The Notre Dame-Miami tilt on Saturday doesn’t have College Football Playoff implications, but it’s an important game for the development of both teams.
“…But save Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me!” — Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz to his players at halftime of the team’s game against Miami in 1988.
When Miami visits Notre Dame on Saturday, the game will be a far cry from the unforgettable “Catholics vs. Convicts” showdown in 1988, a matchup between the No. 4 Fighting Irish and top-ranked Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.
That contest featured Good vs. Evil, Midwestern choirboys vs. South Beach renegades, Catholics vs. Convicts.
Notre Dame had embarrassed Miami from 1971 through 1980, winning 10 straight games by an average margin of 23 points. However, Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson changed the game for the ‘Canes. From 1981 through 1987, they went 5-1 against the Irish, with the Canes’ average margin of victory being 28 points.
However, on that bright, sunny day in 1988, Notre Dame claimed a 31–30 victory, and Lou Holtz’s squad went on to win the national championship.
Good trumped Evil, just like in all of the fables we read growing up.
While the series would unfortunately come to a halt, ND’s win in 1988 has helped the “Catholics vs. Convicts” theme live on, and it is brought up whenever the two teams meet. Notre Dame’s victory over the Hurricanes in both the Sun Bowl to close out the 2010 campaign as well as at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 2012 weren’t exactly program-defining wins, but college football fans can’t help but think back to the teams’ glory years, which brings us to this weekend’s contest.
“Catholics vs. Convicts” this is not, but the squads enter Saturday’s contest in South Bend with plenty to play for despite facing some adversity within their respective programs.
Over a 12-day span, Mark Richt’s Hurricanes have played three ACC teams with a combined record of 16-6, and injuries took their toll. But the team will enter this week’s contest much healthier, as three defensive starters and one top backup returned to practice this week: defensive end Chad Thomas, safety Rayshawn Jenkins, cornerback Sheldrick Redwine and defensive tackle Gerald Willis. Meanwhile, defensive end Demetrius Jackson has been working hard with the training staff in an effort to return to the lineup.
All of those players were key pieces to the aggressive revival defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was overseeing when the ‘Canes started 4-0. But, as is the case for many teams across the country, depth issues became a big contributor to the current losing streak.
Against the Irish, the defensive line will have more players to rotate in and out, keeping more bodies fresh. Missing several key playmakers last week helped Virginia Tech rack up 523 yards, as the ‘Canes missed tackles and looked out of sync. With nine days of rest and improved health, it should help against an ND offense that averages 413.9 yards per game and 30.3 points per contest.
As for Brian Kelly’s Irish, they have lost two straight and are sitting at 2-5. The lack of a consistent pass rush and a very young secondary have been a disaster for the defense, and the Irish have also had trouble stopping the run. So it was little wonder when Brian VanGorder was let go as coordinator.
The offense has had its share of ups and downs as well. Quarterback DeShone Kizer was lifted for a bit against Stanford, and he has been unable to throw a touchdown in either of the last two games. Coming off of the bye, Kelly needs his offense to carry the load for a second-half turnaround.
While a bowl bid seems like a real reach for the Irish, there is still too much talent on this squad to give up that hope.
Both teams need to play clean football this week in order to get back on track and salvage the 2016 campaign. Richt still has a chance to finish his first year in Coral Gables strong, while Kelly can rack up some wins with a young defense if Kizer and the offense can play cohesive and error-free.
It’s not a classic, Top-10 battle that either fan base would prefer, but this is still an important game for both regimes.
Even if it lacks the “Catholics vs. Convicts” aura of yesteryear.