It’s no longer the Catholics vs. the Convicts but emotion should be almost as high on Saturday night when No. 6 Miami hosts No. 5 Notre Dame on the national stage in a renewal of their storied rivalry. The Hurricanes made a statement and quieted some of their many critics last week with a resounding 28-10 victory over ACC rival and then-No. 13 Virginia Tech while the Fighting Irish continued to roll with a 48-37 triumph over Wake Forest.
It will be the first time since 1989 that both schools have been ranked in the Top 10 at the time of their meeting and, as it was in the rivalry’s glory days of the 1980s, the teams are right in the thick of the national title race, with Brian Kelly’s Irish sitting third in the College Football Playoff rankings and Mark Richt’s Hurricanes jumping up to seventh. With the exception of a one-point loss to Georgia — the No. 1 team in the CFP rankings — Notre Dame has been plowing through its schedule thanks to Heisman hopeful Josh Adams and a powerful ground attack that has almost 1,000 more yards rushing this year than all of last season. Miami has taken a different path to the top, often needing clutch plays at crunch time to keep its 13-game winning streak alive — Miami’s last loss was 30-27 to Notre Dame last season — but the Hurricanes showed against Virginia Tech that they have the offensive weapons and defensive speed and muscle to compete for the title. “We like it when we’re competing in games like this, late in the year, that are that meaningful,” Richt said. “It’s what you hope for, it’s what you work towards. It just so happens this Saturday night is going to be very meaningful to both teams.”
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Notre Dame -3
ABOUT NOTRE DAME (8-1): Led by a bulldozing offensive front, the Irish ground attack (324.8 yards per game) is almost impossible to stop and Adams (132.3 average) has made opponents pay with his home-run ability as he has seven touchdown runs of at least 60 yards this season, although his streak of four straight games with a TD rush of over 70 yards was snapped last week against Wake Forest. “Their offensive line, probably the best in America,” Richt said. “I don’t think very many people would argue that. ... This is just line up and physically move people off the ball, a kick-your-tail type offensive line and great runners.” The Irish defense has had its moments but can be beaten through the air, giving up 245.3 yards passing (90th in the nation) and 15 scores, a weakness that Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier (283 yards passing per game) and his dangerous receiving corps will look to exploit.
ABOUT MIAMI (8-0): Adams is not the only one making a living off big plays as the Rosier-led Hurricanes have proven far more adept at producing quick-strike scores — two of their four touchdowns were over 42 yards against Virginia Tech — than putting together long methodical drives. But Miami may need to churn out the yardage with running back Travis Homer to keep the defense fresh and off the field as the Hurricanes, although the nation’s best at racking up tackles for loss (8.8 per game), have still bent far too often against the run, surrendering 176 yards or more in the four games prior to limiting Virginia Tech to 102. Forcing the Irish into mistakes will be crucial as the Hurricanes added four more turnovers against the Hokies and they now have 20 takeaways (13 interceptions, seven fumble recoveries) to rank fourth in the nation with an average turnover margin of plus-1.38 per game (Notre Dame sits tied for fifth with 1.33).
1. Kelly will coach his 100th game at Notre Dame on Saturday, joining Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz as the only head coaches to reach the milestone.
2. With its first 6-0 start in the ACC in team history, Miami remains in first place in the Coastal Division and its magic number to clinch the division is one.
3. The Irish hold an 18-7-1 series advantage, but the Hurricanes have won five straight meetings in Miami.
PREDICTION: Notre Dame 34, Miami 33