The Miami Hurricanes can pull the upset against the No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish by maintaining their torrid streak in the passing attack and utilizing their superior athleticism as leverage in other matchup areas.
That will be easier said than done against the stonewall Irish defense, highlighted by All-American linebacker Manti Te'o. The tougher the competition has been, the firmer Notre Dame has held its ground.
The Irish have shut down the ground-based attacks of Michigan and Michigan State, but although the Hurricanes aren't ranked competition, they sport most explosive and athletic aerial attack the Irish have faced all season.
Miami will certainly have a chip on its shoulder as a 14-point underdog, but definitely has a shot to pull off a shocker. Here are the players who must step up for the 'Canes in South Bend.
Stephen Morris, QB
This almost goes without saying, but if the junior quarterback doesn't perform well then the 'Canes have no chance.
Accuracy is the biggest concern with Morris, but since he has the capability to make plays with his feet, he is still developing as a pocket passer. If the past two weeks were any indication, it's clear he's on the right track.
Not only did Morris throw for 436 and 566 yards n each of the Hurricanes' past two ACC wins, but he displayed an ability to get it done in the clutch. The rapport he has established with speedy sophomore Phillip Dorsett has suddenly produced one of the most explosive combos in college football.
The Irish will certainly shift their coverage to provide help with Dorsett, and Morris' mobility can help extend the play to combat the pressure he will likely face from Te'o and Co.
Dorsett will be able to shake free, but Notre Dame probably won't be giving up anything over the top. It will be up to Morris to deliver the football on target so that Dorsett, fellow receiver Rashawn Scott and Miami's other playmakers can get the ball in space.
Duke Johnson, RB
In order to open things up in the passing game, the true freshman will need to provide an effective change-up to supplement the punishing style of senior back Mike James.
Johnson has been hit-or-miss in terms of game day production, but no one can deny his ability as a home run threat. He has managed to find the end zone seven times in five games, and averages nearly seven yards per carry and 10 yards per reception.
In other words, good things can happen when Johnson has the ball in his hands. The running back will also get opportunities in the return game alongside Dorsett, and the pair could pull off some sort of reverse-action play to flip the field on the Irish.
B/R's Miami expert David Mayer argues that Johnson is having more of an instant impact than a slew of great Hurricane backs, such as Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, and Frank Gore.
The ultimate X-factor in this game is Johnson, as he is a triple-threat as a runner, receiver and returner. He must find pay dirt at least once, and rip off several explosive plays to keep Notre Dame on its heels.
The sophomore middle linebacker is another player who will prove vital to Miami's cause. Notre Dame will bring a committee of running backs—and possibly multiple quarterbacks—for Miami to prepare for, and Perryman has the responsibility of putting his front seven in positions to succeed.
Defensive coordinator Mike D'Onofrio's unit allowed 36 and 37 points in the past two games Perryman missed with an ankle injury, as documented by the USA Today. His return to the fold is coming at a fantastic time in Miami's most important game to date.
Perryman leads an athletic corps of linebackers who will have to stay disciplined and not over-pursue, as they will likely have to negotiate zone-read plays when Irish QB Everett Golson is in the shotgun.
What's encouraging for the Canes is that Notre Dame doesn't have a ton of viable receiving threats on the outside, which will make stuffing the box against Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, and George Atkinson III less of a challenge.
Putting the game in either Golson or Tommy Rees' hands is what Miami wants to do. Perryman's job is to make sure his team does not get out-muscled at the point of attack.