Sports

Miami Offense Bracing For Notre Dame Test

Michigan v Notre Dame

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Miami offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was raving about what he saw on film. Makes sense, given that his Hurricanes have gained more yards than any team in the country over the last two weeks.

Thing is, he wasn’t talking about Miami.

Fisch was talking about No. 9 Notre Dame.

“No one scores. No one scores against them,” Fisch said.

He’s exaggerating, but only slightly. There’s no denying that Saturday night’s matchup between the Hurricanes (4-1) and the Fighting Irish (4-0) at Soldier Field in Chicago will be a clash of styles, with Miami’s high-octane offense — which has scored at least 38 points in each of its four victories — going up against a defense that has yielded a total of 36 points all season.

“Something is going to give,” Miami coach Al Golden said.

If Miami is going to upset the Irish, a lot of things will have to give.

The Hurricanes have rushed for 10 touchdowns this season; Notre Dame has not allowed any opponents to score on the ground. Miami has thrown for 10 more touchdowns this season, five of those by Stephen Morris last week in a 44-37 win over North Carolina State; Notre Dame has yielded three passing TDs in 2012, none of them longer than 25 yards.

Just look at the numbers: Notre Dame is allowing one touchdown every 87.7 plays this season, Miami’s offense is scoring one every 18.3 plays.

“We’re not going to be facing a one-dimensional team,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously, they’re going to want to stretch the field. They’re looking for one-on-one matchups. They’re trying to stretch the football down the field. Look, a good defensive team has got to be able to play both the run and the pass. So this will be a challenge for us. … It’s just another really good challenge for our defense as we move forward.”

Morris is coming off a career week, a 566-yard, school- and Atlantic Coast Conference-record effort in the wild victory over N.C. State. The Hurricanes racked up 651 yards in that game, a week after finishing with 609 in a topsy-turvy win over Georgia Tech in which Miami wasted a 19-point lead and then rallied from a 17-point deficit.

The 1,260 yards in the last two weeks is tops in the country, the 86 points in that span is 15th-best in the nation. Clearly, an offense — and a quarterback — that struggled in the first big test of the season at Kansas State, getting blown out 52-13, is hitting its stride.

Question is, can that stride continue on Saturday night?

“I know that we have a great challenge ahead of us in Notre Dame,” Morris said. “I’m excited for this challenge. I’m excited to see how my guys are going to respond and how this team is going to respond. That deserves all my attention right now. … My focus right now is solely on Notre Dame and getting my team ready.”

When he says his focus is on Notre Dame, that means it’s probably largely on Irish linebacker Manti Te’o, who might just be the best defensive player in the country.

Or, maybe, the best player in the country, period.

“I don’t think there’s any question, I think that’s fair to say,” Golden said. “If he’s on a defense right now that’s giving up 3.3 yards per carry and less than 10 points and less than 300 yards per game and playing the way he’s playing, I think that’s a very fair argument.”

To beat the Irish, Miami’s offense will absolutely have to find some way to keep Te’o from dominating the game.

“We expect him to make plays. … He’s one of a kind,” Morris said.

For as much as the Hurricanes say they respect what Te’o brings, the Irish star responds in similar fashion. Miami has two running backs that feature different styles: dynamic speedy freshman Duke Johnson and hard-yardage senior runner Mike James. Both have four-touchdown games this season.

Te’o saved his best praise for Morris, who’s thrown for 1,002 yards in the past two weeks alone.

“He has really improved his game and has done a real good job in leading his team,” Te’o said. “He has a lot of weapons around him, and he knows how to throw the ball around. He’s seen some success so far, and I’m sure he’ll continue to see success throughout his season.”

Te’o would just rather not see more of it coming on Saturday night.

And given that Notre Dame just held Michigan and Michigan State to a combined nine points — no touchdowns — the Hurricanes know a challenge that might even be as daunting as the one at Kansas State last month awaits.

“Schematically, they’re very, very sound,” Fisch said. “They don’t make a lot of mistakes at all. I’m not sure I’ve seen a mistake.”

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