With a trip to the Windy City to play along the lake front against the Hurricanes, here are the six questions that each Irish fan should think about.
Notre Dame is 4-0. The Irish appear to be for real. Questions still remain, however, and the ‘Canes present the next opponent to squash the doubts. Here goes.
6) Will the Irish defense be able to thwart Miami’s passing offense?
The Hurricanes currently rank no. 15 with 328.4 yards passing per game. The Irish pass defense ranks no. 19 at 178.75 yards allowed per game. Something must give.
The biggest question will be whether or not Notre Dame’s pass rush, currently averaging 3.5 sacks per contest, continues to pressure the quarterback. Look for Stephon Tuitt to get loose for a couple of sacks considering how much Miami throws the football, but also look for the mobile Stephen Morris to extend a few plays and hit receivers down the field. Miami will probably pass for well over 250 yards because it will likely need to pass to move the football against Notre Dame’s stingy front seven, but those yards will prove mostly hollow as scoring touchdowns will be difficult once inside the red zone. Overall, neither side will dominate, but Notre Dame’s pass rush gives the Irish the edge.
5) How does Notre Dame handle Miami running back Duke Johnson?
After doing a good job versus Denard Robinson, Notre Dame will be up to the challenge to defend the ulta-talented Johnson. He might be the best freshman in the country, but the Miami offensive line still must deal with Notre Dame’s front seven. That means Manti Te’o will be spying a new opponent. Should be some big-time collisions Saturday night. Look for Johnson to run for 50 to 75 yards, but roughly half of his total output will come from one big run. Otherwise, Notre Dame will keep him near 3.0 yards per carry. Too much talent up front for the Irish for Johnson to consistently gash the Irish.
4) Will Miami’s defense continue to give up the big play?
Notre Dame’s offense struggled last week, but it did connect with big plays. It’s strange, but Notre Dame’s offense seems to come alive at the most important times. Will Miami finally put forth a good defensive effort? That unit looked horrid this past weekend, so predicting a sudden turnaround does not seem logical.
3) Which Miami player should Notre Dame fear the most?
Most people would bring up Johnson, and he certainly deserves mention. The biggest concern, however, comes by way of the recruit that got away. Phillip Dorsett, the former St. Thomas defenses this season, averaging 92.8 yards receiving per game thus far, and that includes a 3 reception 9 yard game versus Boston College to open the season. The last two games included Dorsett going off for 184 yards versus Georgia Tech and 191 versus North Carolina State. He’s a deep threat that can also take a short pass and make two defenders miss and go the distance. Notre Dame’s secondary must keep Dorsett in front of them. It will not be easy. Nothing against Notre Dame’s first four opponents, but none of them possess a proven commodity such as Dorsett. Advantage Miami as Notre Dame’s inexperienced secondary, especially the cornerbacks, did not yet prove to be able to handle elite playmakers.
2) How will the Irish offense handle adversity?
Once again, this question starts with the quarterback. The Notre Dame offense plays fairly conservative to assist the more assertive and dominant Irish defense. Even if the ‘Canes jump out to a 10 point lead, look for the Irish offense to continue to mix the run and the pass in an effort to play field position and not place too much burden on the inexperienced Golson. Miami’s defense will be more likely to implode, in time, as long as the Irish offense stays patient. Miami allowed 664 yards of offense to North Carolina State. This is not the Miami defense of old. Notre Dame should approach, if not eclipse, 500 yards of total offense. Execute your game plan, stay the course, and the yards per play will increase throughout the game, especially the Irish rushing attack. Even if Notre Dame falls behind early (and I doubt that happens), look for the Irish to stick with their game plan and play field position. Field position will be particularly important because of category no. 1.
1) How will the Miami players handle the projected cold temperatures at Soldier Field?
When teams from Dixie head up North, they generally struggle if the weather turns cold. Well, the National Weather Service calls for a chance of rain during the day Saturday, and in the evening temperatures will be in the 40s. Translation: it will be chilly from kickoff to the end of the game. Of all the categories, this one gives the Irish the biggest edge. Notre Dame players, regardless of what state they played high school football, know cold weather by now. They live in South Bend, IN. Miami players will be in for a shock, much like two years ago in El Paso against the Irish. You cannot practice “cold” weather. The wind off of Lake Michigan could also impact both quarterbacks, but Miami will be more likely to suffer because it will rely on its passing attack more than the Irish will rely on its passing attack.
Notre Dame 34 Miami 17