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Miami Hurricanes 2016 Schedule Preview: Notre Dame

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We continue our 2016 Miami Hurricanes Schedule Preview series with a look at a former rival: Notre Dame

Craig Erickson

Alonzo Highsmith leaped jumped high in the air in elation, almost as if he could’ve jumped out of the stadium.  He had just silenced a subdued partisan crowd – and that god-awful leprechaun – inside Notre Dame Stadium with his fourth touchdown of the game, as Miami would go on to rout the Irish 31-13 on October 6, 1984.

Folks, that’s the first and only win at Notre Dame Stadium in Miami’s history.

And what a rivalry it became, coincidental with Miami’s rise to power in the 1980s.  The series produced some unforgettable moments, and many of which put the winner in position to compete for the national title.

Gerry Faust led a wayward and flat Irish team into the Orange Bowl to play out the string of a miserable 1985 season. The Canes handed the Irish a 58-7 loss, a 5-6 season record, and Faust’s walking papers. In 1988, they faced off as the top-two-ranked teams in the country, and produced one of the most unforgettable games of the decade, with the Irish prevailing 31-30, aided in large part after Cleveland Gary was erroneously said to have fumbled at the edge of the Irish end zone midway into the fourth quarter.  1989: #1 vs. #2. Canes facing a 3rd and 43 from their own 7-yard line, leading 17-10. Randall Hill takes off on a go route and Erickson finds him for 44 yards.  Miami pulled away for a 27-10 victory and jumped from #7 to #2, ultimately topping both major polls after beating Alabama 33-25 in the Sugar Bowl.

However, the tables have more recently turned in favor of the Irish.  Behind the steady arm of all-universe quarterback Tommy Rees – or so he looked on that day, the Irish steamrolled a disinterested Miami team en route to a 27-0 first half lead and 33-17 final score in the 2010 Sun Bowl, the team’s first meeting since 1990.  Then in 2012, Phillip Dorsett dropped a wide open touchdown pass on the game’s first series at Soldier Field.  The team did what it often did under Al Golden: folded in the face of the first sign of adversity and offered little fight thereafter, losing 41-3 to the Irish, who went on to play Alabama for the national championship.

If the Canes are going to flip that dubious script, both recently and in Notre Dame Stadium, they will have to do so against a team that will be breaking in a lot of new starters.  The Irish return just 9  - 4 on offense and 5 on defense.

The Irish took a hard hit on the offensive line.  Notre Dame averaged 208 yards per game on the ground last year, eclipsing the 200-yard mark six times.  The Irish must replace All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley, guard Steve Elmer, and center Nick Martin.  That group protected Malik Zaire well, and then DeShone Kizer after Zaire was injured at Virginia.

Speaking of quarterbacks, the derby will be on in fall camp to see who wins the starting job.  It will be interesting to see if the Irish pick one and stick with him, or if they play musical chairs and end up potentially with the same problem that Ohio State faced in 2015 with their stable of talented QBs.  Either way, both have made plays with their arms and legs, such that defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will have his hands full preparing for.

But who will catch their passes?  The Irish lost four of their top five players in receiving yards from 2015, leaving Torii Hunter, Jr. as their most accomplished wideout (1 start, 363 rec yards last year).   They will be counting on some rising sophomores in WR Equanimeous St. Brown (who only had one catch last year in 7 games) and TE Alize Jones.  They’ll need to grow up fast if this offense is going to be potent.

Stopping the Canes’ running game could be an issue for the Irish.  The Irish lose four starters out of their front seven, where they allowed 175 yards per game last year.  They do get back their starting nose tackle from 2014 in Jarron Jones, who missed last year recovering from an ACL injury.  If there’s a matchup advantage in Miami’s favor, it’s depth at running back, which has been a staple of a Richt-led team.

But what sticks out beyond the stats is how this team managed to find a way to win, time and again, in 2015. Or if not win, compete like hell.  Kizer’s last-second touchdown pass to rip out hearts across Charlottesville.  Escaping upset bids from Temple and Boston College.  Giving Clemson the toughest fight of their regular season in a 24-22 primetime loss.  Losing to Stanford on a last-second field goal in one of the most entertaining games of the season.   They were effectively a play away from possibly (likely) securing a playoff spot last year.  And they’ve only lost three games at home since the start of the 2012 season.

This will be a huge test for Mark Richt’s team, as the Canes come off a touch stretch of at Georgia Tech, Florida State, UNC, at Virginia Tech before heading to South Bend to face an Irish team coming off the bye.  Hopefully by then, Richt will have instilled a maxim in his team like what Brian Kelly has apparently done, and Al Golden never did: the game is 60 minutes long, and you give your all for every second of that clock.

We’ll see on October 29th.  Go Canes.