Come Saturday, a classic rivalry in college football will be renewed.
Technically, that was the party line last year, though. But a 4-8 Notre Dame team and a 9-4 Miami team ensured the 2016 game, a 30-27 ND win in South Bend, was for nothing more than bragging rights.
Things have changed a bit this year. After an impressive string of victories, the #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish make their first ever visit to Hard Rock Stadium looking to make another statement to the nation. Waiting for them there is a hungry and aggressive #7 ranked Miami Hurricanes, who are undefeated, yet are sitting behind four one loss teams in the rankings, desiring to gain national respect and make a declaration of their own.
None of that seems to bother the unflappable Mark Richt, though.
"It's like last week," Miami’s head coach said. "If you win, you move up. If you lose, you move down. It's really pretty simple right now. There are so many games to be played yet. That's really all there is to it. We're really focusing on whether we get in the top four. It doesn't matter. Even if we got in the top four tonight, which we won't, it doesn't matter if we lose. We just need to focus on Notre Dame and try to win."
The fanbase has been electrified. The crowd at Hard Rock Stadium for Miami’s win over Virginia Tech last week was the most raucous of any game in years. Recruits will be out in full force. There are College Football Playoff implications. Hell, even College GameDay wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and chose to take their act on the road to Coral Gables this weekend for the first time ever.
Notre Dame leads the all-time series against Miami, 18-7-1, including last year’s aforementioned three point win at the buzzer. However, neither fanbase would argue the idea that these are two drastically different teams than they were a year ago, and you can throw last year’s game out the window when it comes to this rivalry.
"At the end of the day, we came up short," wide receiver Braxton Berrios said of last year's matchup. "We learned a lot of things last year, a lot of things about ourselves. I think this team is completely different than last year's team, as we've proven. We take it with a grain of salt. Last year is last year, it's not going to help us win this game and it's not going to help them win this game. We learned our lessons and we moved on from that."
Miami enters the match-up with Notre Dame riding high on a 13 game winning streak and coming off their most complete game of the season after easily dispatching the #17 Virginia Tech Hokies last weekend, 28-10. Miami’s last lost? That’d be the 2016 game against ND.
Notre Dame counters with an excellent winning streak of their own, seven to be exact, since their one-point loss to #1 Georgia in week 2. All of their wins have come by double digits in fact, spear-headed by a potent offense that averages 41.3 points per game to go with 495.1 yards per game, and includes 48 points and 700 total yards last week against Wake Forest.
The Irish feature a run-first attack and it all starts up front. One of the nation’s best offensive lines, sporting All-American candidates LT Mike McGlinchey and LG Quenton Nelson, gets after it in the trenches, grinding a team down and destroying their will to live. ND’s ground game averages 7.0 yards per carry and 324.8 rush yards per game, which is 5th in the country.
That will be an issue for a Miami defense that has struggled against the run at times this season. The Canes are 67th nationally in run defense and have constantly given up chunk runs to opposing running backs.
"Every week what you say to yourself is 'what is the best way to utilize our personnel to defeat this team,'" Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "Because the challenge is different every week, that's the great thing about college football, you face all kinds of offenses. This week is a new challenge, we will try to disperse our guys in the best way possible to stop Notre Dame."
You know what Miami doesn’t give up, though? Points. The Canes have only given up 17.6 points per game, 12th in the nation, and play a bend but don’t break style, stymying teams when they get in the red zone or flat out taking the ball away. In fact, turnovers are certain to play a key role in this game. The Canes are fourth in the nation in breaking out the “Turnover Chain”, but ND is fourth in the nation at protecting the ball. In this clash of titans, something’s gotta give.
"They run to the ball. They're athletic," ND head coach Brian Kelly said of Miami’s defense. "It's a group that's excited to be playing. So you can see that energy. There is great energy."
Running behind that stellar ND line, RB Josh Adams has emerged as a major weapon and a Heisman candidate. The junior has racked up 1,191 yards on 137 carries with nine touchdowns this season, showcasing an exciting blend of power and speed along the way. Even with the Heisman love, Adams is smart enough to understand how his bread is buttered.
“I wouldn’t say it’s solely on me,” Adams said when talking about Notre Dame’s offensive success this year. “I would say it’s built around the offensive line and the confidence that we have in them as a team."
Actually, Adams was knocked out of the Irish’s last game against Wake Forest, but he is expected to be full-go for Saturday.
"We were really cautious with Josh," Kelly said. "There are no concerns going into the game."
For all of their offensive success, Notre Dame’s is no slouch on the other side of the ball either. The Irish allow only only 18.4 points per game on defense and play with the toughness embodied by new defensive coordinator Mike Elko.
"What coach Kelly talks about all the time is adversity, coming back and having grit," Notre Dame LB Te’von Coney said. "[The scheme] gives us the chance to play with the talent we have, just go out there and work hard and then plays come to you. ... Just go out there and play, play hard."
Both coaches respect their opponent and know, whatever happens, this win must be taken and will not be given.
"They don't give up big plays," Richt said. "You're going to have to earn it. We haven't been very good at that. We haven't been good at long drives.”
"This (Miami) football team we play will require our very best," Kelly said. "Really good football team across the board - offense, defense, special teams.”