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Game Notes: Notre Dame at Miami

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Photo by Bill Panzica

Final news and note items from Notre Dame's 41-8 loss to Miami.

TURNOVERS LEAD TO BLOWOUT LOSS

Notre Dame entered its matchup against Miami with a tremendous opportunity in front of it. The Fighting Irish were ranked No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings and a win over the No. 7 Hurricanes would have solidified Notre Dame’s standing, and it would have done so in front of a national audience.

Instead, the Fighting Irish were beaten in every way possible. The 41-8 final score was very much indicative of how thoroughly outplayed Notre Dame was by Miami. It was an outcome that head coach Brian Kelly did not see coming.

“I think you break it down to execution,” Kelly said following the loss. “I love my players, I love the way they come to work, but we didn’t execute very well.”

Miami has thrived on turning the ball over, ranking 11th in the land in turnovers forced coming into its matchup against Notre Dame. Kelly’s squad had thrived on not turning the ball over, ranking fifth nationally in turnovers lost. Something had to give, and it was the Irish, who could not protect the football.

Notre Dame had turned the ball over just seven times in its first nine games, but against Miami the Fighting Irish threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever felt things get away from you as much as you’re not executing at the level you need to against a really good football team,” Kelly said when asked when he felt things started to get away from his team. “It started when we threw our first interception. The makeup of Miami is built on turnovers.

“The one thing that we couldn’t do was turn the football over, and what did we do, we turned the football over. … When we started turning the football over we put ourselves in a tough spot.”

Miami totaled 24 points off Irish turnovers, keeping the game from ever truly being competitive.

Coming into this matchup, Notre Dame had outscored its first nine opponents 108-10 after turnovers. It was a driving force in Notre Dame’s rise into the playoff picture, but Miami flipped that and the result was Notre Dame’s postseason hopes going up in smoke.


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PASS GAME WOES DOOM OFFENSE

Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush completed two of his first three passes, including a 21-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson that converted a third-and-10 on Notre Dame’s first possession.

His early completions got Notre Dame into Miami territory, but three straight incompletions stalled the drive.

Wimbush had junior wideout Equanimeous St. Brown open for what would have been a 35-yard touchdown on that opening drive, but his throw sailed long. It would be that kind of night.

He failed to complete a pass on Notre Dame’s next five possessions and was ultimately benched for the final two series of the first half. Wimbush finished the opening two quarters 2-of-10 passing for just 30 yards. Miami defenders caught as many of Wimbush’s passes as did Notre Dame pass catchers.

Coming off the best passing performance of his career, 280 yards against Wake Forest, Wimbush played the game with a pad on his left hand, an injury he sustained late in the second quarter against Wake Forest. However, head coach Brian Kelly said that injury had nothing to do with his quarterback’s rough night.

“I don’t know that the hand was really a limiting factor for him,” Kelly noted. “He practiced during the week without much of an issue.”

Sophomore Ian Book stepping into the lineup at quarterback was temporary. Wimbush came back out in the third quarter in hopes of getting the offense back on track.

“We needed a spark and tried to insert Ian in the game after the turnovers, but felt at halftime that our best chance of really rallying was trying to get Brandon to play through it.”

Wimbush completed 8 of 11 passes for 89 yards in the second half, throwing a third-quarter touchdown to junior tight end Alizé Mack, but that was all the offense could muster.

“He’s still developing as a quarterback,” Kelly said of Wimbush. “Tonight was not a night to turn the football over against a quality, quality football team like Miami.”

Although he was benched for two series and struggled mightily against the Hurricanes, there is little doubt in the locker room about who should line up behind the center for the Irish.

“I don’t think anybody is worried about Brandon,” fifth-year senior captain and starting left tackle Mike McGlinchey said following the loss. “I think he’s going to be fine. Obviously, everybody had a rough night tonight. It’s growing pains. It’s part of the game of football.

“We’ve had a great season thus far, and we’re not going to let one game stop us form what we’re trying to accomplish.”

DEFENSIVE STRUGGLES CONTINUE

Notre Dame’s defense had shown great improvement in the team’s first eight games, limiting opponents to just 16.1 points and just 349.1 yards per game. Those eight opponents averaged just 4.8 yards per play, and the Irish held the opposition to 116.6 yards per game on the ground.

Cracks started to show during Notre Dame’s 48-37 win over Wake Forest, a game in which the Irish defense gave up 37 points and 587 yards, including 239 on the ground.

The struggles continued against Miami, which racked up 5.7 yards per play, rushed for 237 yards (5.6 per rush) and scored 34 points against the Irish defense.

Head coach Brian Kelly, though, pointed to the offense when asked about the team’s defensive woes.

“I think we put them in a bad situation,” Kelly said. “With 24 points off of turnovers, it’s hard to really get an accurate picture of them, but there were some plays that weren’t fit the way they have been.

“We’ll have to go back and study the film. I can’t give you a great sense, but [defensive coordinator] Mike Elko and I were surprised at some of the fits that didn’t occur that had occurred before. We’ve got to go back and look at some of the things that went on out there.”

According to captain and starting rover Drue Tranquill, the struggles against Miami had nothing to do with the team’s previous struggles against the Demon Deacons, at least from a schematic standpoint. The same can’t be said for how the Irish defense executed.

“I think they’re two different stories,” Tranquill said. “We didn’t execute well in either of the games. We have to execute better, and that’s the bottom line.

“We haven’t played the defense we want to play the past two games.”

Miami sophomore running back Travis Homer was especially troublesome for the Notre Dame defense. Homer gashed the Irish defense all game long, finishing with 146 yards on just 18 carries (8.1 per rush).

“He’s a great competitor with great speed and great vision,” Tranquill said of the Miami running back. “He was able to make the cuts when we didn’t fit right, and when we didn’t execute, he made cuts and was able to make those plays and get vertical.

“He’s a physical runner and great competitor, I respect the way he plays the game.”

GROUND ATTACK FALTERS

Notre Dame’s ground attack was the driving force behind the team’s 8-1 start, and the Irish entered its matchup against Miami ranked fifth in the land in rushing, averaging 324.8 yards per game.

However, Miami completely shut down the Irish ground game, holding Notre Dame to just 109 yards and 3.0 yards per rush. Standout running back Josh Adams was limited to just 40 yards on 16 carries (2.5 yards per rush).

“When you talk about our run game, it’s a little bit about getting into a good rhythm, and we never really got into a good rhythm,” head coach Brian Kelly explained. “We got behind the chains. We were very predictable, and they’re really good.

“Let’s give credit where credit is due. We just never got into the kind of rhythm necessary to sustain anything.”

Miami’s speed on defense had a big role in Notre Dame’s failures.

“I think they were just able to control the game a little bit,” McGlinchey noted. “They got around on the perimeter very well, a lot better than a lot of the teams that we’ve played. They contained our offense …

“Obviously we have to play a lot better than we played tonight. Miami came out to make plays and they made them. They played a hard game — they kicked our ass.”

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES

• Notre Dame’s only touchdown was a 14-yard pass from junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush to junior tight end Alizé Mack. It marked the first touchdown of Mack’s career at Notre Dame.

• The 33-point Miami victory was Notre Dame’s largest margin of defeat since losing to USC by 35 on Nov. 29, 2014.

• Notre Dame’s eight points was the team’s lowest total since scoring just three points in a road loss to North Carolina State on Oct. 8, 2016.

• The Irish defense had just one quarterback hurry in the loss, its lowest total of the season.

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