Friday five: Predictions for Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Fighting Irish

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

[Debate: Hope for Miami, or mope about Miami?]

[Miami-Notre Dame video preview]

[Dave George column: UM-ND a shell of itself]

[Richt had profound impact on new Dolphin Rambo]

[Walsh, Torretta believe Kaaya can be better]

[Three reasons why Corn Elder is Miami’s MVP]

[Richt: Talented recruits will play early for us]

[Review: ‘Catholics vs. Convicts’ a flashback to wild days]

[Hurricanes players talk Rudy]

Before the season, this was considered, at worst, the second-toughest game on Miami’s schedule. Probably the toughest, since Florida State still didn’t know what it had at quarterback and Miami hosted that rivalry game.

Notre Dame, ranked No. 10 to start the year, was expected to be a big favorite over Miami (and most teams coming to South Bend). As of Thursday night, the Irish were a 2-point favorite. They couldn’t even get a field goal at home.

This rivalry, so great a generation ago, produced so many indelible moments.

Third-and-43. Cleveland Gary’s fumble. The fake punt that didn’t work. The two-point conversion batted away. The pregame brawl. Miami’s parting shots for Gerry Faust. Its 24-0 statement in 1987. Its 31-30 loss in 1988. Its streak-busting win in 1989.

The stakes significantly lower than those championship days, Saturday’s game may not be so memorable.

The Hurricanes are probably happy to know Saturday’s forecast calls for a high of 71. The last two times Miami faced Notre Dame, it lost in mid-40s Chicago chill (2012) and mid-30s El Paso frost.

You can’t rely on the weather, but you can believe these five predictions:

Will Miami’s defense bounce back? 

As I reported Thursday, Chad Thomas, Sheldrick Redwine, Rayshawn Jenkins and Gerald Willis will be available. My guess is all but Willis return to the starting lineup, and Willis resumes his role as a key sub at defensive tackle. That should be a huge boost to the defense.

The second string saw extended run last week, for the first time this season. Guys like Malek Young (23 snaps at corner), Pat Bethel (20 at defensive end), Charles Perry (20 at linebacker) and Joe Jackson (55 at defensive end, in his first career start) will grow from that experience.

That said, Miami probably hopes it doesn’t have to rely as heavily on them this week. And they almost certainly hope they don’t need to use converted tight end Stan Dobard at defensive end — that would mean they’re down a few bodies.

So what does “bounce back” mean? Might be a stretch to say Miami holds Notre Dame — recharged off a bye, at home for this supposed rivalry game — under 20. But I don’t see much the Irish scoring much more than that.

Also noteworthy: Notre Dame has given up a non-offensive touchdown in each of its last two games. North Carolina State blocked and returned a punt, and Stanford registered a pick-six.

How many sacks will Miami allow? 

Miami hasn’t prevented them. Notre Dame hasn’t produced them.

The Hurricanes’ offense, if is is to be successful, demands that Brad Kaaya be protected. Hasn’t been happening lately. Miami has allowed 13 sacks in the last three games, after surrendering two in its first four (all wins, as you know).

But good news! The Irish have tackled would-be passers for losses exactly six times this year. That’s the fourth-lowest total in the nation. But even Notre Dame is trending up in that area: they picked up three sacks in their last game and a pair two weeks before.

I’ll say Notre Dame ties its season high, with three.

How many rushing yards for Miami? 

A return to running success would help the Hurricanes so much. It could open up play-action. It could force Notre Dame to put an extra defender in the box, though Virginia Tech did that last week and Miami couldn’t make the Hokies pay because it couldn’t give Kaaya enough time to throw.

Since Mark Walton opened the Appalachian State game Sept. 17 with an 80-yard touchdown, the Hurricanes have broken a 20-yard rush three times. Joe Yearby produced all three (27 at Georgia Tech, 42 against North Carolina, 41 at Virginia Tech).

Better blocking up front would make Miami’s run game more explosive, but neither Walton nor Yearby has been consistently dynamic. With those two taking a pounding, maybe it’s time to dust off Gus Edwards, who has six carries for 21 yards since gaining 106 and a touchdown on seven totes in the opener. He hasn’t touched the ball in three games. At least he’d be fresh.

The bet here is Miami finds a few creases against the nation’s 81st-ranked run defense, and hits the Irish for their season average of 180 yards.

Will this be the best Brad Kaaya has looked in several weeks? 

I won’t make you wait for my answer: yes.

If Kaaya is going to have a monster day, it should be here. His offensive line, for the first time in a few weeks, should be able to handle the opponent. And the Irish defense has not been good, especially in the back end.

Though Notre Dame has allowed 11 points in its last two games, the N.C. State game was played in stormy conditions brought to Raleigh, N.C. by Hurricane Matthew, and Stanford is offensively challenged to say the least.

A miserable secondary, uneven linebacker play and an ineffective pass rush preceded the September firing of coordinator Brian VanGorder (who won the Broyles Award as top assistant coach when he worked for Mark Richt at Georgia from 2001-04). We won’t get to see the chess match between those two pals, but Richt’s talent should be better than Notre Dame’s anyway.

 

Does Miami win this? 

Have a weird feeling about it. Yes.

Thinking Notre Dame is in a tailspin, and Miami will be able to get its top playmakers on defense a little rest. Road game, but I think the Canes will be able to protect Kaaya just enough for him to hit a few crucial big plays. And the running game should have its best game of the month.

I’ll say one of the touchdowns is defensive, and Miami takes it 27-21.

 

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