ND ground game explodes in rout of Canes

CHICAGO -- Allow Cierre Wood to explain the difference between the defense that Notre Dame faced early on Saturday night and the one he faced in the second half.

"They were all upbeat and jumping and all that stuff in the beginning," Wood said of Miami, which held the Irish to 28 rushing yards in the first quarter.

And then?

"But when you smack a team so many times in the mouth, eventually they're going to want to stop playing, and that's what happened today."

This city's official marathon does not start until 7:30 local time Sunday morning, but Notre Dame got a running head start mid-way through its convincing 41-3 win over the Hurricanes at Soldier Field, a contest in which the Irish rushed for 376 yards.

A 10-point halftime lead gave way to a 31-point advantage to start the fourth quarter, and the Irish have their ground game to thank for that. Notre Dame rushed the ball on 19 of its 21 plays in the third quarter, amassing 197 yards on the ground. Exactly 100 of those yards belonged to Wood, who eclipsed the century mark for the first time this season and for the fourth time in his career.

The returning 1,100-yard back finished the day with 118 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, and he was not even the Irish's leading rusher.

That title belonged to George Atkinson III, whose 55-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter highlighted his 123-yard day and gave the Irish two single-game 100-yard rushers for the first time in 10 years. Theo Riddick had five carries for 21 yards but sat much of the second half with a bruised elbow.

"We feed off big runs, physical runs, things of that nature," Atkinson said. "It makes us want to one-up each other."

The evening started with more quarterback drama, as Notre Dame announced that Tommy Rees would be starting in place of Everett Golson, who violated a team rule.

Rees and the Irish appeared to go three-and-out on their first drive, but a roughing-the-punter penalty gave them a re-do, and Golson was the man afterward. He, too, got in on the ground fun, breaking off several big runs that illustrated why, despite several rookie mistakes, he is the long-term answer for the Irish under center.

Coming off what coach Brian Kelly called his best week of practice, Golson rushed for 51 yards on six carries, and he completed 17 of 22 passes for 186 yards, shortly after being late for a team meeting that cost him the chance to take the game's first snap.

"I want our guys to be accountable," Kelly said. "He was accountable. He knew that he's got to do a better job of communicating. Look, he was meeting with a professor and he lost track of time, and he knows he's got to communicate with us and do a better job of that. But he took full responsibility for it, accountability for it; I thought he came in and played very well. I was proud of him today."

Said Golson: "I didn't handle it in the way I should have."

Kelly is not a big time-of-possession guy, but even he took pleasure in his team's domination of that category, with the Irish holding the ball for 39:08. Their 34 first downs were two shy of a team record.

"College GameDay" will be on the scene in South Bend next Saturday when the Irish look to improve to 6-0 against Stanford, but no one in the Irish locker room was ready to party just yet.

Yes, this is an offense that desperately needed to prove it can make plays. By not turning the ball over and netting 587 total yards against the porous Miami defense, it did jsut that, but the players are not getting ahead of themselves just yet.

"We've still got a lot of work to do," Wood said. "We had a great game today, but we're nowhere near where we want to be. We're nowhere near how good we can be. So people looking at us now, that's not really anything yet because we've still got a lot of work to do."