Miami ready to bring young roster into old rivalry with Notre Dame

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

It’s Oct. 8, and Miami is back.

Pretend, just for a minute, that you’re a (relatively) long-suffering Hurricanes fan, and no, you aren’t overreacting. “The U” is 4-0, ranked No. 10 in the country. Your head coach is Mark Richt, a Miami alum, just the man to drag your program out of the bubbling Miami mud. Your team’s offense is averaging 47 points per game and its defense is allowing just 11 points per contest. Your junior quarterback, Brad Kaaya, is one of the best in the country. Your program is suddenly swimming in a long-forgotten swagger.

So yes, Miami must be back. What other rational conclusion could you come to? The recent past is a distant memory. ACC championship, here you come.

Now, let’s see how much of a difference a couple of weeks make.

It’s Oct. 28, and Miami is back … to the mediocre middle of the ACC.

“We don’t blame anybody,” Richt said on Tuesday, following Miami’s third consecutive defeat. “We correct. I’m responsible for everything. I’m the head coach.”

As the head coach, Richt — who spent the previous 15 seasons in the same position at Georgia — has watched Miami (4-3) fail to reach 20 points in each of its last three games, allowing 13 sacks along the way. That same offense is averaging just 176.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 75th nationally.

And yet, there are positives. A 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior, Kaaya has passed for 1,696 yards and 12 touchdowns, while completing 61.7 percent of his passes in seven games. He quietly ranks in the top five of five all-time passing categories at Miami: passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions, attempts and total yards.

While his performance doesn’t always dazzle, Kaaya remains the most proven quarterback on Notre Dame’s schedule.

“His numbers speak for themselves,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “He's a veteran quarterback. He's probably the most veteran quarterback that we've played up to this point in terms of experience.

“An experienced quarterback in college football, I mean, that's hard to find today. With as many starts as he has ... I would say that's probably the No. 1 strength, an experienced college quarterback.”

Miami’s defense, despite starting four true freshmen (including all three linebackers) in the 37-16 loss at Virginia Tech last weekend, ranks first nationally with 10.1 tackles for loss per game, 12th in scoring defense (17.3 points per game), 17th in sacks (3.1 per game) and 22nd in total defense (343.4 yards per game).

The ‘Canes may not be back, but their defense is getting better.

“When you have six true freshmen playing at the same time in any given game that you’re not up by 30, you’ve got some depth issues,” Richt said. “But we’re not going to cry about it. We know we need great players to come. I’ll sit here and recruit right now.

“If great players want to come and play early in their career, come on. We’re going to grow together and do great things together.”

Richt, certainly, is focused on the future — even if Saturday’s game is steeped in the distant past. Notre Dame and Miami have met 25 times, including 20 consecutive match ups from 1971 to 1990. The most memorable meeting came in 1988, when the Irish pulled out a 31-30 home victory to snap Miami’s 36-game regular season winning streak.

Now, neither team has any winning streak to speak of. Miami won’t start one by dwelling on the past.

“The reality is, their focus doesn’t need to be 20 years ago. We understand that,” said Richt, who played quarterback at Miami from 1979 to 1982. “We’re not trying to make it that by any stretch. But I do think it’s important for them to hear why people get excited about the game beyond anybody’s record. We’ll do a good job of that before it’s over.

“But I’m glad they’re going to be focused mainly on their assignments and what they’re going to be doing in the game.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Miami head coach Mark Richt talks to his team during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Virginia Tech at Lane stadium in Blacksburg, Va., Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. Virginia Tech defeated Miami 37-16. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)