Head to head: Miami (FL)
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, November 10, 2017
Junior quarterback Malik Rosier has had the difficult job of replacing three-year starter and all-time Miami passing yardage leader Brad Kaaya at Miami. While he adds a new dimension on the ground for the Hurricanes and while he has led the program to an 8-0 record this season and a 9-0 record as a starter when a controversial victory over Duke in 2015 is included, he is not the same caliber of passer as the 2017 NFL draftee.
Rosier has completed just 56 percent of his passes so far this season and less than 50 percent in each of his last two games, although when he has completed passes he has been dangerous, with his 14.76 yards per completion ranking ninth in the nation. He possesses a range of pass-catching options, led by senior wide receiver Braxton Berrios but also including sophomore running back Travis Homer, a talented receiver out of the backfield, and senior tight end Christopher Herndon IV, ninth in the nation for receiving yards at the position.
The Irish pass defense had perhaps its worst game of the season last week, giving up 348 yards and two touchdowns to Wake Forest, though Julian Love did add another interception. But Notre Dame has consistently held the less-experienced quarterbacks on its schedule in check, and should be capable of doing the same to Rosier.
Edge: Notre Dame
When junior running back Mark Walton had to undergo season-ending ankle injury after the Hurricanes beat Florida State, many expected the Miami run game to take a hit. But instead, the versatile Homer has stepped up, with a 170-yard game against Georgia Tech and two other 95-yard performances.
The Hurricanes haven’t been committed to running the ball this season, but when they have they have had success, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt, placing them in the top 20 in the nation, while their 174.5 yards per game put them in the top 60. However, a disproportionate amount of the team’s success in the run game has come against FCS Bethune-Cookman and MAC Toledo when both Homer and Walton were healthy, against whom the Hurricanes averaged nearly 300 yards on over nine yards per attempt. In other games, the Hurricanes struggled to run the ball until rushing for 219 against Virginia Tech.
The Irish run defense was one of the best in the nation until it struggled against Wake Forest, giving up its second, third and fourth rushing touchdowns of the season and a season-high of 239 yards. However, the record for the remainder of the season suggests the Irish should be able to handle the Miami ground game.
Edge: Notre Dame
Hurricanes Offensive Coaching
Miami head coach Mark Richt has coached many great offenses over the course of his career. As quarterbacks coach at Florida State he was responsible for the development of Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, before becoming offensive coordinator as the Seminoles repeatedly posted top-five offenses and were led by another Heisman winner in Chris Weinke. In his 16 years at Georgia, he coached many offensive stars including NFL first overall draft pick Matthew Stafford, SEC all-time passing leader Aaron Murray, star running backs Todd Gurley and Knowshon Moreno and star receiver AJ Green.
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s success this season came to a halt against the school he previously coached at last week, but against any opponent with less familiarity, another impressive performance can be expected, though Richt’s offense will be an extremely tough challenge.
Hurricanes Special Teams
Hurricanes senior kicker Michael Badgley has proven accurate over the course of his career, on course for his third straight season with an 80-percent-plus field goal percentage at 12-of-14 this year and boasting a perfect record on extra points this year. Badgley also boasts a season-long of 50 yards and booming an end-of-half 57-yard field goal against Georgia Tech.
Freshman punter Zach Feagles averages only 38.6 yards per punt this year. Irish returner Chris Finke has made only a minor impact on returns this year, however.
Badgley’s rare combination of power and accuracy could be capable of swinging a tight game.
Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush threw the ball 30 times against Wake Forest after four consecutive games of 20 or less attempts, but still had success with a career-high 280 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions as sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool has a career game. However, his completion percentage remained low at just 50 percent.
Wimbush’s completion percentage could prove to be an issue against the Hurricanes, who have only allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 51.9 percent of passes. His streak without an interception, now at over 120 attempts, will also face its biggest challenge against a team ranked sixth in the nation in interceptions with 16.
Wimbush’s passing continues to improve this season, but it still mostly acts as a way to prevent teams from committing too much to the Irish run game, and not something that can can stand fully on its own, especially against a ball-hungry team like Miami.
Josh Adams left the victory over Wake Forest last week in the first quarter with only five carries for 22 yards, yet the Irish still ran for 380 yards without him.
The strength of the Irish offensive line and the depth the team possesses at the position means that regardless of which players are in, the Irish can still dominate their opponents on the ground. Against the Hurricanes, Adams should be fully healthy, so the Irish — who have ran for at least 300 yards in each of their last five games and rank fifth in the nation in rushing yards, fourth in rushing touchdowns and second in rushing yards per attempt — should have high hopes of keeping up their record against the run.
The Hurricanes boast a strong rushing defense, holding opponents to just four yards per attempt a top red-zone rush defense, giving up only three rushing touchdowns, and a unit that can create turnovers, having recovered seven opponent fumbles so far.
However, the Irish have faced strong rushing defenses before, and — with the exception of Georgia — it hasn’t hurt their numbers on the ground.
Edge: Notre Dame
Irish Offensive Coaching
Chip Long’s offense had success against the Demon Deacons regardless of personnel, as Josh Adams’s absence for most of the game and Brandon Wimbush missing some time with a hand injury did not stop the Irish from racking up 710 yards of total offense and 30 first downs.
Long’s offense will go up against a defense coached by Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who has held the same position at Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State and Texas before joining the Hurricanes with Mark Richt in 2016. Last year, he led an inexperienced Miami unit to a drastic turnaround, ranking in the top 20 in the nation for points allowed with 18.5. This year, his defense has again proven impressive and has become notorious for its ability to force turnovers with 20 so far this year.
Irish Special Teams
Junior kicker Justin Yoon had very little to do last season before last week, as he made 34 and 22-yarders, but missed a kick from 50 yards, while the Irish also elected to go for it on a 4th-and-five rather than have Yoon attempt a 48-yarder in the wind and rain. Leg strength remains an issue from Yoon, but he continues to prove to be accurate from short to moderate ranges.
Senior punter Tyler Newsome only punted twice against the Demon Deacons, but each kick put the Irish defense in a strong position, starting Wake Forest drives at their own two and 10-yard lines as his short-field punting seems to have improved from prior years.
Freshman Jonathan Doerer returned to kickoff duties for the Irish and was much improved, forcing three touchbacks.
Berrios handles returns for the Hurricanes, and has a punt return average of 16.3 yards as well as a kick return average of 22.1.