Notre Dame Football: Keys to an Irish Victory Against the Hurricanes
Much has changed since the days of "Catholics vs. Convicts," which is how the rivalry between Notre Dame and the University of Miami (FL) were commonly referred to back in the day, but all eyes will be on Soldier Field on Saturday night as the two teams prepare to meet once again.
Calling this a "must win" game for the Irish is a bit much, but the team does have a chance to make a bold statement against an upstart Hurricanes squad that is dropping points on the opposition like deadheads dropped acid while on tour with Jerry Garcia and the boys.
Here's what the Irish need to do in order to make the Hurricanes' trip back to South Florida a miserable ride.
Run the Ball Early and Don't Stop
It's no secret that Notre Dame has struggled to establish a running game for much of the season. The Irish rank 84th in the country on the ground, rushing the ball 147 times for 561 yards—3.82 yards per carry and 140.25 rushing yards per game—neither one a good number.
Against the Hurricanes, those numbers should improve significantly.
Miami's defense ranks 112th in the country against the run, allowing 1128 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, an average of 225.6 yards per game.
It's time for Brian Kelly to take Cierre Wood out of the doghouse and unleash the senior back. Coincidentally, Wood's breakout game last season—20 carries for 191 yards and a touchdown against Purdue—also came in Week 5 of the season.
Aside from Wood, QB Everett Golson could do some major damage, and Irish head coach Brian Kelly needs to use some read-options and draw plays for Golson when he's on the field. His mobility and ability to run is a big weapon, and one that the Irish need to take advantage of.
A consistent running attack will not only lead to successful drives against Miami's defense, but it eats up large chunks of the clock, a perfect segue into the next key for Notre Dame.
Keep Pressure on Stephen Morris If You Can't Keep Him Off the Field
For as good as Notre Dame's defense has been thus far in 2012, they've yet to face a quarterback quite as potent as Miami's Stephen Morris.
Morris, who was under center for the Hurricanes when they lost to Notre Dame 33-17 in the 2010 Sun Bowl, set an ACC and school record last week with 566 passing yards against North Carolina State, the second straight game that the Hurricanes have put more than 40 points on the board.
Miami's junior QB told ESPN that he's had this game circled on his calendar for a long time:
I've been waiting for this game since freshman year. It's going to mean a lot to me and my family. It's going to mean a lot for this program. So we're going to make sure that we're ready for this game.
Morris will be playing without one of his best blockers, fifth-year senior Bob Jones, who injured his foot last week and will be unable to play.
Notre Dame's front seven needs to exploit that crack in Miami's offensive line and constantly apply pressure to Morris, giving him no time to set and scan the field for an open receiver.
Keep the pressure on. Miami does not quit, and they will keep trying to air it out against Notre Dame up until the final whistle has blown.
Far too often Brian Kelly has taken the pressure off and played conservatively on defense. While you don't want to take too many unnecessary chances, you cannot allow Morris to get comfortable, no matter the score of the game.
Speaking of the Irish front seven...
Notre Dame's Front Seven Needs to Contain Mike James and Duke Johnson
Notre Dame has been excellent against the run this season, allowing an average of 112.50 yards on the ground, 29th best in the country.
Duke Johnson, Miami's explosive freshman running back, is picking up nearly seven yards per carry on the season and has reached the end zone five times.
Mike James, his senior counterpart in the backfield, has three touchdowns on the year and picks up nearly five yards per carry.
Manti Te'o told reporters that the Irish are well aware of the danger that Johnson presents: (h/t und.com)
Duke Johnson is a very explosive running back. He's a very dynamic player who will make plays catching the ball, running the ball and on special teams. So for us, we have just got to everybody's got to get to the ball, especially with Duke. He'll jump cut and he'll split defenders, so everyone has to get to the ball and everybody has to do their best and play within our scheme; realizing that Duke has the chance to break it at any time.
The Bottom Line
There is no reason that the Irish should lose this game. For as powerful an offense that the Hurricanes have, their defense is atrocious, and Notre Dame has too much talent to not reach the end zone early and often.
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