Fresh off a bye week, the No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish will put an unblemished record on the line in a home showdown against the Miami Hurricanes.
After getting off to a 3-0 start in ACC play, the Canes are eager to prove their worth on the road against a ranked team. They were badly beaten at Kansas State early on. The Irish have taken down two former Top 25 teams, but neither Michigan State nor Michigan are in the rankings.
Here are the keys for Notre Dame to improve its record to 5-0 and continue its bid for a BCS bowl game.
Decide on a Quarterback
Everett Golson has been pulled in two of his last three outings in favor of the more experienced Tommy Rees. That said, Golson has flashed brilliance at times, and has the type of dual-threat capability to bring an element of explosiveness to the offense that Rees simply can't provide.
Head coach Brian Kelly has justified the rotating quarterbacks system by stating Rees' relief of Golson is in "support" of him (via ESPN): "I look at it as supporting Everett with Tommy, and if we need to do that, we'll continue to go that way because it's been pretty successful."
If Kelly is able to convince Golson that replacing him is a supportive gesture, then all the power to him. However, although it may have been successful to date, a rotating quarterback system almost never works in the long-term.
The more reps that Golson can get on game day—in pressure-packed, tightly contested games—the quicker he will be able to develop.
Golson is the long-term answer, but clearly the Irish are a national contender to this point in the season. Sticking with the youngster through thick and thin should be a viable option, because the defense is so suffocating and neither QB is head and shoulders above the other.
This is the chance for Golson to face a quality opponent and manage the game, while building his confidence. Miami also ranks 100th in points allowed per game in the nation (33.4), creating the most favorable matchup for the freshman to date.
Shut down Phillip Dorsett
It would be hard to find a hotter receiver in college football right now.
On the road at Georgia Tech, Dorsett snagged nine passes for 184 yards and a touchdown. The next week, he hauled in seven passes for 191 yards and two scores, including the game-winner in a 44-37 win against NC State.
Junior quarterback Stephen Morris has also been scorching as of late. Shutting down that dangerous combination should be the primary focus of the Notre Dame defense led by senior linebacker Manti Te'o.
Morris will be comforted by the memories of throwing for 282 yards against the Irish in the 2010 Sun Bowl, but this unit is far improved from the one he faced nearly two years ago. Freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell has made a smooth transition from running back, and the Irish secondary has been stout all season.
If Notre Dame can somehow blanket the speedy Dorsett, Morris will likely force throws to his No. 1 target, creating opportunities for the Irish to give their offense a short field.
Continue Winning the Turnover Battle
The +9 turnover ratio (third in FBS) is definitely inflated by the defense's five interceptions against Michigan, but it's also a testament to ball security on offense.
Golson and the offense had only turned it over once before his rocky start last time out, and Rees didn't give the ball away once he came in for relief duty. As mentioned, the fact remains that the Notre Dame offense isn't particularly explosive, but it doesn't need to be. It just needs to move the chains several times and give the defense adequate rest.
As good as Morris has been for Miami, he has thrown an interception in four of his five starts, but hasn't played a defense nearly of Notre Dame's caliber.
Te'o alone should create havoc, and it will be up to Morris to win the game with his arm. That type of one-dimensionality should play into the Irish's hands, and net them a home victory.