CHICAGO – The biggest question coming into Saturday night’s game against Miami at Soldier field was whether or not Tommy Rees would start in place of Everett Golson at quarterback. Rumors swirled late in the week that the junior would get the call over the sophomore, and it turned out to be true.
Notre Dame announced before the game that Rees would start and Golson would sit to start the game. The official reason for the benching was a “violation of team rules”. Rees’ night would not last long though as Golson would come in after three plays and lead the Irish to a 41-3 thrashing of the Hurricanes.
The Irish dodged two huge bullets on the game’s opening drive when speedy receiver Phillip Dorsett dropped passes that each should have been touchdowns. The first one was on the game’s opening play from scrimmage and would have gone for 72 yards. The other was three plays later when he dropped a 43-yard pass at the goal line. Dorsett had easily beaten the Irish secondary deep both times.
It looked like Notre Dame would go three-and-out on its first possession with Rees running the offense, but a roughing the kicker personal foul kept the drive alive.
Golson’s “suspension” ended right after that when he trotted on the field to run the offense for the remainder of the drive, which ended in a one-yard touchdown run by Theo Riddick. Golson was 2-of-2 for 24 yards through the air on the drive. He also had two carries for 21 yards.
The Irish defense dodged another bullet on Miami’s second drive when a 14-yard touchdown run by Hurricane QB Stephen Morris was called back on a holding penalty. Miami settled for a 28-yard field goal by Jake Wieclaw to make the score 7-3 with 5:32 remaining in the first quarter. The field goal was the first points Notre Dame had given-up in the first quarter all season.
Notre Dame answered Miami’s field goal with one of its own on its next possession by eating-up 6:22 on the clock in a 70-yard, 13-play drive that ended in Kyle Brindza’s 22-yard field goal to make it a 10-3 lead. The key play of the drive was a 23-yard pass to Tyler Eifert to give ND the ball at the Miami 35. It was Eifert’s 100th career reception, tying him with John Carlson for second in the school record book for receptions by a tight end.
Miami was able to drive from the 25 to midfield on its next possession before punting. Notre Dame then went 65 yards in 14 plays en-route to another Brindza field goal – this one from 32 yards out. The drive took 7:17 off the clock and gave the Irish a 13-3 lead with 5:07 left in the first half.
Two balls bounced Miami’s way late in the half. The first was a Hurricane punt that was downed at the Irish one-yard line. A 32-yard punt by ND’s Ben Turk came after the Irish gained just two yards in three plays, giving Miami the ball at the Irish 35 with 2:09 remaining in the half, but Wieclaw missed on a 47-yard field goal attempt after the ‘Canes gained just five yards of their own.
Golson moved the Irish into field goal range in just five plays on the final drive of the half, which began with 1:01 on the clock. After Cierre Wood gained five yards on first down, Golson hit T.J. Jones on consecutive 11-yard passes and then hit both DaVaris Daniels and John Goodman on gains of 13 each to set-up a 34-yard field goal attempt by Brindza with :01 remaining in the half. Brindza’s kick missed and the Irish settled for a 13-3 lead at the intermission.
Notre Dame outgained Miami 263-171 and converted 18 first downs to the Hurricanes’ six in the first half. Golson was 15-for-20 for 153 yards passing with six carries for 51 yards. Morris was 9-of-19 for 125 yards, while Dorsett, who had three drops, had one reception for six yards.
It took just six plays for Notre Dame to hit pay dirt on the opening possession of the second half. Cierre Wood accounted for 53 of the 81 yards covered on the drive, including his two-yard touchdown run for his first TD of the season. Wood galloped 37 yards to the Miami two after Daniels had reeled-in a 24-yard pass from Golson. The drive, which took just 3:09, gave Notre Dame a 20-3 advantage.
Miami’s next possession netted just 12 yards and ended with another punt. Notre Dame took advantage with a grinding, clock-consuming drive that resulted in Wood’s second touchdown of the night. The Irish ran the ball on all 12 plays, which covered 86 yards and used 6:47 on the clock. It ended with a three-yard plunge by Wood to put Notre Dame up 27-3 with 2:53 to play in the third quarter.
Wood ran the ball just four times for 18 yards in the first half, but he was at 106 yards on 17 carries by the end of the drive. It marked the first time this season he eclipsed the 100-yard mark. The senior ended his night with 117 yards on 18 carries.
George Atkinson scored on a 55-yard run on the third play of Notre Dame’s next drive, which covered 66 yards in three plays and took just 1:34. Atkinson’s run put him over the 100 yard mark and gave ND a 34-7 lead. It marked the first time since 2002 that the Fighting Irish had two backs go over the century mark in the same game. Rashon Powers-Neal and Ryan Grant did it against Stanford that year.
Golson barely needed to pass in the second half. He finished his night 17-for-22 for 186 yards passing and 51 rushing yards on six attempts. T.J. Jones was his top target with 45 yards on four catches.
Rees watched from the sideline for most of the game, but came back in with 9:51 remaining and the Irish with the ball at their own seven after Miami’s deepest drive of the night was stopped after a Morris incompletion.
Reserve running back Cam McDaniel carried the load on the Irish’s final drive of the night, rushing for 55 yards and capping the scoring with a one-yard touchdown plunge.