Having gained a tremendous amount of momentum from its most impressive victory of the season last Saturday night, the 3-1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish may be in line to catch a breather as they face a MAC team for only the third time in their storied history. The team in question is the Miami of Ohio RedHawks, coached by former Irish OC Chuck Martin, who will arrive in South Bend with a 2-2 mark after a convincing 31-14 road victory over their conference rival, the Central Michigan Chippewas.
In their four games, the RedHawks have done a good portion of their damage during the first half, scoring 69 of their 105 total points during the opening two quarters. The Irish, on the other hand, have balanced their scoring effort over each of the four quarters. One of the major reasons for Notre Dame’s renewed success is their ability to capitalize on mistakes, having scored virtually all their points after forcing a turnover.
Listed below are some key matchups that will be worth watching on Saturday:
Notre Dame Defense vs. Gus Ragland
Irish defenders have yet to allow more than 20 points per game in 2017 and have shown marked improvement from the horrors of last season. A more aggressive pass rush and ability to limit teams’ scoring potential in the red zone serve as some of the strongest calling cards, with just 38 percent of the latter attempts resulting in six points.
That defense figures to get a healthy test against Miami since Ragland is the focal point of the RedHawk offense. He’s already thrown for eight touchdowns in an offense that leans more toward the passing game. Last year, his insertion into the lineup turned what had been an 0-6 start into a 6-1 record the rest of the way, including a bowl berth.
The Irish have offered plenty of space in the secondary for receivers to grab passes on underneath routes. Given Ragland’s skills and his running ability, Notre Dame defenders have to be able to push past the Miami offensive line and make sure similar circumstances don’t develop, since that could allow him to pick apart the Irish defense over the course of the game.
Josh Adams vs. Brad Koenig
Adams continues to put up impressive numbers and has now collected 499 yards in the first four games, averaging 7.7 yards per carry. He’s coming off a relatively quiet 56-yard effort at East Lansing, though his 30-yard scamper was one of the key plays on a third quarter touchdown drive and is indicative of the game-breaking potential he’s shown this year.
Koenig is Miami’s leading tackler at linebacker with 33 stops, including 21 unassisted, and has come a long way since joining the team as a walk-on. His leadership has helped the RedHawk defense get off to a strong start, with this unit having only allowed five touchdowns during the first four contests.
Nyles Morgan vs. Alonzo Smith
Morgan continues to be a force on defense, leading the team in tackles with 34 and generally making himself a nuisance on both the run and pass. The linebacker is likely to also see plenty of ball carrying from another Miami running back in Kenny Young, who actually leads the Redhawks in rushing with 220 yards and two touchdowns.
However, Smith’s number are close behind and he’s coming off a season in which he led the team in rushing with 709 yards. He hasn’t yet managed to put together a solid game yet this year, though such potential exists. Given the margin of error for the Irish, they can’t afford to let Smith, Young or another back, Maurice Thomas get comfortable toting the ball.
Equanimeous St. Brown vs. Heath Harding
With the Irish having shifted gears against Michigan State by opening up their passing game, Brown got some early attention that had been lacking during the first three games of the season. He’s still looking to get back to his success of last season and will have a height advantage of roughly seven inches against the 5-foot-10 Harding.
Yet taking the RedHawk cornerback lightly is a mistake. Harding finds a way to seemingly always be around the ball, having earned All-MAC honors last season. This season, he’s already collected 23 tackles, broken up a pair of passes and forced a fumble that he returned for 35 yards. Brandon Wimbush may end up using St. Brown as a decoy as a way to try and neutralize Harding.