MIAMI GARDENS (CBSMiami) – The stakes will be high when the 7th ranked Miami Hurricanes (8-0) host the Number 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-1).
Both teams will look to preserve their College Football Playoff chances in this 2017 incarnation of the defining football rivalry of the 1980’s.
While Lou Holtz and Jimmy Johnson won’t be on the sidelines this time around, the “Catholics vs. Convicts” era has not been forgotten.
After things got too heated in the late 80’s, Miami and Notre Dame put their regular rivalry on hiatus following their 1990 meeting. No player on either of the current squads was born before 1994. And yet, they appreciate the history between the programs.
“Honestly, I don’t know how you can be part of this program without knowing the history of this game and this rivalry,” said Hurricanes senior receiver Braxton Berrios. “Everybody in the building, at least the ones I talk to, understand exactly what’s on the line. They understand who [the Fighting Irish] are and why we hate each other so bad. We understand that nobody can bring up Notre Dame vs. Miami without bringing up ‘Catholics vs. Convicts’ first.”
Former Hurricanes receiver Randal “Thrill” Hill, who faced Notre Dame three times during the glory years in ’87, ’88, and ’89, says there’s really no way for the current crop of Canes to truly understand what that era was all about.
“That’s like trying to explain to someone who’s visually impaired what the color ‘blue’ looks like,” said Hill.
Despite those difficulties, Hill gave his best shot at explaining what the Miami/Notre Dame rivalry means to him.
“The University of Miami stands for all that as good,” said Hill. “The University of Miami stands for being able to overcome all obstacles and odds. They stand for true justice and the diversity of different communities. They stand for being able to unite a community. The University of Miami stands for the 305 and it stands for the 954. The University of Miami stands for the ability to go out and face mortal enemies like the ‘choir boys’ from Notre Dame.”
Even if the 2017 Hurricanes can never fully grasp the animosity of which Randal Hill speaks, they can understand how important Saturday’s game truly is. Plus, it offers Miami a chance at payback, after the Canes fell to the Fighting Irish 30-27 in South Bend last season.
Miami’s aggressive defensive front will be tested by Notre Dame’s offensive line. The Hurricanes rank first nationally in tackles for a loss at 8.8 per game and tenth in yards per play allowed at 4.4. Miami’s starting defensive line of Chad Thomas, Kendrick Norton, RJ McIntosh and Joe Jackson have combined for 106 tackles and 12.5 sacks on the season so far.
Miami’s defense lost a key reserve this week, with defensive end Demetrius Jackson set to miss the rest of the season with a lower body injury. He was the team’s co-leader in tackles for loss at 7.5. Jackson’s absence will set the table for more playing time for true freshmen defensive ends Jonathan Garvin and DJ Johnson.
Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish offense leads the country in yards per carry at 7.0. Left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson are considered two of the nation’s best offensive lineman, and have helped propel the nation’s 5th best rushing attack. The Irish average 324.8 yards on the ground per game.
Notre Dame Playmakers to watch
Fueling the Fighting Irish rushing attack are quarterback Brandon Wimbush and star running back Josh Adams. Adams has recorded 1,191 rushing yards on the year, with Wimbush collecting 639 yards on the ground.
Adams has established himself as a Heisman candidate, ranking third nationally in yards per carry at an impressive 8.69. Adams averages 132.3 rushing yards per game – good for 9th best in the nation. And if Miami isn’t disciplined, Adams can hurt them on the big play. Adams owns eight runs of 59 yards or longer, with four of his rushing touchdowns coming on plays of at least 70 yards.
From the quarterback position, Brandon Wimbush has scored a team high 13 rushing touchdowns. He’s got breakaway speed, having rushed for a 65 yard touchdown already this season.
In the passing game, Wimbush has an impressive touchdown to interception ratio of 11 to 2. He’s thrown for 1,287 yards on 102 attempts.
Miami Playmakers to watch
Miami’s offense thrives on the big play. Last week, in the Canes’ 28-10 win against Virginia Tech, sophomore running back Travis Homer broke free for a 64 yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Much like his counterpart in the Irish backfield, Homer cannot be caught from behind when he reaches the open field. He leads his team with 612 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
Miami’s biggest play through the air last week came on a 43 yard touchdown pass from Malik Rosier to tight end Chris Herndon. Miami’s junior quarterback threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third. Rosier has thrown 19 touchdowns to 7 interceptions this season. But, he’ll need to protect the football against the Fighting Irish after throwing 3 INT’s against the Hokies.
Hurricanes starting tight end Chris Herndon has produced fireworks over the past 3 games. Prior to his 43 yard touchdown against Virginia Tech, Herndon scored on a 51 yard touchdown against North Carolina, and collected a 35 yard catch against Syracuse to go with a 10 yard touchdown.
Miami’s fastest deep threat has been true freshman Jeff Thomas, who’s 78 yard touchdown catch against North Carolina is Miami’s longest play from scrimmage this season.
Miami’s famed turnover chain made four appearances last week, and the Hurricanes have forced 20 turnovers through 8 games. Cornerback Michael Jackson has a team high 4 turnovers on 4 interceptions. Last week, Miami got interceptions from Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine, plus fumble recoveries from RJ McIntosh and Jonathan Garvin.
Turnovers won’t come easy against the Fighting Irish, who boast the nation’s 6th most efficient offense.
While Saturday’s Miami-Notre Dame matchup is not a conference game, it’s still possible for the Hurricanes to clinch the ACC’s Coastal Division before the day is done.
If the Virginia Cavaliers lose to Louisville on the road Saturday, Miami would automatically clinch their first outright division title. If Virginia beats the Cardinals, Miami can eliminate them directly when the teams meet head to head in Miami Gardens next week.
Kickoff between the Number 7 Miami Hurricanes and Number 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish is set for 8:00 PM from Hard Rock Stadium. This will be the first time Miami hosts the Irish since 1989, with the previous 3 matchups coming in a bowl game, a neutral site, and in South Bend. Notre Dame leads the all time series 18-7-1.
You can listen to the game on 560 WQAM, with pregame coverage starting at 4:00 PM live from the South Gate at Hard Rock Stadium.