CHICAGO - Brian Kelly suspended Everett Golson for three plays on Saturday night for a violation of team rules.
For how breathless the speculation about Notre Dame's starting quarterback felt before kickoff, it proved equally moot after it. Tommy Rees opened the game and closed it for the Irish, which ran all over Miami at Soldier Field during Notre Dame's most impressive Shamrock Series performance.
Kelly probably could have started Gunner Kiel and still sprung a similar ground game as the Irish rolled to 376 yards rushing in the 41-3 blowout. It was No. 9 Notre Dame's most rushing success in a dozen years as the Irish (5-0) continued their perfect start to a season that's opening up for a BCS run.
"It's so much fun to be running the ball and whipping the guy over you," said guard Chris Watt. "When you start to break another team's will it starts to show. We were able to do that."
Not that Golson didn't play a part in the dismantling of Miami (4-2), which proved unready to resume this rivalry in full. Golson finished 17-of-22 for 186 yards passing without a turnover, but it was his six carries for 51 yards that stood out most.
Golson entered the game with -11 yards rushing this season. That Kelly let the sophomore stretch his legs proved critical in opening up the ready-to-be-opened-up Miami defense. Cierre Wood rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns. George Atkinson III rushed for 123 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown.
Theo Riddick missed the second half mauling with a bruised elbow.
It was the first time Notre Dame produced two 100-yard backs in 10 years.
"I think today we showed a glimpse of what we could be," Golson said. "Just to think about it, to me, it's kind of scary.
"There's just so many ways we could beat you."
Count Golson among those weapons, two weeks after he was benched during a mental meltdown against Michigan. Kelly said this was Golson's best week of practice, which could have been flawless if he didn't lose track of time talking with a history professor on Friday.
Kelly let Golson know the length of his mini-suspension before kickoff. After Miami roughed Ben Turk to prolong Notre Dame's opening drive, Golson had watched enough.
"I want our guys to be accountable. He was accountable," Kelly said. "He took full responsibility for it, accountability for it. I thought he came in and played very well. I was proud of him today."
Lost in the offensive revelation was an Irish defense continuing to dominate, even if it nearly allowed a bomb touchdown on Miami's first series. The Hurricanes became the first team to score on the Irish in the first quarter this season. They also became the third straight opponent to fail to score a touchdown.
Miami finished with 285 yards total offense, the fourth straight opponent stopped short of 300. Quarterback Stephen Morris, who set the ACC record with 566 yards passing last week against N.C. State, finished 18-of-35 for 201 yards. His best moment was a touchdown run wiped out by a holding penalty. His receivers dropped at least a half-dozen passes.
Morris didn't hit a 30-yard pass all game. He had seven completions of at least 40 yards last week.
During the decisive third quarter when Notre Dame's offense rolled to 197 yards rushing and three grounded touchdowns, Miami's offense went nowhere. The Hurricanes amassed just 31 yards and two first downs. Notre Dame's lead went from 13-3 at the half to 34-3 entering the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame has allowed just 23 points in its last 18 third quarters, combined.
"Our main thing is getting to the ball," said Manti Te'o, who posted a game-high 10 tackles. "Our coaches do a good job of trying to instill that mindset of dominate each play."
The Irish defense almost did, even without recording a sack for the first time all season.
"You couldn't script it any better," Kelly said. "You have some young players out there."
Unlike Miami, whose depth chart is littered with freshmen and sophomores, youth didn't hurt Notre Dame. Sophomore DaVaris Daniels chipped in three catches. Freshman corner KeiVarae Russell posted six tackles. Freshman nickel back Elijah Shumate had three. Freshman defensive lineman Sheldon Day was active against the run. Sophomore Atkinson showed home run speed. Sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza nailed two field goals.
Yet the youth with the most movement on Saturday night was Golson.
After having his leadership questioned and his head examined during the past couple weeks, Kelly's hand-picked quarterback showed the talent that won him the starting job in the first place. Those are the skills that could make Notre Dame's offense more than just an addendum to its defense.
"We saw Everett at his best," Te'o said. "He's going to continue to get better. It's exciting. We knew what our offense could do."
Now everybody else does too.
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