It’s a huge week for college football. There are seven games on Saturday between teams within the top 25; that number becomes three when you consider the matches between teams ranked within the top 10. But the game at the center of it all? That’s right: #3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Miami, Catholics vs. Convicts. With a shot at the College Football Playoffs on the line, College GameDay has descended on Coral Gables for the first time ever and the fanbase is more excited about these Canes than any UM team in years.
Ahead of Miami’s matchup against the Fighting Irish, which would be head coach Mark Richt’s first against a member of the top 10 at Miami, I wondered: how has Richt fared against other top 10 teams during his career? Many writers and pundits posited that Richt was fired from Georgia due to his inability to consistently win big games. Does that narrative hold up?
Taking a peek at the stats, Richt is actually 11-17 in his 17th year as a head coach against top 10 teams, good for a 39% winning percentage, which is a pretty solid effort. However, those numbers drop if you move the data range from 2008-2015. In the second half of the Richt era at UGA, he was 5-12 (29%) when his opponent was in the top 10, which somewhat explains his rather unceremonious departure from Athens.
Still, that’s better than anything Miami has seen in their football program since the days of Larry Coker, who was 8-5 with a 62% winning percentage against top 10 teams over his 6 years as the man in charge of the Hurricanes. For comparisons sake, the doomed tenures of Miami’s past two head coaches produced a 1-9 overall record against top 10 teams, spanning 9 seasons. That’s 0-5 for Al Golden in 5 years and a 1-4 performance from Randy Shannon in his 4 seasons.
Looking deeper at the numbers, like we mentioned before, this is actually Richt’s first time going up against a top 10 team in his year and a half at Miami. He didn’t play a top 10 program in his final season at Georgia either. You’d have to go all the way back to three years ago in November 2014 to find Richt’s last top 10 opponent, when the #15 Georgia Bulldogs took on the #9 Auburn Tigers.
In that marquee contest, Georgia absolutely dominated Auburn to the tune of a 34-7 score. The Bulldogs had their way with the Tigers offensively, and bulldozed them for 289 yards and 3 TD’s on the ground, good for 5.6 yards per carry. Richt’s defense also held Auburn to under 300 total yards and took the ball away 3 times, while simultaneously never giving it away throughout the game.
What does this all mean for this weekend’s match-up with Notre Dame? By looking at the game with the Irish through the lens of Richt’s last top 10 bout with Auburn, we can get a glimpse into the formula Richt will try and concoct to bring home a victory for the Hurricanes on Saturday.
While Miami has nothing on the roster to even come close to Nick Chubb and Todd Gurley and nobody is mistaking this Hurricanes O-Line for a dominant unit, Richt will still hope to establish the ground game against Notre Dame and keep the Irish guessing. Travis Homer, who has rushed for at least 90 yards in 3 of his 4 starts, gives Miami a credible threat in between the tackles, and true freshman RB DeeJay Dallas showed last week against Virginia Tech that he could handle an increased role. And just like in UGA’s win against Auburn, Richt will lean on his defense to contain the Irish’s running game and force turnovers to set the offense up with great field position, something Miami has excelled at in 2017. The Canes are 4th in the nation at bringing out the “Turnover Chain”, averaging 1.38 takeaways per game.
On Saturday, Richt will look to improve his record against the elite of college football and prove to the world that, with the right team, in the right environment, he can beat anybody.
And, for the record, Miami’s last top 10 win? That was 8 years ago in October of 2009 under Randy Shannon, at home over the #8 Oklahoma Sooners, 21-20.
But these Canes are blazing their own trail and hope to make the 2009 win just that: history.