MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Notre Dame will not want to return to Hard Rock Stadium for a long time. It will also want to avoid gold necklaces.
Miami trotted out its “turnover chain” three times in the first half Saturday night, which means, more to the point, the No. 7 Hurricanes forced three turnovers and scored 17 points off them, part of a 27-0 first half. No. 3 Notre Dame didn’t get within Miami’s 35-yard line until the closing minutes of the third quarter, finally scoring a touchdown to avoid the shutout in the 41-8 rout.
“Miami was the better team today,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We didn’t see this coming, obviously. We felt like we were prepared to play at a high level. We did not.”
The Hurricanes stymied the Irish offense all night, but especially so in the first quarter. Notre Dame split 18 plays evenly among rushes and passes, gaining 20 yards on the ground and 30 through the air. Miami, meanwhile, gained 143 yards in the frame, running the exact same number of plays as the Irish.
Notre Dame finished with 130 rushing yards on 31 carries (sacks adjusted), well below its averages and an inconsistent enough output to limit the rest of its offensive approach.
“We never really got into a good rhythm,” Kelly said. “We got behind the chains, we were very predictable, and [the Hurricanes are] really good. Let’s give credit where credit is due.
“We just never really got into the kind of rhythm necessary to sustain.”
The Irish at least found some traction in the second quarter, and their defense continued to keep the score closer than the contest genuinely was. Considering Miami led 27-0 at the break, its total of 194 yards was unusually low. Three turnovers created efficient scoring, efficient and devastatingly disheartening for Notre Dame.
“I don’t know that I ever felt that things get away from you as much as you’re not executing,” Kelly said. “You need to. That’s a really good football team.
“… The makeup of this football team, Miami, is built on turnovers. The one thing we couldn’t do was turn the ball over.”
A total of four turnovers led to 24 Hurricanes points.
“Notre Dame, without a doubt, is a great team,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said. “It’s obvious. It just got away from them. I never would have predicted what happened, but it happened and I’m thank for it.”
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s second interception came halfway through the second quarter. On a quick drop, he sailed a quick slant route, making it look like Hurricanes sophomore cornerback Malek Young was the intended target. Young ran the gift back to the Notre Dame nine-yard line.
“I think [Wimbush is] still developing as a quarterback and tonight was not a night to run the football over against a quality football team,” Kelly said.
There is no excusing the throw. It could not have been much more off-target. On the next drive, Kelly turned to sophomore quarterback Ian Book in search of a spark, though one might wonder if Wimbush needed at least a few minutes to clear his head, as well.
With Book at the helm, the Irish offense very well may be more consistent, but it also has a much lower ceiling. Wimbush’s ability to fire the ball deep downfield on any play or run equally as far without a moment’s notice keeps a defense at a disadvantage. At least, it does most of the time. When trailing 20-0, some play-making is needed. Every potential piece of it should be on the field.
As soon as Notre Dame felt a need to turn to Book — an understandable one given Wimbush was 2-of-10 for 30 yards with 13 yards rushing to that point, finishing 10-of-21 for 119 yards and one score with 45 rushing yards — its chances of a comeback dropped drastically. Miami made that decision necessary.
Kelly did return to Wimbush in the second half, but by the time he took the field, that lead had expanded to 34-0. Only so much was going to be done.
OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
Wimbush’s second interception spurred a quarterback change. It nearly spurred the night into blowout territory, a scenario eventually inevitable. The Irish defense delayed that decisiveness for a bit with an impressive stand after the turnover.
Miami needed to go all of nine yards for a 24-0 lead.
“We put [our defense] in a bad situation,” Kelly said. “It’s hard to get an accurate picture of them.”
Due to a delay of game penalty, the Hurricanes actually went backward, settling for a field goal and a mere 20-0 advantage.
That defensive stand may not seem like much, and in the end it wasn’t, but it is an example of the defensive performance all night long. Quick changes are especially difficult for most defenses. Allowing a touchdown would have reflected more poorly on the offense than it would have on the defense, in all of reality. Nonetheless, Notre Dame stood its ground.
It gave the best it could on that side of the ball, and that might have been plenty if not for the repeated and costly offensive mishaps.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Book’s day ended with an interception returned 65 yards by Miami freshman cornerback Trajan Bandy for a touchdown with only 22 seconds before halftime. Book’s day may have ended during the intermission, anyway, but the telegraphed pass sealed the change back to Wimbush.
“I felt at halftime our best chance at really rallying and really trying to get Brandon to play through it, if you will, was the best course of action,” Kelly said.
On that drive, Book had the Irish offense moving, covering 54 yards in eight plays. There was a viable chance at a touchdown before halftime. Reaching the break trailing only 20-7 would have been a remarkable feat, and one that could have been built upon.
Instead, Bandy erased any thoughts of that, any thoughts of Book leading a historic comeback and any thoughts of now-two-loss Notre Dame making the College Football Playoff.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
As much as the Irish defense was not the primary problem Saturday night, it also did not give its offense much to build on. It forced no turnovers. It allowed the Hurricanes four scoring drives of eight plays or more, including a nine-play, 90-yard tour de force to open the second half.
Miami sophomore running back Travis Homer rushed for 52 yards on that drive, including a 40-yard counter that Kelly distinctly remembered after the game.
“Let’s give Travis Homer some credit,” Kelly said. “His acceleration through the hole, he may be as fast as any back that hits the hole that we’ve seen. We were a step behind him.”
Homer finished with 146 yards on 18 carries, leading the way for a Hurricane rushing attack that finished with 237 yards and three touchdowns on 42 carries. Once the defense set up a substantial lead, Miami successfully ground down Notre Dame with a running game reminiscent of the Irish approach for much of the season.
“He’s a great competitor, great speed, great vision, really able to make the cuts,” Notre Dame senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill said. “When we didn’t fit right and didn’t execute, he was able to make those cuts and get vertical.”
STAT OF THE GAME
Entering the weekend, the Irish had outscored their opponents in points off turnovers by a margin of 108 to 10.
Miami outscored Notre Dame in points off turnovers 24 to 0.
Combine that with the inability for the Irish rushing attack to find its footing against the Hurricanes’ ability to do exactly that, and this blowout is about summed up.
QUOTE OF THE EVENING
From Notre Dame fifth-year left tackle, captain and straight-shooter Mike McGlinchey:
“You have to give all the credit in the world to them. Obviously we have to play a lot better than we played tonight, but Miami came out ready to make plays and they made them.
“They played a hard game and they kicked our ass.”
4:01 — Miami touchdown. Braxton Berrios seven-yard reception from Malik Rosier. Michael Badgley PAT good. Miami 7, Notre Dame 0. (8 plays, 58 yards, 3:04)
2:33 — Miami touchdown. Rosier 16-yard rush. Badgley PAT good. Miami 14, Notre Dame 0. (2 plays, 32 yards, 0:36)
13:27 — Miami field goal. Badgley 23 yards. Miami 17, Notre Dame 0. (9 plays, 48 yards, 2:37)
5:56 — Miami field goal. Badgley 30 yards. Miami 20, Notre Dame 0. (4 plays, -4 yards, 1:24)
0:22 — Miami touchdown. Trajan Bandy 65-yard interception return. Badgley PAT good. Miami 27, Notre Dame 0.
10:30 — Miami touchdown. DeeJay Dallas four-yard rush. Badgley PAT good. Miami 34, Notre Dame 0. (9 plays, 90 yards, 4:30)
0:12 — Notre Dame touchdown. Alize Mack 14-yard reception from Brandon Wimbush. Wimbush run for two-point attempt. Miami 34, Notre Dame 8. (10 plays, 80 yards, 4:47)
4:00 — Miami touchdown. Dallas four-yard rush. Badgley PAT good. Miami 41, Notre Dame 8. (8 plays, 30 yards, 4:50)