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Week 5: Miami

Allan Joseph | Monday, October 8, 2012

CHICAGO – The No. 9 Irish took two minutes to find their footing in Soldier Field, but for the next 58, they ran over, around and through Miami en route to a 41-3 victory on Saturday in the fourth installment of the Shamrock Series.

“When they ran out of the tunnel, it was a pretty exciting atmosphere … the 60-plus thousand that were here tonight made for a great atmosphere in Chicago,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Our football team really fed off that energy. Again, I think it’s pretty simple … we controlled the line of scrimmage.”

Notre Dame (5-0) started the game looking rusty from its bye week, as Hurricanes receiver Phillip Dorsett found his way behind the Irish secondary on the very first snap from scrimmage. But Dorsett dropped a picture-perfect pass from Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, setting the tone for what would be a mistake-filled performance for the Hurricanes, who committed nine penalties for 76 yards and dropped numerous passes.

“We had too many penalties, [and] too many drops. We lost our poise at times,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “We didn’t play smart enough, we didn’t play disciplined enough and we didn’t make enough plays. It’s that simple. Give Notre Dame a lot of credit.”

Irish junior quarterback Tommy Rees started the game for the Irish, as sophomore Everett Golson was suspended for the opening series after arriving late to a team meeting due to a meeting with a professor. Though the Irish were forced to punt on their first series, Miami committed a personal foul on fourth down to bring Golson onto the field. The young quarterback had his best performance of the season to date, completing 17-of-22 passes for 186 yards and adding 51 yards on the ground.

“I thought Everett grew up today,” Kelly said. “He did some really good things throwing the football for us. [He] managed some pressure situations very well. And he had his best week of practice.”

The Irish took an early 7-0 lead on a one-yard run from senior running back Theo Riddick, which Miami (4-2, 3-0 ACC) answered with a field goal minutes later. Notre Dame added two more field goals in the second quarter to take a 13-3 lead into halftime.

After the break, however, the Irish offense exploded on the strength of its rushing attack, which rolled up 270 yards in the second half alone on its way to 376 rushing yards, the highest total since a 2000 victory over Boston College. Sophomore running back George Atkinson rushed for 123 yards on 10 carries, and senior running back Cierre Wood added 118 more on 18 carries. It was the first time since 2002 that two Notre Dame running backs ran for 100 yards in the same game. Senior running back Theo Riddick had 21 yards before leaving the game with a bruised elbow.

“Clearly, we felt like we found a way to run the football today,” Kelly said. “We felt like if we could keep them from getting the big plays, and we could run the football, that was going to be our recipe for success.”

Wood got the ball rolling on Notre Dame’s first drive after the half with a two-yard touchdown that followed a 37-yard run originally ruled a touchdown. Wood added another touchdown on the next drive, which preceded a 55-yard touchdown scamper from sophomore running back George Atkinson to make the score 34-3 at the end of three quarters.

“When you start to break the other team’s will, it starts to show,” senior guard Chris Watt said. “We were able to do that – that was our goal going into the second half. We knew we had established the running game. We wanted to keep up with it too.”

The Irish offense added one more touchdown, a 1-yard run from sophomore running back Cam McDaniel, in the fourth quarter to finish the scoring. Notre Dame tallied 587 yards of total offense on the day, its highest offensive output of the season.

“It’s a good team effort out there,” Watt said. “Everyone was blocking really well today, the backs were making their cuts … [and] we had our best group of practices as an offensive line and as a unit, so it really transferred to the field today.”

Meanwhile, the Irish defense stifled Morris and his athletic receivers, limiting the Hurricanes to just 285 yards of total offense and no touchdowns, continuing a streak dating back to the fourth quarter of Notre Dame’s Sept. 8 victory over Purdue.

“For our defense, we just focus snap after snap – one snap at a time,” senior linebacker Manti Te’o said. “We really work hard throughout the week, and our coaches do a good job instilling that mindset of trying to dominate each play.”

Notre Dame dominated the time-of-possession battle, controlling the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game, by a count of 39:08 to 20:52.

“Our game plan was situated on running the football, which equals time of possession for us,” Kelly said.

The victory made the Irish a perfect 4-for-4 in off-site home games, and Te’o said the location just two hours from campus made the energy palpable.

“It was really nice. It was a great change,” Te’o said. “Obviously we knew it was a home-field advantage for us because of the crowd.”

Notre Dame next hosts No. 18 Stanford on Saturday in a matchup made more momentous after ESPN announced its pregame show “College GameDay” would be broadcasting live from campus before the game. Despite the hype around the first 5-0 start in 10 years, Te’o said his team had to keep its mindset if it wanted to keep winning.

“We’ll sit down, we’ll watch some film and we’ll see what [the Cardinal] like to do. We’ve just got to keep it rolling,” he said. “We have to stay humble, we have to stay grounded and approach each day with a purpose.”

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu