Notre Dame vs. Miami: 5 problems for the Fighting Irish

Miami defensive back Amari Carter (5) celebrates after sacking Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson during the first half of a recent game in Miami Gardens, Fla. (By The Associated Press)

Miami defensive back Amari Carter (5) celebrates after sacking Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson during the first half of a recent game in Miami Gardens, Fla. (By The Associated Press)

It has been 377 days since Miami (Fla.) has lost a football game, which ironically, was a defeat in South Bend to Notre Dame last season.

The two national powers will meet tonight (8 p.m., ABC) in Miami and a glance at the numbers shows that something will have to give.

The third-ranked Fighting Irish (8-1) have won four straight games in the series with their heated rival, while the seventh-ranked Hurricanes (8-0) have won 13 straight games and haven’t lost to Notre Dame in Miami in four decades.

Here are some issues that Miami will create for Notre Dame, as both teams close late this season in on a spot in the College Football Playoff.

TRENCH WARFARE

The strengths of both of these teams lie, not only in the skill positions, which everyone will see clearly, but along the offensive (in the case of Notre Dame) and defensive (for Miami) lines.

The ‘Canes have one of the most athletic and fiercest defensive fronts and no team in the country gets into opposing backfields for stops like Miami does, which ranks first nationally in tackles for a loss and fifth in sacks.

“We’re designed to attack,” Miami coach Mark Richt said of his defensive front. “We’re more of a speed, rush type group. We don’t try to play in the middle of a blocker, play a half gap here, half gap there; we’re going to get in the gaps.”

And when they do “get in the gaps,” they make stops.

“We are who we are in terms of running the football,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.

A week ago, the Fighting Irish didn’t struggle to run the ball against Wake Forest, but its top runner, junior Josh Adams, wasn’t entirely healthy and carried the ball just five times. Kelly said that can’t happen against this defense.

“Our success will be based upon our ability to get him going,” Kelly said. “Certainly that is going to be a great challenge against a great defense.”

NO VACATION IN FLORIDA

Not only have the ‘Canes beaten their foes for 13 straight games, but in the case of Notre Dame, it hasn’t been able to win in south Florida.

Yes, the Irish have beaten Miami four straight times, but they haven’t done so in Miami since 1977.

However, Notre Dame senior linebacker Drue Tranquill said history won’t play a role in the outcome today.

“I think everyone is aware of the situation with them being ranked in the top 10 and us, as well,” Tranquill said. “But if you get wrapped up in that, none of that is going to win you the game. What is going to win is your execution. They’re a bunch of 18- to 22-year-old guys just like we are. We have to focus on execution of our game plan in order to win.”

NO PASSING FANCY

Kelly has been very supportive of redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon Wimbush, despite his average completion percentage (51.5 percent). That number probably won’t be significantly higher against a tough, athletic and experienced Miami secondary.

The Hurricanes rank third in the country in pass efficiency defense and have picked off 13 passes in their eight games.

“People migrate to immediately to completion percentage,” Kelly said of the criticism of his quarterback, “but he’s 60 percent efficient on third down in all third down situations from one to 10 yards. So, he’s been really efficient on third down.”

Wimbush will need to be “efficient” against a Hurricane secondary that features three players (Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, and Malek Young) who have combined for 35 career starts.

“Johnson is an outstanding safety,” Kelly said, “and Redwine brings a nice skill-set because he is a former corner, who can play the No. 2 receiver.”

ADAMS WILL HAVE TO WORK

As mentioned, the Miami defensive front gets past opposing offensive lines, but the Hurricane linebackers also do their fair share of work.

The Hurricanes are a top 10 team nationally in yards allowed per play (4.4), while Notre Dame has gained almost seven yards per play this season.

“They’ve got linebackers that can play on all three downs,” Kelly said. “They don’t have to nickel out and that creates some issues.”

The Notre Dame passing game will have to be effective, even if under duress, which Miami will make sure Wimbush is, in order to create some space to run the ball effectively, as well.

If the Miami front seven curbs Notre Dame’s ability to run the ball, then that will have a dramatic effect on Wimbush’s ability to throw down field.

“(Adams) has got to play,” Kelly said. “Getting him into the game, getting him comfortable into the game is going to be really, really important for us.”

DON’T FALL BEHIND

A week ago, the Notre Dame defense was criticized for allowing Wake Forest to score 27 second-half points. Yeah, Miami doesn’t do that.

If Notre Dame falls behind in the second half, it will be difficult to overtake the Hurricanes, who are a strong team post-halftime.

Miami has outscored its opposition 390 to 184 in 21 games under second-year coach Mark Richt, and that includes holding opponents to 10 or fewer points in 15 of those games.

“It’s a really talented football team,” Kelly said, “a really good football team across the board. But it’s not just about talent; (Miami) is well coached. You can see that.”

“It’s a lot easier to kind of put together a bunch of talented players, but to coach them, get them in the right position, line them up, getting this group to play together with great amount of energy, Mark’s done a great job.”

For more on college football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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