Game Day: No. 9 Notre Dame vs. Miami

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It’s been an interesting 48 hours covering Notre Dame football. While rumors swirled about the Irish quarterbacking position, Brian Kelly put them to rest with his declarative statement that Everett Golson was — and would remain — his starting quarterback this evening in Soldier Field. But that hasn’t slowed any of the rumblings down.

With an extra week to prepare, and Miami’s suspect defense a perfect opponent to get healthy against, the Notre Dame offense — whoever the quarterback is — needs to get back on track, struggling for three consecutive Saturdays against Big Ten opponents Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan.

As we get ready for game time, here are a few final questions I’ve been thinking about.

Who will actually start at quarterback? 

While most of the quarterbacking debate was put to rest by Kelly on Thursday evening, I was told by two sources close to the situation late on Friday night that they still expected Tommy Rees to start on Saturday evening.

Those rumors were refuted by Notre Dame’s sports information department, but until the Irish take the field tonight, I’m not sure what to expect.

Can the Irish get production out of the quarterback position?

Regardless of who’s starting, Notre Dame needs to get some productivity out of the position. Nothing will open up the running game better than a quarterback that can take some shots down the field and challenge the Hurricanes vertically, and both Golson and Rees have that ability.

New quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin had an extra week to game plan for a Miami defense that’s very young and still prone to big mistakes. With All-American Tyler Eifert only catching one ball the past two weeks — his worst production since he was backing up Kyle Rudolph — it’s time for the Irish to figure out a way to get the ball into No. 80’s hands, the most dangerous offensive weapon the Irish have.

Will Notre Dame’s front seven be able to dominate the line of scrimmage? 

It’s a big test for Notre Dame’s stout defensive front, with running backs Duke Johnson and Mike James both big play threats.

More importantly, it’ll be up to the Irish pass rush to work its way through Miami’s youthful offensive line. There isn’t a fourth year player at the line of scrimmage for the Canes, and if the Irish can control the line of scrimmage and get after the quarterback with a four and five man rush, then it’ll be a long evening for quarterback Stephen Morris.

Can the Irish secondary limit the big plays? 

It’s another good test for Notre Dame’s young secondary. Morris isn’t Denard Robinson running the football, but he’s got the ability to extend plays and has a really big arm that challenges defenses down the field.

Morris still struggles with his accuracy, but he’s averaging almost 330 yards a game passing, and that yardage is coming in big chunks. With freshman KeiVarae Russell still learning on the job, Matthias Farley making his second start in place of Jamoris Slaughter, and Zeke Motta holding the group together, it’s another great test for a group that’s done a very nice job through four games.

Is Cierre Wood going to take control of the running game? 

After sitting out the season’s first two games and struggling to find his way over the past few weeks, it’s finally time for senior Cierre Wood to take control of the running game. Wood has the best blend of speed, power, and vision in the Irish backfield, and while Theo Riddick has impressed, this is Wood’s game to dominate.

The Hurricanes are giving up 225 yards a game, giving up a healthy 4.49 yards per carry. With an extra week for Harry Hiestand‘s offensive line to work through some early kinks, it’s time for Notre Dame to dominate the line of scrimmage and break loose in the running game.

Can the Irish take care of business and play up to their ranking? 

Being ranked in the top ten is one thing. But playing consistent football against quality opponents for a long stretch of time is the next step in the evolutionary chain for Notre Dame football. Brian Kelly has continued to preach consistency and attention to detail for this team. But can the Irish take care of business in a unique environment against another good team?

The Hurricanes are 4-1, but a program still building. With a mature defense and an offense ready to break through, this is a game Notre Dame should win with authority if they want to stake a claim that they’re one of the country’s premiere teams.

UPDATE — Alex Flanagan confirms my reporting (both above and on Twitter), that Rees will start after Golson violated a team rule.