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Breaking down Miami-Notre Dame

Miami plays at Notre Dame this Saturday in he first on-campus meeting between the old rivals since 1990. Who has the edge? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna break down the matchup between the 4-3 Hurricanes and 2-5 Irish.

Matchup Miami has to win: Offensive line. During their three-game losing streak, the Hurricanes have been unable to establish the run or adequately protect quarterback Brad Kaaya. The low point came last week in a loss to Virginia Tech in which Miami allowed eight sacks and finished with 42 rushing yards. Kaaya has been sacked 15 times this season -- and even lost a molar on a hard hit against Florida State. If there is any good news going into this game, it’s that the Irish have struggled perhaps more than anyone at getting a consistent pass rush. Couple that with a run defense that is allowing 180.4 yards per game, and there will be opportunities for Miami to take advantage and get its offense going again. Reestablishing Mark Walton and the ground game must come first, and that would help open up the pass game -- assuming Kaaya gets the ball off in time. -- Adelson

Matchup Notre Dame has to win: Consider this the beating of a dead horse, but it would behoove the Irish to get the run game going at some point this season. They have three quality running backs and an offensive line featuring (at least) two upperclassmen who will play in the NFL someday. And all the Irish have to show for it is the nation’s 91st-ranked rushing offense (150 yards per game), while ranking 92nd in rushing yards per attempt (3.98). DeShone Kizer can take off on scrambles, yes, and it is fair to criticize his performance in recent games, especially when trying to mount comebacks late. But we do know that Kizer and the passing game are capable of making big plays. We still don’t know if the rushing game is, considering the Irish have been reluctant to commit to it, thus putting plenty on Kizer’s shoulders. Let’s not forget how thin Miami’s defense is, too, and how, conversely, the Irish could give their own defense a bit of a break by controlling the clock. -- Fortuna

Miami X-factor: Walton. As noted above, it is absolutely crucial for Walton to get going again. In the first three games of the season, he had 401 rushing yards and seven touchdowns; in the last four, he has 203 yards and one touchdown. That works out to 3.2 yards per carry (with a long run of 14 yards over that four-game stretch). So as the competition has gotten better, Walton and the run game has struggled. So much of what Miami coach Mark Richt wants to do on offense is predicated on establishing the ground game, so Walton’s performance will be vital. -- Adelson

Notre Dame X-factor: The Irish pass rush has been virtually nonexistent this season, failing to record a single sack until the fourth game of the season and tallying just six on the season, which is tied for 125th nationally (and the worst among Power 5 teams). The silver lining, of course, is that five of those sacks have come in the three-game Greg Hudson era, as the new Notre Dame defensive coordinator has turned his playmakers loose. And with Miami coming off a game in which its quarterback was sacked eight times — albeit against Virginia Tech — perhaps there’s something for the Irish defense to build on here. -- Fortuna

Predictions:

Notre Dame 20, Miami 17. The Hurricanes have gone on a downward spiral offensively, so it’s tough to have much confidence that suddenly they will get everything turned around. Though the Irish have looked even worse this season, they had a bye week to refocus on what is now a must-win for any bowl hopes. Kizer helps Notre Dame win a close one. -- Adelson

Miami 28, Notre Dame 24. The Canes might be reeling, but they are still much better than each of the five teams that have beaten the Irish this season, as those teams are a combined 16-19 this season. It is hard to put much faith in the Irish until they show the ability to close a game late. -- Fortuna