We won’t see who’s in. Not yet.
But we will see who’s worthy.
The Miami-Notre Dame winner will be on track for the College Football Playoff, but Saturday (8 p.m., ABC) we should learn just how good both of these teams are.
Can third-ranked Notre Dame (8-1), playing its first road game in a month, enter what has quickly become one of the game’s unfriendliest environments and quiet the house? If the Irish shush Hard Rock Stadium with the nation watching, the selection committee is sure to remember that when it’s time to pick a top four.
Can seventh-ranked Miami (8-0, 6-0) keep its magical season alive, riding a turnover-happy defense and that hostile wave of fans to a win? If the Hurricanes shut down the nation’s top-ranked rushing attack and extend their nation-best unbeaten streak to 14 games, it will make another loud statement that yes, Miami is for real.
When Miami passes
Malik Rosier might throw an interception or two, but he won’t worry about it. He’ll throw a pick, and his defense will pick him up. That’s a major reason for Miami’s success, and one of the reasons the Hurricanes remain one of five unbeaten teams.
Miami’s receiving corps brings more speed and physicality than the Irish have seen. The Hurricanes should be able to win matchups all over the field with Braxton Berrios, Jeff Thomas, Chris Herndon, DeeJay Dallas and the returning Mike Harley. If Ahmmon Richards breaks out, so much the better. But the Irish have the 37th-ranked pass defense (116.76 quarterback rating) and are coached well enough to disguise coverages and confuse Rosier.
If Rosier throws more than one interception, it could be trouble for an offense that has to go toe-to-toe with Josh Adams and Co. on the other side. Edge: Notre Dame
When Miami runs
Last week was a step back for the Irish, who allowed season highs in yards per carry (5.98), rushing yards (239) and touchdowns (three) to Wake Forest, a team that had been stronger through the air than on the ground. But generally, they have been are solid on all three levels, with linebacker Tevon Coney of Palm Beach Gardens High (8.5 tackles for loss) leading the way.
Travis Homer has proven to be a breakaway threat, and Miami’s line was resurgent last week with the full-time return of right guard Navaughn Donaldson; that reunited a unit that had been together since Day 1 of spring ball. Miami’s receivers are outstanding blockers, too. The Hurricanes rushed for 6.18 yards per carry last week against Virginia Tech, which was more than double the Hokies’ average allowance. Edge: Miami
When Notre Dame passes
The Irish don’t throw exceptionally well, but it hasn’t mattered to this point. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush (1,286 yards, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions on 51.5 percent passing) can beat teams that load up to stop the run.
Miami, which ranks third nationally in opponent passer rating (98.34) and ninth in interceptions (13), wants to create negative plays and force him into third-and-long situations. Wimbush has two tight ends, Durham Smythe and Alize Mack, and a 6-foot-5 deep threat in Equanimeous St. Brown, but ranks 104th in passing efficiency (117.87 rating). Also of note: Wimbush bruised his left (non-throwing) hand last week against Wake Forest, but coach Brian Kelly said he is good to go this week.
Thanks in large part to takeaways (20; 11th-best nationally), the Hurricanes have held all but one team (Florida State, averaging 18.6; put 20 on UM) under their scoring average. Expect that trend to continue against the Irish (41.3 points per game), though it may not be pretty. Edge: Miami
When Notre Dame runs
This is the key to the game. If Miami shuts down Josh Adams, it will win.
The Irish have a Heisman Trophy campaign for Adams (sixth in yards per carry, with 8.69) called “33 Trucking,” after his jersey number, but his convoy includes Wimbush (6.33 yards per carry, 50th nationally; 13 touchdowns) and two future high-round NFL picks on the left side of the line: tackle Mike McGlinchey (6-8, 310) and guard Quenton Nelson (6-5, 325). Both are ridiculously mobile for their size, and make heavy use of pulling blocks to open holes.
Georgia was the only team to stop them, holding the Irish to season-lows in yards (55), touchdowns (one) and yards per carry (1.49). Miami, like Georgia, erases space quickly with its large, speedy athletes. But the Hurricanes’ occasional struggles against the run (3.92 yards per carry, 39th nationally) could spell disaster if Adams (6-2, 218) busts a couple long touchdowns.
Last year in South Bend, he gashed UM for 94 yards on 12 carries, including a backbreaking 41-yard touchdown after Miami climbed out of a 20-point hole and took a fourth-quarter lead. Headaches last week against Wake Forest limited him to five carries and 22 yards in one quarter of action. He told reporters this week he’s ready. If not, backups Deon McIntosh — the brother of UM defensive tackle RJ McIntosh — and Tony Jones Jr. will see more time.
Even without Adams, the Irish put up 380 rushing yards, and 710 yards of offense, last week against Wake. The loss of defensive end Demetrius Jackson (team-high 7.5 tackles for loss) is significant, since it removes a 6-3, 265-pound run-stopper who plays inside on third down. Big chance for freshman Jon Garvin (Lake Worth High) to show he’s ready — which goes for Miami’s run defense as a whole. Edge: Notre Dame
Justin Yoon, a junior, made the winning field goal last year in South Bend, kicking a 23-yarder with 30 seconds left to hand Miami 30-27 defeat. Miami has plenty of confidence in senior Michael Badgley, who booted several winners in his career, most recently a chip-shot against Georgia Tech. Both return games have speed, though UM’s special teams — which in last year’s meeting, recovered a pair of muffed punts that led to touchdowns — makes more big plays. Edge: Miami
Credit to eighth-year coach Brian Kelly, who bolted from the hot seat after last year’s 4-8 season by adding a new offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams coach and strength coach. He hired 17 new football staffers. He even took up yoga and lost 15 pounds. Mark Richt, loving life in what he calls “Paradise,” saw every reason to bring back his staff intact. This is the most significant challenge of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’ career at UM, since his largely excellent unit’s main weakness is his opponent’s biggest strength, and a playoff spot is in play. Edge: Miami
This has been a magical run thus far, with new heroes emerging up and down the Hurricanes’ roster. As they keep finding ways to win, they’ve found an unexpected advantage: a crowd that makes it tougher for opponents to operate. UM will do just enough to slow Adams, and turnovers will once again be the difference. Why not? Miami 24, Notre Dame 23
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