Getting set to play their latest pivotal game of the 2017 season on Saturday night, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can take a major step forward in helping solidify a spot in the College Football Playoff with a victory. That will be a stiff challenge, even though the Irish are listed as a slight favorite in the game. The reason stems from the fact that the contest will be on the road against the Miami Hurricanes.
While Notre Dame comes into this battle with an 8-1 mark, the Hurricanes have yet to taste defeat this season after winning their first eight games. Miami’s second-year head coach, Mark Richt, began his tenure last season with a 4-4 mark, though his teams has since run off 13 straight victories and also have their eyes on a postseason playoff berth with another win.
A number of key matchups will take center stage, including these:
Josh Adams vs. Shaquille Quarterman
Adams only carried the ball five times against Wake Forest before leaving the game with what was thought to be a possible concussion. Brian Kelly later clarified that the issue was more fatigue-related, so Adams and his backfield cohorts will again look to put up some monster numbers on the ground against Miami.
Getting through any part of the Miami defense will be tough, with Quarterman representing a particularly sticky problem that needs to be solved. He made his mark as a freshman last year and has continued to provide the Hurricanes with a force in the middle that continues to work in tandem with the overall unit.
Adams has already rushed for over 1,000 yards and would boost his Heisman chances with another big game. However, Quarterman has 47 stops on the year and has also gotten to the quarterback twice in 2017. He’s arguably the most athletic linebacker that the Irish have faced this season.
Notre Dame Defense vs. Malik Rosier
Like Brandon Wimbush, Rosier is a first-year starter behind center that’s had his ups and downs, most recently in Saturday’s 28-10 win over Virginia Tech. In that game, he threw for three touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions. The 193 yards he threw for in that game marked his lowest output this season, though he has 2,264 passing yards for the year.
The Irish defense gave up 37 points in their win over Wake, with a portion of the Demon Deacons’ passing yardage coming in a more relaxed defensive atmosphere. In a game this crucial, Mike Elko’s unit can’t afford to allow an opposing signal caller to pick up easy chunks of yardage at a time.
Rosier’s interceptions against Virginia Tech were something of an aberration for him, considering he had only thrown four in the previous seven Miami games. He’s thrown for 19 touchdowns this season, though his running doesn’t match up to Wimbush’s. That means that the key here is getting pressure on him, which demands getting past a Hurricane offensive line that’s only allowed 15 sacks this year.
Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Miami Defensive Line
Trying to pinpoint a single matchup in this area is a fruitless exercise, primarily because of the multiple weapons on the Hurricanes’ front line that can make life miserable for Wimbush and the entire offense. Miami’s managed to collect 28 sacks on the year and in the highly-charged atmosphere of this game, they’ll be revved up to add to that already-impressive total.
The offensive line for the Irish has helped open up huge holes for Adams and only allowed 13 sacks on the year. Despite those accolades, they’ll get a stiff test from a unit that’s played a key role in helping force 20 turnovers on the year. That aggressive approach has been energized by a motivating tool that’s come to be known as the Turnover Chain.
That spark and the ability of Miami’s defensive linemen to control the line of scrimmage has resulted in seven fumble recoveries and 13 interceptions during the team’s first eight games. Finding a way to keep players like Trent Harris and Chad Thomas in check requires Notre Dame linemen like Mike McGlinchey and Alex Bars to be at their best, meaning that the margin for error is virtually non-existent.
Julian Love vs. Ahmmon Richards
Realistically, Love may find himself covering Braxton Berrios, another Miami standout at a position that’s been well-represented in the NFL. That’s an indication of just how much depth the Hurricanes have, with Richards having entered the season as the centerpiece of the receiving corps.
Richards got off to a slow start, missing the first two games of this year because of hamstring trouble. While he’s only grabbed 17 passes and scored one touchdown, he gave an indication of what he’s capable in his first game back, snagging three passes for 106 yards and that one score.
Love continues to make opposing passers pay for challenging him, narrowly missing his third pick-six of this campaign against Wake Forest. Besides those highlight-worthy attributes, he remains consistent with the basics as well, with 17 pass deflections and 14 breakups. Given the array of talent on the other side of the ball, Love and the secondary need an all-hands-on-deck mentality for this game.