MIAMI — Tired of waxing nostalgic about a game that happened before anyone on the current Notre Dame roster was born?
Game day is almost upon us, taking No. 9/10 Notre Dame (4-0) to Soldier Field to face old foe Miami (4-1).
Susan Miller Degnan, a University of Miami beat writer for The Miami Herald, talked to The Elkhart Truth about dynamic running back Duke Johnson and if the ’Canes are more of a threat than once believed. Set aside any personal feelings about Notre Dame’s uniforms this weekend, and see what Miller Degnan has to say about the match up.
Q: I don’t think anyone outside of Miami Gardens expected the Hurricanes to be 4-1 at this point. What is Miami doing this year that it hasn’t in years past? Is this team for real, or is their record less impressive than it looks based on who they have played?
Susan Miller Degnan: When he took over last season, coach Al Golden set out to make this a tougher and better conditioned team. His offseason “UTough” strength and conditioning program seemed brutal to those guys at first, but they eventually bought in and because of it have reaped huge rewards on the field.
When other teams start wilting, Miami’s engine is humming. When they get behind in a game, he has them “put on blinders” and take each play individually. He wants consistency and consistency and more consistency. He has somehow convinced these kids to focus on “the process” and let go of “the external.”
Other than that, they have an offense that has become pretty exciting of late and they don’t quit. That wasn’t the case before Golden, and it wasn’t even the case sometimes last year.
These kids are really fun to watch because, like their coach, they care so much and refuse to surrender. Of course, as Golden would say, they do often mess up in the process, but it’s a whole lot more gratifying when you play with heart.
Q: Miami is averaging 41 points per game in its four wins, but the ’Canes are going against a Notre Dame defense that has only allowed three touchdowns the entire year. How do you see that matchup playing out? Does the fact that Notre Dame’s offense scored 20 points or less its last three games mean Miami will focus on winning in a shoot out?
SMD: Probably the only way Miami wins this game is if the Hurricanes go on a scoring binge.
The UM defense has been horrendous, although it did force six turnovers last Saturday against North Carolina State (honestly, NC State did everything it could to sabotage itself). UM now has a hurry-up, no-huddle offense, and it really has taken a toll on the competition much of the time (which gets us back to the conditioning part).
Q: Freshman running back Duke Johnson is fifth in the nation in all-purpose yards. He can run, he can catch, he can return kickoffs, but he was shut down against Kansas State. What did the Wildcats do to take Johnson out of the game in Week 2?
SMD: They told linebacker Arthur Brown, a Miami Hurricane before transferring to Kansas State, to do his damage. And he did, with 10 tackles, a sack and fumble recovery.
But seriously, the Wildcats bullied UM in the trenches. After the ’Canes realized they couldn’t run effectively, they went to the pass.
Quarterback Stephen Morris was sacked five times. It wasn’t just Duke Johnson they took out of the game; it was pretty much everybody.
Q: There have been pictures of Miami’s half-empty stadium on game days circulating around the Internet. I know stadium location factors into that a lot, but are fans excited about this team and this old rivalry match up with Notre Dame? If fans can’t even show up for home games, are they going to travel to Chicago?
SMD: Yes, fans are definitely excited about this game. But they’re also definitely not the same fans with which you’re likely accustomed.
The answer to your last question is no. Except for a core of diehards who will travel, the others will watch this game from the comfort of their living rooms or local sports bars. UM fans want a winner, and then they will come but most of them not to Soldier Field.
Let’s face it, this is a home game for Notre Dame.
Q: If Miami is going to beat the Irish in Notre Dame’s backyard and win its fourth game in a row for the first time since 2008, what’s it going to take on both sides of the ball?
SMD: Big, explosive plays on offense that include some significant runs, which that great Notre Dame defense does not seem willing to allow; an offensive line that can give Stephen Morris enough time to throw; and a defense that can stop somebody anybody!
If the Hurricanes’ defense can put together a dominant effort for four quarters (we haven’t seen it yet), their offense at least has a shot.