There was a time when the college football world stopped whenever Miami-Florida (4-1) and Notre Dame (4-0, No. 11 Don Best Linemakers Poll) got together. Although the series has been on hiatus for almost two decades, emotions can still run high whenever the Hurricanes and Fighting Irish step on to the field.
But after facing off just once – at the Sun Bowl two years ago, when Notre Dame beat Miami 33-17 – since 1990, the regular-season portion of this series resumes on Saturday at the not-so-neutral venue of Chicago’s Soldier Field, in the Fighting Irish’s backyard.
A quick check of the Don Best college football odds screen notes the Irish as solid 14-point favorites at the majority of Las Vegas sports books, with the ‘total’ hovering between 53½ and 54. Kickoff time on Saturday will be 7:30 p.m. (ET) with NBC providing the national TV coverage. As usual, the ever-versatile Tom Hammonds will make the short trip from his Kentucky home to provide the play-by-play.
The boiling point of the Miami-Notre Dame rivalry came in the 1980s, but in fact the Hurricanes and Irish have been rolling around on the gridiron for a lot longer. The series dates to the 1950s before becoming a fixture on the schedule of both schools between 1971-90. The Domers hold a 16-7-1 all-time edge in the series.
That “one” on the tie side was a memorable game in one of the earlier encounters at the end of the 1965 season, the second year for both Miami’s Charlie Tate and Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian and only the third all-time meeting between the schools. The teams engaged in a defensive war for the ages at the old Orange Bowl, with the 'Canes unable to move their offense behind star RB Pete Banaszak, and the Irish limited on attack because QB Bill Zloch couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his passes. The final score was 0-0.
Notre Dame brought a 7-2 side and a jazzed-up “O” featuring QB Terry Hanratty into the Orange Bowl two years later for the regular-season finale which, like in 1965, was also a de facto bowl game for the Irish, who in those years (in fact for 44 years) didn’t accept bowl invitations. The ‘67 affair was more lively than the game two years earlier, and was played in front of a record Orange Bowl crowd, which rocked the big stadium when the hometown Hurricanes forged a 16-10 halftime lead on a pair of TDs generated by QB David Olivo.
The Irish, flustered in the first half by Miami's Ted “Mad Stork” Hendricks-led defense, finally surged ahead in the second half and were up 24-16 after Bob Gladieaux’s 10-yard TD run in the fourth quarter, but had to hang on for dear life as Miami cut the deficit to two with three minutes remaining before failing on a 2-point conversion that could have tied the game. The Irish survived, 24-22.
The series took a definite turn in Miami’s direction in the 1980s after a season-ending 37-15 romp in 1981 engineered by 'Cane QB Jim Kelly. Two years later, Miami, behind RS frosh QB Bernie Kosar, rolled to a 20-0 win at the Orange Bowl (Notre Dame’s first shutout loss since 1978) en route to an eventual national title. And in the 1985 renewal at the Orange Bowl, Jimmy Johnson’s 'Canes humiliated the Irish, 58-7, effectively ending the uneventful five-season run of Gerry Faust as Notre Dame’s head coach.
The series became especially nasty thereafter, especially the edgy 1988 renewal at South Bend in which the Irish fans tactlessly referred to as the “Catholics vs. Convicts” game. Johnson’s Miami, getting no breaks from the referees all afternoon, had pulled to within 31-30 against Lou Holtz’ Irish on a Steve Walsh-to-Andre Brown TD pass in the final minute, then decided to go for the win on a 2-point conversion. But DB Pat Terrell knocked down Walsh’s conversion pass and the Irish had ended Miami’s 36-game regular-season win streak. Notre Dame went on to win its last national title while the Hurricanes finished with only that one defeat.
To this day we believe Johnson should have kicked a one-point conversion in the last minute to force a tie and dared to set up a likely bowl-game rematch on a neutral field, in which Miami would have been favored. Instead, Notre Dame only had to beat a less-dangerous West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to claim the national crown.
Now, 25 years later, the circumstances are not too dissimilar from the 1988 meeting, with Notre Dame again climbing the polls under a recently-hired coach, Brian Kelly. Miami is not quite as formidable as it was in 1988, although the 'Canes seem to be stabilizing under their second-year coach, Al Golden.
For Notre Dame, it has mostly been winning with defense and star LB Manti Te’o, an early leader for the Butkus Award who has been involved in seven of the 13 forced turnovers (with three picks, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles) by the Irish stop unit. Notre Dame ranks third nationally in scoring defense at 8.3 ppg and 15th in total defense at 291.5 ypg while not allowing a rushing TD in four games.
Although ND has faced Michigan QB Denard Robinson and held him and the Wolverines to only six points two weeks ago at South Bend, the Irish face a different challenge in the first true gunslinger QB faced yet in 2012, Miami's Stephen Morris, fresh off a school and ACC record 566 yards passing and five TD passes in last week’s 44-37 thrill win over NC State and its decorated secondary.
Miami has also demonstrated great resilience, rallying from 17 points behind before winning in OT at Georgia Tech two weeks ago and clawing back after squandering a 16-point last week vs. NC State.
The Irish have not demonstrated nearly as much firepower as the 'Canes in the early going, with redshirt sophomore QB Everett Golson still a work in progress and having been pulled twice in favor of junior Tommy Rees, who started games the past two seasons and led the Irish to wins over Purdue and Michigan in September.
Notre Dame has been doing a decent job getting the ball into the hands of playmakers Theo Riddick (leads ND with 242 rush yards as well as 14 receptions) and George Atkinson III (7.7 ypc). But the Golson-Rees combo has tossed only three TD passes in four games, and the Irish are scoring less than 18 ppg in their last three outings.
The yielding 'Cane defense, however, looks to be an inviting target, as Miami allows 225 ypg rushing (ranked 112th nationally) and 33.4 ppg, ranking 98th nationally in that category.
Spread-wise, note that Kelly’s ND is a spotless 4-0 thus far in 2012, but Golden’s teams at Temple and Miami have been known to flourish against the number both on the road (6-2 vs. the line since last season; 22-12 since 2007) and as an underdog (19-10 with the Owls and Miami since 2007, including 4-2 with the 'Canes). The Hurricanes are also ‘over’ 4-0 this season, though the Irish are ‘over’ just once in four games.