From the day a season ends, college football fans ravenously countdown to the kick off the following season. This mentality had made the 2016 Notre Dame football season all the more disheartening. With five games still to play, the Miami Hurricanes come to town in one of the least hyped meetings in series history.
One of the perks of Notre Dame’s ACC deal was the guarantee of playing Miami once every few years and renewing a rivalry that made a name for itself under the “Catholics vs. Convicts” moniker in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, what was once a game that would decide a National Champion will now most likely decide the ACC representative to the Belk Bowl.
The two teams have met just twice since 1990 and ND has won handily in each contest. The Irish defeated the Hurricanes 33-17 in the 2010 Sun Bowl in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. The last meeting came in 2012 when Notre Dame demolished Miami 41-3 the Shamrock Series game at Soldier Field.
After a 4-0 start, the Hurricanes rose to #10 in in polls, but have since come back to earth with three straight losses. That 4-0 start was impressive in name only as the Hurricanes’ four wins were against Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, Appalachian St., and Georgia Tech – not exactly murderers row.
Miami’s offense is led by quarterback Brad Kaaya who has a 62% completion percentage and 12 touchdowns on the season. If the junior can stay upright in the pocket, he should have a field day attacking the inexperienced backend of the Irish defense.
That “if” manifests itself in Miami’s ability to protect Kaaya. The Hurricanes’ offensive line has been a weak spot all season and allowed eight sacks in last week’s defeat at Virginia Teach, but it should be a matchup of weaknesses as Notre Dame’s defensive line has been maligned throughout the season.
Saturday will be a proving ground for the Notre Dame defense. They have had two impressive performances leading into the bye week, but they had the aid of Hurricane Matthew against NC State and Stanford’s offense has proven to be one of the most inept units in the country.
With all of the negative chatter surrounding the program during the bye week, there should be no shortage of motivation for the Irish when they take the field Saturday.
I am the eternal optimist when it comes to Notre Dame football and that puts me in a very small minority amongst the fan base. Look for last week’s bye week to serve as a welcome reprieve – allowing the team to refocus and recalibrate their goals for the season. National Championship hopes and New Year’s Six Bowl possibilities are long gone, but the goals for the rest of the season are clear – finish the season strong, get to a bowl game and carry some momentum into 2017 (the inverse of 2014 if you will).
This Saturday, the offense will find its September form once again and look for Kizer to be more willing to dump passes into the flats and accept what the defense gives him. Both teams have glaring weaknesses, which will make for an entertaining game that will come down to the fourth quarter – like every ND game. A Justin Yoon (Sorin shout out) field goal will be the difference as the Irish defeat Miami 37-34 and start to right the ship before facing back-to-back weeks of the always fun triple option.