Notre Dame vs Miami: Sun Bowl Preview

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Notre Dame vs Miami: Sun Bowl Preview
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Miami Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

Miami has found a great deal of success on the ground this year, averaging 39 carries and 190 yards per game.  Their two main backs are 20 Damien Berry and 6 Lamar Miller, who both average over 10 carries per game.  Berry is averaging 79 yards per game to Miller's 63, but Miller has the advantage in yards per carry at 6.1 to 4.8.

Mike James splits time between halfback and fullback, and is averaging five carries and 32 yards per game.  Starting fullback Patrick Hill has carried the ball only once, for five yards.  Senior tailback Graig Cooper has also seen decent playing time, averaging four carries and 18 yards per game.

Wide receivers haven't contributed much to the running game, combining for only four carries and 38 yards on the season.  The quarterbacks have combined for just 38 non-sack carries for 224 yards.  That is 5.9 yards per carry, but only amounts to three carries and 19 yards per game.

Notre Dame is giving up 147 yards per game on the ground, but those numbers may still be somewhat tainted by their early season struggles in the run game.  Manti Te'o leads the team with 127 tackles, more than 10 per game.  He'll again be joined by Brian Smith at inside linebacker.  Yes, Carlo Calabrese is healthy enough to play.  But Smith has just been spectacular in his past few games inside—especially at USC—so that's where he'll stay for his final game in an Irish uniform.

Sean Cwynar has filled in admirably at nose tackle these past few games, but Ian Williams is back from injury and expected to start at that position. That also means Hafis Williams will move back to defensive end. All in all, that means the defensive line is much deeper than it looked at the start of the season.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Miami Run Defense

Notre Dame's run game as of late has featured the slashing of Cierre Wood and the smashing of Robert Hughes.  Both have had decent success as of late, so much so that their season averages (44 and 18 yards per game, respectively) don't do them much justice.

Other than a possible cameo by Jonas Gray, Wood and Hughes have been the whole run game for Notre Dame.  Quarterback Tommy Rees has not been a threat to run, and Irish receivers have combined for only five carries on the year.

Miami's 4-3 defense has struggled against the run, giving up 171 yards per game.  Linebackers Colin McCarthy and Sean Spence lead the team in tackles, with each collecting over 100 total stops.

Spence leads the team with 17 tackles for a loss, and he's one of three Miami players with double digits in that category.  Ends Allen Bailey and Oliver Vernon are the other two.  (McCarthy would probably be in this category as well had he not missed a game this season—he has nine TFL.)  As a team, the Hurricanes have made 103 stops in the backfield this season, an average of almost nine per game.

Miami Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Miami's base package is a traditional set with two receivers plus a running back, fullback and tight end.  The pass protection has been very good this year, as the Hurricanes have given up just 15 sacks on the season.

It appears that Jacory Harris will be healthy enough to start this game.  Harris has a healthy 119.28 passer efficiency rating, but his other numbers betray that rating.  Harris has completed just 55 percent of his passes, and his 14 touchdowns are offset by 12 interceptions.

If Harris can't go, freshman Stephen Morris will take his place.  Like Harris, Morris has a good passer rating (117.48) that doesn't quite correlate to his completion percentage (50) or his touchdown-interception ratio (5 to 8).

As a team, Miami passes the ball 34 times for 232 yards per game.  The leading receiver is Leonard Hankerson, who averages 5-6 catches and 90 yards per game.  The 6'3" receiver has also accounted for 12 of Miami's 19 receiving touchdowns on the year.

Across from Hankerson are Travis Benjamin and LaRon Byrd, both averaging around three catches per game.  The small, speedy Benjamin is averaging 58 yards per game to Byrd's 33.  Fellow wideout Aldarious Johnson is the only other Miami player averaging at least one catch per game.

Running backs Berry, Miller and James are all averaging just under one reception per game, as is tight end Asante Cleveland.  Starting tight end Richard Gordon has not been much of a threat in the passing game, with just five catches in 11 games.

Notre Dame gives up 206 passing yards per game, a respectable total.  The team has registered 26 sacks, which is just over two per game, and an additional 30 quarterback hits.  Darius Fleming leads the team with six sacks, followed by Ethan Johnson with five.  That may come as a small surprise for Irish fans, as both players have had seemingly quiet seasons.

The Irish have combined for 14 interceptions, led by Harrison Smith with four and Darrin Walls with three.  Smith, once thought to be a defensive liability, is easily a candidate for most improved player on the defense.  The safety hopes to be back for a fifth year next season, and now may Notre Dame fans would welcome him back.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Miami Pass Defense

Since taking over for the injured Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees is averaging 207 yards passing per game.  On an average day, he'll attempt 17 passes and complete 10.  He has 10 touchdowns to eight interceptions.

Michael Floyd is Notre Dame's leading receiver, averaging over six catches and 83 yards per game.  He has 10 of the team's 26 touchdown receptions on the year.

Theo Riddick is second on the team in receptions, despite missing a quarter of the season.  Riddick, who averaged five catches and 52 yards per game, is expected to be back in the starting lineup for this game.

Tyler Eifert and TJ Jones are the only other healthy Irish players averaging at least two catches per game.  Eifert is averaging 32 yards per game to Jones's 26.  Jones had been slipping down the depth chart as of late.  However, he and John Goodman will see increased playing time if Duval Kamara misses this game as expected.

Miami has been downright stingy against the pass this year.  The Hurricanes are giving up just 146 yards per game in the air and have combined for 37 sacks on the season.  That's over three sacks per game!  Miami's three top defensive ends, Allen Bailey, Adewale Ojomo and Olivier Vernon, have accounted for 18 of the team's sacks.

Of course, maybe it's this aggressiveness in the passing game that has cost them in the run game.  If that is the case, look for a healthy dose of draws and counters from the Irish.

Miami's secondary has dubbed this game "Operation Number 3."  Notre Dame's Number 3 will likely be marked by cornerback Ryan Hill, who has three interceptions - tying him for the team lead with safeties Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque.  As a team, the Hurricanes have intercepted 16 passes and broken up 42.

Who will win this classic matchup?

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Special Teams

Miami Kicker 25 Matt Bosher has converted 12 of 16 field goal tries, with a long of 51.  He's perfect from inside 30 yards.  For Notre Dame, David Ruffer has been perfect from everywhere, converting all 15 attempts with a long of 50.

Matt Bosher also punts for the Hurricanes, averaging 44 yards per kick with a long of 62.  Miami yields a respectable nine yards per punt return.  Ben Turk has had an up-and-down season punting for the Irish.  Turk is averaging 38 yards per punt with a long of 56.  Notre Dame is giving up six yards per punt return.

Running backs Storm Johnson and Graig Cooper will return kicks for Miami, although fellow backs Eduardo Clements and Lamar Miller have seen time at returner in the past as well.  Johnson, Cooper and Clements are all averaging about 20 yards per return with longs around 30.  Miller has had the most success, averaging 33 yards per return including an 88-yard touchdown.  David Ruffer is averaging 65 yards per kickoff for the Irish.  Notre Dame is giving up just 19 yards per return, meaning opponents start at the 25 yard line on average.

Bennett Jackson is Notre Dame's kick returner.  Since taking over that position, Jackson has averaged 22 yards per return with a long of 43.  It's no surprise that Miami's strong-legged Bosher also kicks off for the 'Canes.  Bosher is averaging 64 yards per kick, with 19 touchbacks on 64 attempts.  Miami's kick coverage yields 22 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 27.

Travis Benjamin returns punts for the Hurricanes.  Benjamin is averaging just five yards per return, but he does have a 79-yard touchdown to his credit.  John Goodman is Notre Dame's punt returner.  Normally a fan of the fair catch, Goodman has returned just 11 punts on the year, averaging one yard per return with a long of 13.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Robert Hughes, Brian Smith, Harrison Smith

Prediction

Notre Dame 27, Miami 24

This article originally appeared on Kanka's Sports Page

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