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Turnovers to prove key in Miami-Notre Dame matchup

| Friday, November 10, 2017

There are only four teams with a better turnover margin than the Irish. And this week’s opponent is one of them.

No. 7 Miami (FL) has spent much of its season passing its hallmark turnover chain along the sideline, having forced 20 turnovers so far this season, just one more than the turnover-minded Notre Dame (8-1) defense.

The Hurricanes (8-0, 6-0 ACC) have picked off 13 passes this season and recovered seven fumbles, however, one of the most quintessential facets of their defense does not manifest itself on the field, but on the sidelines: the turnover chain.

The Hurricanes introduced the 36-inch long, 5.5 pound, 10-karat gold Cuban link chain to their sideline at the start of the season. When a player records a turnover, they get the chain and the eye-catching jewelry has caught fire throughout the area surrounding “The U.”

“You know, I think everybody has something within their program that is set to elicit something for their players to lock into something, right,” Irish head coach Kelly said. “Everybody’s trying to — kind of like I said before, right, what gets your guys locked into something. The turnover chain is something of a prop, but it gets them really focused on, hey “We win as a team. But here’s your little individual piece. …

“So whatever works for you to get that and get the most out of your players, I can see how it would happen, but I think each program is trying to come up with those kinds of things to help them maximize the success.”

Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush has not thrown an interception since Sept. 16 at Boston College, a statistic the Hurricanes will look to challenge.

Sarah Olsen | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush stands in the pocket and throws during Notre Dame’s 35-14 win over North Carolina State on Oct. 28 at Notre Dame Stadium.

“It’s one of our core tenets. We coach it every day,” Kelly said. “We talk about having great ball security, making good decisions.”

The Hurricanes will be without redshirt-junior defensive lineman Demetrius Jackson, who has 18 tackles on the season with 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and one interception. Jackson injured his knee in the Hurricanes’ win over Virginia Tech this past week and had surgery Monday.

“He was playing a lot of snaps for us and doing great things for us, so it’s not always easy to replace him,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. “We do have numbers at that position, that’s helpful.”

Miami may be undefeated, but Saturday’s matchup with No. 3 Notre Dame (8-1) will answer the question of how the good both the Hurricanes — and the Irish — really are.

Offensively, the Hurricanes have relied on redshirt-junior quarterback Malik Rosier, sophomore dual-threat running back Travis Homer, senior wide receiver Braxton Berrios and senior tight end Christopher Herndon.

Rosier ranks 30th in the nation in passing with 19 passing touchdowns and over 2,000 passing yards this season. He had a successful outing against the Hokies (7-2, 3-2), passing for 202 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions.

“Rosier is a gritty kid. As a first-year starter, he finds ways to make plays,” Kelly said of the Hurricanes quarterback. “He’s a lot like Brandon when you look at him. He just finds ways to win football games, whether he’s going to run for a first down or make a key play. He keeps the drives alive.

“Braxton Berrios is the engine to that offense, no doubt about it, but he’s also extremely productive. So, it’s one thing to be the emotional leader but you know, he averages I think close to 15 yards per catch and I think he’s somebody that you have to game plan for in the special teams game as a punt returner.

“ … Homer has done an incredible job of coming in for the loss of [junior running back Mark] Walton, who we all know is one of the best running backs in the country. But Homer leads the team in rushing. I think he’s got six touchdowns. Very shifty, athletic player that can go the distance and has really done a great job for them.”

Richt said he was particularly concerned about his offense going up against the Irish defense, as the Notre Dame squad has been successful in preventing giving up big plays to opponents.

“Very, very veteran group. They play very physical. They’re sure tacklers. They don’t give up big plays. We’re gonna have to earn it and we’ve not been very good at that,” Richt said. “We’ve not been good at long drives. We’ve hit some shots here and there and made some big plays and every so often we’ll have a drive that lasts more than six, seven plays, but haven’t done a lot of that, but their goal is to keep you from hitting the big run or the big pass and just see, can you execute down the field and get in the red zone and score touchdowns against them? And not many people have been able to do that, so that’s our challenge and we’re looking forward to the game and I know our fans are too.”

Richt is aware of the importance of the matchup, but the top-10 face off, with College GameDay present, is not something he thinks his team will shy away from.

“We like it when we’re competing in games this late in the year that are that meaningful and it just so happens this Saturday night is going to be very meaningful for both teams,” Richt said.

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a senior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident assistant in McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is currently serving as assistant managing editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

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