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Head to head: Notre Dame vs. Miami

| Friday, October 28, 2016

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The Miami aerial attack begins and ends with Brad Kaaya. The junior quarterback has been touted as a potential first-round pick should he chose to forego his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft at season’s end. His play this year has largely reflected that status, as he’s thrown for 1,696 yards and 12 touchdowns against just five interceptions on the season. The dropoff in his play during the Hurricanes’ three-game losing streak can be attributed to Miami’s struggles with pass protection during the stretch, as the Hurricanes offensive line has given up a combined 13 sacks in the three losses.

After a poor start to the season, the Irish secondary and pass rush have shown improvement in its last three games, holding opposing passing attacks to an average of 175 yards through the air and accumulating five sacks, as compared to an average of 253 passing yards allowed and just one total sack in its first four games.

Kaaya will be the best quarterback the Irish secondary have faced to date. Notre Dame’s ability to disrupt Miami’s aerial attack will hinge on its success or failure to pressure Kaaya and use its recent improvements in that area to take advantage of a struggling Miami offensive line.



The Hurricanes ground attack features a one-two punch in sophomore Mark Walton and junior Joe Yearby. Both running backs have averaged over 5 yards per carry so far this season and have combined for 1,097 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. Much like the passing game, however, the rushing attack has struggled during the Hurricanes’ three-game losing streak, averaging just 81 yards per game on the ground during that stretch.

Much like its secondary, Notre Dame’s front seven has shown improvement since Greg Hudson took over as defensive coordinator. After allowing over 200 rushing yards in three of their first four games, the Irish have not allowed a team to reach that threshold in its last three games and has held opponents to under four yards per carry.



This season is head coach Mark Richt’s first in Coral Gables. Richt is well respected as an offensive mind, having served as an offensive coordinator at Florida State prior to his time as a head coach at Georgia and, now, Miami. During his seven years as a coordinator at Florida State, the Seminoles were among the nation’s top-five scoring offenses five times and a top-12 unit in total offense five times.

In three games since taking over the defense, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and head coach Brian Kelly have seen statistical improvements both in the secondary and along the front seven. However, its last to matchups have been against North Carolina State in defensively favorable weather conditions and against an anemic Stanford offense without Christian McCaffrey. The Hurricanes will represent the biggest challenge yet to the improving but largely untested Irish defense under Kelly and Hudson.



Junior kicker Michael Badgley has been effective this season for the Hurricanes, hitting seven of his 10 field goal attempts, including all three of his tries from beyond 40 yards. Senior punter Justin Vogel, meanwhile, has averaged 44.1 yards on his punts this season and has pinned teams inside their 20 on over a third of his punts this season.

Although the Irish have shown flashes on special teams with one blocked field goal and two blocked extra points, the unit has struggled to make a consistent impact this season.



Miami is not the only team in this matchup with a potential first-round talent at quarterback, as Notre Dame has depended on the play of DeShone Kizer for its offensive success this year. The junior has thrown for 1,775 yards in Notre Dame’s seven games this season and has accounted for 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. However, Kizer, like Kaaya, has struggled as of late, completing under 50 percent of his passes in his last two games, both Notre Dame losses.

The last three games have seen the Hurricanes’ secondary struggle, as the unit has allowed seven total passing touchdowns while intercepting just one of the last 112 passes thrown against them during that span. Miami’s pass rush has been modest during its current losing streak, however, accumulating six sacks over the three games.

For Notre Dame to rediscover its success through the air, the Irish offensive line will need to protect Kizer and provide him with time to take advantage of a struggling Hurricane secondary.



In addition to his arm, DeShone Kizer’s legs have been Notre Dame’s most effective weapon on the ground as of late. He led the team in rushing with 83 yards against Stanford two weeks ago, and he leads the team on the season in rushing touchdowns with seven. He’s joined by a trio of running backs in the backfield, as senior Tarean Folston and sophomores Josh Adams and Dexter Williams have all rotated in for the Irish this season at the position. Of the three, Adams has the most carries (89) and yards (416), while Williams has hit paydirt the most with his three rushing touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball, the Hurricanes have largely been effective against the run this season, holding opponents to under 150 rushing yards per game and just 3.4 yards per carry. In two of their last three games, however, the Hurricanes have allowed an opposing back to rush for over 130 yards. In its latest defeat to Virginia Tech, Miami allowed mobile quarterback Jerod Evans to rush for nearly 100 yards and touchdown, indicating Kizer’s ability to run could also pose problems for a Hurricane defense that starts three freshman linebackers.



In it’s last two games, the Irish offense has totaled just 13 points after scoring at least 28 points in its previous five games. Both games have featured decisions by head coach Brian Kelly that received heavy criticism, as he featured a relatively pass-heavy game plan in unfavorable weather conditions against N.C. State and pulled Kizer midway through the team’s loss to Stanford.

On the other side, Miami is led by head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Diaz in particular has been successful in his career as a coordinator, having coached a defense at Louisiana Tech that led the nation in turnovers forced in 2014 and a defense at Georgia that finished in the top 10 in redzone defense just last season.



Sophomore kicker Justin Yoon has converted a modest six of his nine field goal attempts on the season for Notre Dame, but his longest make on the season is just 40 yards, as he has only attempted one field goal longer than that distance this year. Junior punter Tyler Newsome has averaged 43.7 yards on his 35 punts this season.


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