Miami-Florida (4-1) vs. (9) Notre Dame (4-0)
Saturday, October 6, 7:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The ninth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish get back to work after a bye, as they make the short trip to Chicago to renew a rivalry with the Miami Hurricanes at Soldier Field.
Brian Kelly's Irish are in the midst of a murderous slate that has included wins over Big Ten powers Michigan State and Michigan and continues after this contest with showdowns with Stanford, BYU and Oklahoma in the month of October.
Al Golden's Hurricanes are off to a strong start both in and out of the ACC. Miami has won four of its first five games, with the lone loss coming at nationally-ranked Kansas State in week two (52-13). The team has rebounded with three straight wins, including a thrilling 44-37 shootout victory over NC State last weekend to move to 3-0 in league play.
This is the 25th all-time meeting between these two storied programs. These two team has combined for 13 AP national titles, with eight for Notre Dame and five for Miami. The Irish hold a 16-7-1 series lead and have won both meetings that took place on a neutral field.
Miami has gotten better since its humbling loss to Kansas State and hardly resembles that squad, especially on the offensive side of the ball. In fact, the team is coming off a game in which quarterback Stephen Morris amassed an ACC-record 566 passing yards, with five TDs at the expense of NC State.
Morris has really emerged as one of the ACC's top passers, completing nearly 60 percent of his throws, for 1,635 yards and nine TDs this season. Phillip Dorsett headlines a deep receiving corps, pacing Miami in receptions (28), receiving yards (464) and TD catches (3).
It isn't only the passing game that is in sync right now, as the ground game has a strong, productive one-two punch in the form of freshman Duke Johnson (359 yards, 6.9 ypc, five TDs) and senior Mike James (278 yards, 4.6 ypc, three TDs).
While the Miami offense has thrived, the defense has really struggled. The Hurricanes are allowing 33.4 ppg and getting gashed by both the run (225.6 ypg) and the pass (269.0 ypg).
Junior defensive end Shayon Green leads the team with 35 tackles. Sophomore Anthony Chickillo (21 tackles) comes off the other edge and leads the team in both TFLs (4.00), sacks (2.0) and fumble recoveries (2). Redshirt freshman Eddie Johnson has made an impact, as the young LB 31 tackles, with one sack and three forced fumbles.
Notre Dame isn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard this season, but the Irish haven't had to. Despite averaging just over 350 yards per game, there has been balance between the run and the pass.
Sophomore QB Everett Golson has settled in as the starter and has been solid at managing the offense. He has completed 56.2 percent of his passes, for 641 yards and just three TDs.
The ground game is fueled by a stable of quality backs, led by Theo Riddick (242 yards, 60.5 ypg), George Atkinson III (7.7 ypc) and Cierre Wood (5.6 ypc, 47.5 ypg).
A vanilla offense and ball control are keys for Notre Dame according to Kelly.
"Yeah, we ran it fast last year. You saw what happened," said Kelly. "We got a lot of speeding tickets, and a bad analogy. But clearly we want to be more of an offense that can have big play capabilities. We need to score more points, no question about that. We're not scoring enough points. But as you can see, and it's been the theme. We're going to be careful with the football. We're not going to be careless with it. Until we're ready to amp it up, so to speak, we'll be careful with the football."
While Miami's success has been fueled by its offense, Notre Dame is getting it done with stifling defensive play. A big play unit, the Irish rank ninth nationally in sacks (3.5 per game) and pass efficiency defense (96.79), while already recording 14 sacks and eight interceptions in the first four games.
The heart-and-soul of the defense is All-American linebacker Manti Te'o. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior is a favorite to win the Butkus Award this season, leading the Irish in tackles (38), with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Sophomore end Stephon Tuitt and junior cornerback Bennett Jackson have both been a big part of the defensive success as well. Tuitt leads the team in sacks with six. while Jackson has three INTs and one fumble recovery.
Golden knows the challenge that Notre Dame's defense will present.
"Really impressive defensive group", said Golden at his weekly press conference. "I can't tell you how impressed I am with them. Really strong and rugged up front, 3-4 alignment, [Louis] Nix at the nose is a load to handle. Linebackers are all big. [Manti] Te'o in the middle is as good as advertised, holds it all together, and does a great job running the operation for them."
The difference in this game is defense, where the Irish have a distinct advantage. Expect Te'o and company to make enough big plays to keep the Hurricanes at bay.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Notre Dame 20, Miami-Florida 12
10/03 10:42:04 ET