NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The Irish did what good teams do, they blew out their opponent. From the outset, No. 22 Notre Dame (4-1) made the matchup with Miami (2-3) a clear mismatch Saturday evening en route to a 52-17 victory.
Not even half a minute into the game, Irish junior running back Josh Adams found the end zone on a 73-yard rush. Quite literally, it was a rout from the get-go. By the end of the opening quarter, Adams had scored again, on a 59-yard run featuring three broken tackles, and junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush notched both a rushing and a passing touchdown.
“Coach [Brian] Kelly challenged us in the early week to not put a face to a team — whether it’s USC, whether it’s Georgia, whether it’s Miami of Ohio — you just want to go out there and execute,” Wimbush said. “We took care of business tonight, and I think we could have even put some more points up on the board.”
After Adams’ second score brought Notre Dame’s lead to 21-7 and Wimbush then connected with sophomore Chase Claypool for the receiver’s first career touchdown, the RedHawks would not again close the gap to fewer than three possessions.
“We certainly didn’t run into a bad Notre Dame team,” RedHawks coach and former Irish assistant Chuck Martin said. “They have a very good team this year. They’re playing the game the right way, and they’re only going to get better, I think.”
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
The RedHawks were not quite set to score, but they had moved 37 yards on only one play, partly thanks to a personal foul on Irish junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. Miami seemed only a few plays away from tying the contest at seven. RedHawks senior quarterback Gus Ragland threw a downfield pass for junior receiver James Gardner on a second-and-nine from the Notre Dame 36-yard line, hoping to expose some of the vulnerable Irish secondary.
“We’re like everyone else, we’re going to be dreamers,” Martin said. “We came in with a crazy aggressive plan. We’re going to try to attack and whip it around, hopefully catch them in pressures and get the ball on the seam and try to get them back on their heels.”
Rather than set up a red zone possibility, the pass found Irish senior linebacker Greer Martini. He recognized the play’s design from practicing against it specifically during the week. Not only did Martini pull in the pass at the 22-yard line — after quite a bobble, as it seems the ball was closer to him than even he had expected — he also then returned it 42 yards, to immediately put the Irish in scoring position. Apparently some of his teammates did not deem that good enough, though.
“The guys were kind of giving me [grief],” Martini said. “I should have housed it, but I got caught down from behind. … I haven’t had the ball in my hand since high school, so that was a little bit weird.”
If Saturday’s outcome was ever in doubt, Wimbush’s one-yard touchdown keeper seven plays later eased those concerns, giving Notre Dame a more-comfortable-than-it-sounds 14-0 lead.
PLAY OF THE GAME
It may seem the easy way out, but the play of the game came on its second snap. As much as Martini’s interception finalized the evening’s tone, Adams’ 73-yard jaunt first set it. For that matter, Miami feared something just like that would occur.
“We wanted to get the [coin] toss,” Martin said. “We wanted to get the ball first. I didn’t want their offense on the field first. I didn’t’ feel like that was the best matchup, even though our defense has totally outplayed our offense.”
Instead, the Irish won the toss and chose to receive. Wimbush took a deep shot for fifth-year receiver Cam Smith, one Smith probably should have caught but let get away from him. After that pass hit the turf, there was no longer really any other option for play of the game. Adams saw to that.
OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
Considering the final score, retrospect may deem it a small moment, and perhaps its allure stands out more to a certain segment of the football analytics crowd than to many others. Three plays after Martini’s interception and return, the Irish had totaled a loss of one yard, now facing fourth-and-11 from the 37-yard line. Kelly did not send out either senior punter Tyler Newsome for a coffin corner pooch punt or junior kicker Justin Yoon for a 54- or 55-yard field goal attempt.
Notre Dame went for it.
Setting aside any and all fandoms, or lack thereof, it was an excellent call. And it paid off. Wimbush connected with Claypool for a 21-yard gain and Wimbush’s first completed pass of the day (on his fourth attempt). Adams then gained seven yards and Wimbush ran for eight before scoring from the one-yard line.
A field goal would not have been the strong statement needed to collapse any Miami pipe dreams. A punt would have negated much of the impact of Martini’s play. Going for it on fourth down led to Notre Dame putting the game out of Miami’s reach. Literally, after that, Yoon’s two field goals would have been enough to provide victory.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
His chances Saturday may have been limited by injury and/or precaution for the second week in a row, but Adams made a memorable impact, nonetheless. Somehow — and perhaps those consistent nicks have something to do with it — he remains unrecognized by many as one of the country’s better ballcarriers.
“Josh has got to start to get some kind of national recognition for the kind of season that he’s having,” Kelly said. “He is a load. He’s a big, physical runner who gets in the open and then runs away from people. So this is a special back who’s having a special year.”
STAT OF THE GAME
The 45-14 halftime lead may have caught the eye, but the more impressive halftime figure was Notre Dame’s average yards per play: 9.2. The Irish were averaging 9.7 yards per rush on 23 carries.
Notre Dame finished with a per play average of 8.1 yards. To offer some context, in last week’s 38-18 triumph at Michigan State, the Irish averaged 5.9 yards per play.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
Brian Kelly: “We’ve got really good players that we want to feature, and a commitment that I made to change the focus of the offense toward a much more physical approach to running the football. We’ve got really good players, so making sure that we utilized our strengths.
“Our strengths are we’ve got two guys on the left side that are going to be playing on Sundays as well as a very good center, right guard, and our right tackles are coming along, as well. …
“Maybe I just woke up one morning, hit my head and came to my senses and said, let’s go to our strengths and run the football.”
14:35 — Notre Dame touchdown. Josh Adams 73-yard rush. Justin Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Miami (OH) 0. (2 plays, 73 yards, 0:25)
11:36 — Notre Dame touchdown. Brandon Wimbush one-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 14, Miami 0. (7 plays, 36 yards, 1:43)
7:59 — Miami (OH) touchdown. James Gardner 34-yard reception from Gus Ragland. Sam Sloman PAT good. Notre Dame 14, Miami 7. (8 plays, 73 yards, 3:37)
6:06 — Notre Dame touchdown. Adams 59-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 21, Miami 7. (4 plays, 71 yards, 1:53)
0:38 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chase Claypool seven-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 28, Miami 7. (5 plays, 30 yards, 1:35)
12:50 — Notre Dame touchdown. Equanimeous St. Brown 14-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 35, Miami 7. (5 plays, 57 yards, 1:20)
10:09 — Miami touchdown. Gardner 14-yard reception from Ragland. Sloman PAT good. Notre Dame 35, Miami 14. (5 plays, 57 yards, 2:41)
6:09 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon from 43 yards. Notre Dame 38, Miami 14. (8 plays, 44 yards, 4:00)
0:37 — Notre Dame touchdown. Miles Boykin 54-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 45, Miami 14. (5 plays, 81 yards, 1:42)
6:40 — Miami field goal. Sloman from 38 yards. Notre Dame 45, Miami 17. (9 plays, 49 yards, 3:36)
8:10 — Notre Dame touchdown. Deon McIntosh 26-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 52, Miami 17. (7 plays, 87 yards, 2:20)