Miami Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Notre Dame
The Miami Hurricanes have had no problem putting up points so far this season, as they are averaging over 35 points-per-game.
Problem is, besides Kansas State, they haven't played against a really good defense.
That changes this weekend when they head to Chicago to play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish have the nation's third-best scoring defense, giving up just nine points-per-game.
Here are five keys to a Hurricanes' victory.
Jake Wieclaw Needs to Step Up
Going into this season I said the kicker-punter duo of Dalton Botts and Jake Wieclaw was not only the best in the ACC, but the best in the entire country.
Boy, was I off.
Botts is having a decent season, averaging of 41 yards-per-punt, but Wieclaw has been horrific, missing four out of 11 field goals this season.
Last year, Wieclaw was nominated as a Lou Groza Award semi-finalist (given to the best placekicker) when he nailed 11-of-14 field goal attempts.
A missed field goal is basically a turnover and again, with the way the Hurricanes defense is playing, they can't afford missing out on any opportunity to put points on the scoreboard.
Wieclaw needs to figure out what is wrong and fix it immediately.
Establish the Run
This may sound ridiculous considering the way Stephen Morris is playing right now, but the Hurricanes must find a way to establish the run.
Lets face it, Notre Dame has one of the best defenses in the country so far this year and the Hurricanes won't be able to throw for 500 yards against them.
Miami will have to use Duke Johnson and Mike James effectively for two reasons.
One, it will keep Notre Dames defense honest. Once the Irish bring more defenders to the line, it will open up the deep ball for Morris and company.
Two, it controls the clock and there is no doubt that the Hurricanes defense needs to be off the field as long as possible.
James and Johnson are a tremendous one-two combo and if the offensive line gets a push on a great Notre Dame defensive line, Miami has a chance to control this game.
The only problem in establishing the run is if the defense plays as bad as it has been lately, if that is the case, see the next slide.
The Offense Needs to Stay Aggressive
Over the last two weeks, the Hurricanes offense has done what I thought they could have done all year long—throw the ball deep with great success.
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has driven me crazy since he came to Miami after the 2010 season, largely due to conservative play calling.
The Hurricanes, especially this season, have the quarterback and the playmakers on offense to score a ton of points if he just allows them to play.
Now don't get it twisted when I say be aggressive, I do not mean for Stephen Morris to throw 60-yard bombs all the time. I would just like to see more deep slants to Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott; and a little less of those horrible swing passes.
With the way the defense is playing, Fisch and company will probably need to do more of the same this weekend against a great Irish defense.
Defensive Line Must Step Up
Besides the blow out against Navy—Notre Dame won 50-10—the Notre Dame offense has been less than stellar. They are averaging just 351 yards-per-game, ranking them No. 95 in the country.
For the first time this season, the Hurricanes have a real opportunity to slow a team down—if the defensive line comes to play. So far this season, the defensive line has yet to do that, giving up 494 yards-per-game, 114th in the country.
Now, I understand it's just not the defensive line that needs to step up, but I honestly put 75 percent of the blame on the line. They are unable to stop the run and they get no pass rush on opposing quarterbacks, leaving the inexperienced corners to do too much.
If the line steps up and slows down the rushing attack of Notre Dame and helps out the defensive backfield with some pressure, the Hurricanes offense may be able to push them to victory.
Win the Turnover Battle
If there is one positive thing you can take away from the Hurricanes defense this season it's the 12 turnovers they have created in five games—only 10 other teams in the country have created more.
In fact, the 2011 Hurricane defense created just 15 all season long.
The Hurricanes must continue to attack the ball this Saturday in Chicago. With the defense struggling, getting any advantage is a must.
I believe the defense will give up another 400-plus yards, but if they can create a few turnovers, the entire game shifts toward Miami's advantage.
That is, if the offense doesn't turn the ball over themselves—which they have done nine times this season.