attitude this team has embodied, scrapping back in two straight games and securing wins.
On paper, another game the opponent should win and the Hurricanes should lose. Two weeks back Georgia Tech was somewhere around a two-touchdown favorite, but that didn’t deter UM’s players as much as it did the fans and the media.
This week, Notre Dame enters the fourteen-point favorite and again for Miami to prevail, it will take this team looking within, staying united and ignoring the critics – be it the media, the opposition, or even the locals still not buying in.
Without putting more pressure on either program, the stakes are high and this is the type of game that can change minds and earn respect.
For Miami, Stephen Morris needs to be the guy who shone in the first and fourth quarters the past few weeks. No mid-game lull is going to fly when playing Notre Dame at Soldier Field – just look at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State for proof, as both lesser teams almost survived the Canes’ strong start and mid-game collapse.
Miami must also establish the run, which wasn’t the case – nor was it necessary, against North Carolina State. (When airing it out for 566 yards, running isn’t a “must”.)
That doesn’t mean that Mike James or Duke Johnson must carry this game on their shoulders. The Canes just need some balance, some sustained drives and to realize that many of those plays against the Wolfpack were more akin to a game of NCAA 2013 on an XBOX than they were a typical real-life college football throwdown.
UM receivers need to step up, as do the tight ends, who left fourteen points on the field last week. On offense, there simply cannot be any holes – outside of those created by a mistake-free offensive line. Why? Because the mistakes and breakdowns are coming on the other side.
Mark D’Onofrio and this defense will have their hands full – not because Notre Dame is explosive, but because they’re effective. They’ll get some points, they’ll work to force turnovers, they’ll capitalize on any of Miami’s mistakes and they’ll grind.
Work to slow down the UM offense, while chipping away. Notre Dame would love nothing more than a 24-13 game, in their favor. One much like Miami’s debacle at Kansas State – where Morris was sacked several times, forcing rushed throws with no touch.
The Irish want plays like the Eduardo Clements fumble, coughing it up after converting on third down – or a play like the Clive Walford reception, where a touchdown looked like a gimmie, but the Wildcats got the stop, the Canes’ offense sputtered and it was three instead of seven.
The Canes simply need another quick start like they’ve seen the past few weeks. Get on the board quickly and change the Irish game plan. Get in their head early – but then stay on them. Don’t self-implode in the middle quarters as you don’t want to give UND momentum in front of what is essentially a home crowd.
Truth be told, Miami needs this game more than Notre Dame, and you hope the kids play with sense of urgency on Saturday night. It’s a game in that in the grand scheme of things, should the Canes lose, it’s hardly detrimental.
There are a litany of reasons UM should lose and at night’s end, it’d be 4-2 and 3-0 in ACC play with North Carolina on deck. The goal of winning the Coastal would still be in tact and Al Golden would quickly have to help his team lick their wounds and regroup for a Tar Heels team that is headed south looking for a win.
Losing isn’t season-defining — but a Hurricanes win is.
Jumping to 5-1 with a win over the ninth-ranked team — Notre Dame, no less? National television? Primetime showdown? Golden with a mic in his face post-game, taking about ‘the process’ and letting the world again see Miami players celebrating with the 20K fans who made the pilgrimage?
Priceless. Especially in the wake of what this program has dealt with this past year-plus.
A win still wouldn’t mean the Canes are “back” – but it would again solidify the direction things are going under Golden, would show that the future is bright and would sell more national recruits on the Miami brand — which is why as an athletic director, you agree to a game at a ‘neutral’ site against Notre Dame in Chicago.
The upside of a win is priceless.
Miami has its work cut out Saturday night. This is a tall mountain to climb, but at 4-1 it’s a logical step for these young Hurricanes.
Battle-tested early with a few tough road games. Resiliency shown in two great comeback wins. An offense that has come alive and a defense, that while giving up way-too-many yards and points, has stepped up in critical moments, getting necessary stops and turnovers that have been game-defining.
Miami still stings from that Kansas State road trip and knows that a win this Saturday night can help put that loss even further in the rearview. The Canes also know this team has what it takes to fight for sixty minutes, fully dependent on every teammate and brother saddled up next to them.
A bond has been formed these past few weeks and this weekend’s showdown will either be something wonderful coming to fruition, or another stepping stone and lesson learned.
You hope for the former, while understanding the latter.
However it plays, Go Canes. Beat The Irish.
Christian Bello has been covering Miami Hurricanes athletics since the mid-1990s. After spending almost a decade as a columnist for CanesTime, he launched allCanesBlog.com. – the official blog for allCanes.com : The #1 Canes Shop Since 1959. Bello has joined up with XOFan.com and will be a guest columnist at CaneInsider.com this fall. Follow him on Twitter @ChristianRBello.