Notre Dame gets down to business in 52-17 throttling of Miami (Ohio)

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly was determined Saturday wasn’t going to be a sentimental journey.

Or a feel-good hangover from its rout of Michigan State the previous weekend, and the splash of newly cultivated national respect that came with it.

The next step in the evolution of the 22nd-ranked Notre Dame football team was to turn its reunion with former Irish assistant Chuck Martin into a rude awakening. For the visitors.

Mission accomplished, though ND’s all-business 52-17 victory over Martin’s Miami (Ohio) RedHawks Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium certainly tested the Irish running back depth.

Starter Josh Adams limped off late in the first quarter, but not before he gashed the nation’s No. 27 defense for 159 yards on eight carries. The nation’s No. 7 rushing team exceeded its 293.5 average with 333.

Second option Dexter Williams was out of uniform, having suffered an ankle injury late in the Michigan State game. Third-stringer Tony Jones Jr. went to the sidelines at the 1:23 mark of the second quarter. That left sophomore Deon McIntosh and redshirting freshman CJ Holmes as the only scholarship running backs remaining on the roster.

Kelly, however, said keeping Adams (ankle) and Jones (ankle) out was more precautionary than necessary, and that all four of the team’s top backs are expected to be full go for next Saturday’s road test at North Carolina (1-4).

“I really wanted to go back in,” Adams said with a smile. “But if my role is staying there and helping the guys who are going in and contributing to the offense, I’m happy to do it all. Those guys who went in did a great job.”

As did Adams, even in very limited exposure.

“He's a stud,” Kelly said. “I mean, look, (Saquon) Barkley is a great player at Penn State, but you know, Josh has got to start to get some kind of national recognition for the kind of season that he's having.

“He is a load. He's a big, physical runner who gets in the open and then runs away from people. So this is a special back who's having a special year.”

And in part because of Adams, Notre Dame (4-1) was able to build a 45-14 halftime lead with its highest scoring first half of the coach Brian Kelly Era — four points short of the modern-day record — and coast home for the 900th win in program history and sixth ever over a Mid-American Conference opponent.

Along the way, the Irish stayed perfect on the red zone for the season on offense (22-of-22) and did it against the nation’s No. 5 red-zone defense. And they extended their advantage to points off turnovers on the season to 70-3 after scoring two touchdowns after two Miami miscues.

“I think the big thing for us was to go out this week and be mentally tough,” Irish linebacker Greer Martini said. “It’s sometimes when you’re supposed to beat a team on paper and you go out and are lackadaisical, but we just want to get better each and every week. So I think that’s the mentality we have and that’s why we played well.”

Quarterback Brandon Wimbush accounted for four touchdowns before giving way to backup Ian Book at the start of the fourth quarter, then to Montgomery VanGorder in the final four minutes of the game.

The junior Wimbush was 7-of-18 for 119 yards and three scores through the air with no interceptions. That computes to a 149.4 pass-efficiency rating, 41 points higher than his cumulative rating coming into the game.

Wimbush had 36 rushing yards on 11 carries with a TD.

The Irish bring a three-game winning streak to North Carolina next Saturday to get a glimpse of life after Mitch Trubisky in their third road date in a four-week span. Last season ND didn’t muster so much as stringing together two consecutive wins.

Meanwhile, the Tar Heels have lost 13 players, including starting wide receiver Austin Proehl, to season-ending injuries.

Saturday’s Irish rout of Miami (2-3), in the second football meeting between two schools Irish coaching icon Ara Parseghian once called home, came at the expense of Martin, a Kelly assistant at ND for four years and who was with Kelly for four seasons at Div. II power Grand Valley State, as well.

“They're playing the game the right way,” Martin said of the Irish, “and they're only going to get better, I think.”

Though Martin was Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach his final two seasons at ND, he spent most of his career coaching defense. And coming into the game Saturday, that was the decided strong suit for the RedHawks, in his fourth season as their head coach.

The Irish wasted little time in altering the narrative.

On the second play from scrimmage, Adams found a seam and outran the RedHawk defense for a 73-yard TD. The run lifted Adams into ND’s career top 10 rushing list, displacing Randy Kinder (2,295). George Gipp (2,240), at No. 9, got passed on his second carry, a seven-yard gain.

“He would have had 350 if he played second half,” Martin said. “Pretty simple math. He's really good. He could have set some records today.”

Martini’s first career interception and the 42-yard return that ensued set up the second Irish touchdown. ND had to convert a fourth-and-11, though, early in the drive, with Wimbush connecting with Chase Claypool on a 21-yard pass play.

Wimbush’s eighth rushing TD of the season gave the Irish a 14-0 lead at the 11:36 mark of the first quarter. The school record for rushing touchdowns by a QB in a season is 10, set by DeShone Kizer in 2015.

Miami finally made some noise offensively when wide receiver James Gardner caught Nick Watkins with his back to the quarterback and pulled in a 34-yard score from Gus Ragland. That cut the lead to 14-7 at the 7:59 mark of the third quarter.

Adams answered with a 59-yard touchdown run, breaking tackles and stiff-arming cornerback Deondre Daniels along the way. That gave Adams 151 yards on his fifth carry of the day.

Claypool’s seven-yard TD pass, the first scoring reception of his career, closed out a 28-point first quarter for the Irish. That’s the most points in any quarter for an ND team since the Irish put up 28 points at Pitt in the second quarter of Charlie Weis’ head coaching debut in 2005.

A photo sequence of Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool (83) making a catch over Miami (Ohio)’s Heath Harding (24) during the Miami (Ohio) at Notre Dame NCAA football game at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA

The lead reached 35-7 on a 14-yard TD catch by Equanimeous St. Brown, answered by Gardner’s second TD catch of the game. This one was a 14-yarder from Ragland.

The Irish lead swelled to 38-14, when Justin Yoon connected on a 43-yard field goal at the 4:00 mark of the second quarter. That was set up by a fake punt, with up-man Tony Jones Jr. taking the snap and running 33 yards up the middle on fourth-and-3 from the Irish 37.

It was Yoon’s sixth consecutive converted field goal after starting the season 0-for-2. He hit the left upright with a 44-yard attempt late in the third quarter, though, to end the hot streak.

A 54-yard TD pass from Wimbush to Miles Boykin 37 seconds before halftime closed out the first-half scoring, with the Irish leading 45-14. That’s Wimbush’s career long pass completion to date.

“I just feel like I have so much more — I have another level of my game that I haven't hit yet, and I know I'm on the way to doing that,” Wimbush said.

“I have so many great players around me, so it's not all on myself, and the coaching staff puts us in a great position each and every week. Like I said, we'll keep progressing throughout, and tougher challenges coming up ahead, so look forward to those.”

Sam Sloman connected on a 38-yard field goal with 6:40 left in the third. The Irish led 45-17.

McIntosh gave the Irish their first and only points of the second half with a 26-yard run at the 8:10 mark of the fourth quarter and the final 52-17 Irish advantage.

“Now we really have come full circle in terms of what I was asking them to do,” Kelly said of the road ahead. “Now this is about consistency and performance, and then cleaning up some of the things that we know are our weaknesses. We've got to get better at tackling.

“We've got to be able to play the ball in the air. We've got to be able to obviously pass the ball with a higher efficiency. So standard things that we have to work on, on a day-to-day basis that we know are things that are going to be challenged week in and week out.”

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Notre Dame’s Greer Martini (48) runs after making an interception during the Miami (Ohio) at Notre Dame  game at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend on Saturday (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)