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The road to 12-0: Miami

Dec 31, 2012, 5:44 PM EST

Miami v Notre Dame Getty Images

The fifth in a series that looks back at Notre Dame’s 12-0 regular season. For more, read entries on Navy, Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan.

After starting the season 4-0 for the first time in a decade, the Irish enjoyed a well-deserved bye week before prepping for another marquee opponent, the Miami Hurricanes. Even though Al Golden’s team was filled with youth along the depth chart, they came into Soldier Field 4-1, with an offense that had been surprisingly high powered, thanks to the arm of Stephen Morris.

With Notre Dame in the AP top ten for the first time since 2006, there was a ton of anticipation for the year’s Shamrock Series entry, even with the polarizing helmets and uniforms. There was also quite a bit of intrigue swirling around behind the scenes.

STATUS CHECK

Running the table through the first four games of the season reinvigorated a fanbase that hadn’t seen that happen since Ty Willingham’s first season. Still, there was plenty of skepticism about this team, if only because the offense was still a crude work-in-progress.

With a bye week to prepare, the Irish did their best to continue installation, but also continue to develop Everett Golson into the quarterback that was desperately needed by Kelly if he wanted to continue this climb up the mountain.

PRESSING QUESTIONS

Who actually is starting at quarterback?

Rumors swirled along the internet that a quarterback change was potentially in the works. With Everett Golson not exactly holding down the fort and Tommy Rees playing well in relief, a head coach known to have a hair trigger with quarterbacks continued to be questions about the man behind center.

But Brian Kelly continued to double down on Golson when asked about the depth chart.

“It’s the same guy who’s been the starter the last four weeks,” Kelly said the Thursday before the game. “I thought I made that pretty clear. But Everett will start in Week Five, and I expect him to start in Week Six and Seven and Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen.”

Certainly emphatic words by the Irish head coach. But on Friday night, after the team had already traveled to Chicago, I heard from two sources that a quarterback change was coming. While Notre Dame denied it, I was told Tommy Rees was starting the game.

Twitter was a buzz Saturday morning after my initial report, and Alex Flanagan confirmed the rumor when she caught up with Kelly before the game.

It turned out to be much ado about nothing, as Rees played the first series before turning the keys to the offense back over to Golson. After the game, Kelly had this to say:

“Our team rules are pretty simple as it relates to being on time. We have high standards and we hold all of our players to that standard.”

Needing to dominate, the Irish offensive line turned the corner.

It looks like Harry Hiestand’s unit did some bonding over the bye week. After some so-so performances, the Irish offensive line absolutely dominated Miami up front, putting on a clinic in the second half as they took the then 86th ranked rushing offense in the country and rattled off a monster game.

Both Cierre Wood and George Atkinson went over 100 yards, and after a modest 106 yards in the first half, Notre Dame ran for a staggering 270 yards after halftime. Featured prominently for the first time this season was Wood, who broken the game open with a dazzling 37-yard run.

“He did a great job on his run, showed great patience, stepped on the heals of the guard and bent it back. He hadn’t done that all year,” Kelly said. “He had a great week of practice, preparing himself to do what we’ve asked him to do.”

After struggling in the trenches against physical opponents, the right side of the offensive line, Christian Lombard and Mike Golic, played their best game of the season.

Just how good was Bob Diaco’s Irish defense?

After a first series where Miami dropped two passes that could’ve gone for touchdowns, the Irish suffocated the Hurricanes, holding them to under 300 yards and just three points. Bob Diaco’s unit was in the middle of a truly impressive run.

Here’s what I wrote after the game:

Notre Dame hasn’t given up a touchdown over its last 12 quarters, holding Michigan State, Michigan and now Miami out of the end zone. The Irish defense is allowing just 7.8 points a game now, and has surrendered only three touchdowns on the season, the least amount in college football.

After scoring 86 points and gaining 1,260 yards over the last two Saturdays, Miami scored just three points and gained 285 yards of total offense. Missing on two deep chances on their first drive, the Hurricanes struggled to do anything against Notre Dame’s defense after the Irish got settled in.

“After we settled down to the speed of the game, we limited a very good offense,” Kelly said. “We didn’t give up the big plays and we certainly got a couple breaks early on. I thought we adjusted well to the speed of the game after the first quarter. Again, we have now held University of Miami, Michigan, and Michigan State to not scoring a touchdown. That’s an incredible feat for our defense.”

A victory like this one — a dominant performance on both sides of the ball against a marquee program in prime time — was a statement game for an Irish team that had just slid by

WHAT DID WE LEARN?

Notre Dame 41, Miami 3.

Notre Dame was getting tough to ignore. After five wins and a dominant performance against Miami, the Irish were looking like a pretty impressive football team. With a top five losing three undefeateds from their ranks that first Saturday of October, while there was plenty of work left to be done, Notre Dame was in the conversation for a BCS bowl.

The Irish’s 41-3 bludgeoning of Miami was its most dominant victory over the ‘Canes in 35 years, when Dan Devine’s Irish won the 1977 national title. With the offensive line picking up the pace and Everett Golson playing solid, the pieces were slowing coming together.

Offensively, the Irish took the bye week to open up the playbook and the tweaks showed themselves useful. Chuck Martin and Brian Kelly unlocked Golson’s ability to contribute in the running game and it gave the Miami defense — and every opponent watching film — one more thing to worry about. They also showed a run game that could be the basis of a strong offense.

“We used some formations to get some good match-ups,” Kelly said after the game. “They were rotating their coverage to Eifert quite a bit and it opened up a lot of things for us in the running game.”

A tremendous win on a big stage turned the Irish into one of the prominent early stories of the college football season. With ESPN set to return to South Bend for the first time in a long time, the Irish were already turning their attention to another edition of the biggest game of the year, with one-loss Stanford coming to town.

We might not have been sure how good this football team could be yet. But holding an explosive offense filled with speed and skill, and bullying Miami’s defense for the entire second half helped prove that this defense could play with anybody. And with an offense that continued to grow, the Irish ascended to No. 7 in the country.

  1. ajw21 - Dec 31, 2012 at 11:52 PM

    This was probably my favorite game all year! After the first drive of me cussing out the secondary and cheering the dropped passes it was a game I could sit back and enjoy!
    Go Irish! Beat Bama!
    Run it up Kelly! Leave no doubt!

  2. 9irish - Jan 1, 2013 at 7:05 AM

    I thought that was a great win. Not the old “U”, but still simmering hatred in there.

    This is a very good read

    http://espn.go.com/college-football/bowls12/story/_/id/8783243/brian-kelly-had-sell-could-sell-notre-dame-college-football

  3. alsatiannd - Jan 1, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    Just skip to the Pitt game because that’s the team I’m afraid Alabama is most like, except better skilled in every imaginable way. Pitt ran on us, but Alabama has two Grahams. Pitt was the only team that had successful screens against us because we sold out on the run; Alabama loves the screen. Pitt had Sunseri at QB who perpetually under-performs while McCarron over-performs.

    • irishfb05 - Jan 1, 2013 at 10:10 AM

      Pitt played pretty well but for some reason ND just didn’t seem to much into the game the first three quarters. When they finally woke up the held Pitt to 18 total yards in the 4th quarter and all three OTs combined. We also outgained them 522 to 308. Also pitt finished off the year pretty nicely turning their season around from the loss to Youngstown state but it was clear when we finally came to play who the better team was

  4. mimefrog - Jan 1, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    Anyone else wonder if CBK was actually just trolling all of ND nation with that Rees start?

  5. harvupdyke - Jan 1, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    Roll dam tide.

    • redleg99999 - Jan 1, 2013 at 1:22 PM

      Yep Go Irish Roll the ignorant Tide

    • bernhtp - Jan 1, 2013 at 5:10 PM

      So Harv, while I understand your personal affinity for poison, why do you think Alabama named their team after a bacteria that makes water toxic and smelly? When I lived near the ocean, we always hated the red tide. I guess I still do.

    • papadec - Jan 2, 2013 at 12:16 AM

      harv – there you are lad – how ’bout that lsu game? sec not lookin’ so imposing now – are they?

  6. mikemcmack - Jan 1, 2013 at 12:48 PM

    If only the Irish hadn’t worn those uniforms…it’s ruined the whole season for me!!!
    JUST KIDDING…actually, I liked them. They are only silly if you lose in them.
    Also, I loved GA3 jetstreaming those “superfast” Miami DBs. After that run and that game, I don’t recall any more chirping about ND being speed-challenged.
    It’s probably no more than wishful thinking, but I’ve got a hunch Atkinson a/o Breezy will doing something similarly thrilling, about 6 1/2 days from now.

  7. buccobrigade - Jan 1, 2013 at 2:34 PM

    I guess Harv couldn’t figure out a way to rip this game?

  8. bernhtp - Jan 1, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    USC loses another 5/6-star recruit.

    http://espn.go.com/nfl/draft2013/story/_/id/8798005/robert-woods-usc-trojans-decides-enter-nfl-draft

    Can’t blame him given what he saw Barkley get for his last year.

    • papadec - Jan 2, 2013 at 12:28 AM

      bern – thanks for the post. I wish him the best in the NFL. Not sorry to see him leave, but it opens another spot on the 2013 recruiting bus. It’s going to be very interesting to see what Redfield & Vanderdoes do now.

      • bernhtp - Jan 2, 2013 at 7:45 AM

        A recruiting spot is not required for the likes of Vanderdoes; there’s always room for him.

        The USC program is melting down. Their epic recruiting class is dissipating. It will still be very good at the end, but not what it looked like two months ago.

  9. ajw21 - Jan 1, 2013 at 7:33 PM

    Bern, Woods was also upset he was the #2 receiver this year. I think he tweeted something about not getting enough balls thrown his way.

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