Big Game Breakdown: By Ace Vetrano
#3 Notre Dame @ #6 Miami
Line: ND -3.5
The old “Catholics vs. Convicts” matchup returns, and it is the biggest matchup of the two longstanding rivals in recent memory. As the popular ESPN 30 for 30 series showcases, these two programs have a storied history, and the 2017 matchup will write a new chapter. What is essentially an elimination for the two teams, I expect a dogfight down near South Beach.
The Matchup everyone has analyzed this week is the battle in the trenches when Notre Dame has the ball. Notre Dame’s offensive line and running game is one of the best in the country. Overall, they are fifth in the country at 324.8 rushing yards per game, and first nationally at 7.0 yards per carry. Josh Adams, Notre Dame’s feature back, is building a late Heisman campaign while tallying 1,191 yards on the ground this year at 8.7 yards per carry which is second among backs across the land. Adams is not alone however, which is what makes the rushing attack so dangerous. Starting QB Brandon Wimbush has totaled 639 yards on the ground himself, in addition to his 1,286 passing yards. Outside of that, they have four additional running backs who have at least 150 rushing yards this season; All averaging at least 5.5 yards per rush. That may come in handy this week as there are questions that Adams, who left early last week, is not 100%. He is expected to play however.
Those rushing stats are so strong that they will travel to South Beach and not disappear. Will the golden domers match those season averages? Maybe, but probably not. Heck, that is hard to do. The real question is just how effective it can be against a very stout Miami defense. Miami is loaded up front, and ranks in the top five nationally in tackles for loss per game. Those can be drive killers, and no one is handicapping this game thinking Brandon Wimbush and the Irish are going to try and win this game through the air. The key for me as I handicap this game is I don’t think Wimbush will have to carry the load. That is because Miami, while possessing supreme defensive talent, is still vulnerable in areas that Notre Dame excels at. Five of the seven FBS opponents Miami has faced this year have rushed for at least 150 yards. That helps contribute to Miami being ranked 66th nationally in yards allowed per game at 170.0 per game. Additionally, Miami has avoided a loss to date this season in part by forcing turnovers at an alarming rate. In fact, they have forced exactly four turnovers in three straight games. The thing is, Notre Dame isn’t built to turn the ball over. Now, the disclaimer I want to stress immediately is the fact that turnover numbers can sometimes, and I emphasize sometimes, be misleading. That is not the case here however, because there is a difference between being lucky in turnover differentials, and building a team that reduces risk of turnovers. I will be shocked if Notre Dame turns it over four times, partly because Brandon Wimbush enters the game with a 11-2 TD/INT ratio. That streak for the Canes will end this week.
The numbers add up, Notre Dame is more battle tested than Miami, and Mark Richt has a history of choking in big games. That all leads to me picking Notre Dame to win and cover the 3.5.