Opponent Outlook: Tracking the resurgence of Miami

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Any matchup between Notre Dame and Miami on a football field comes with recollections of the classic clashes between both teams.

But none of the last three meetings have meant as much as it did when the series went on hiatus in 1990. That will change on Saturday when Notre Dame (8-1) heads to Miami (8-0). The two teams are ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll — Notre Dame at No. 3 and Miami at No. 7 — and are in the thick of the College Football Playoff race.

The ascent of the Hurricanes hasn’t been as steep as Notre Dame’s coming off a 4-8 season, but Miami sank to 6-7 back in 2014.

How has “The U” emerged as a top program once again? We caught up with Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald for a closer look at the Hurricanes.

• Despite entering last week with a 7-0 record, Miami was slated at No. 10 in the first College Football Playoff rankings. How much did that fuel the Hurricanes heading into Saturday’s 28-10 victory over Virginia Tech?

Miller Degnan: “I’m not sure the College Football Playoff rankings in and of themselves fueled the Hurricanes, but I do think they played a part in the equation. This program has had a history of feeling underappreciated, misunderstood and disrespected by what they perceive as outsiders and national media. So yes, I do think that somewhat drives them.

“’We’ve won every game as a team, and when the rankings came out I wasn’t surprised because nobody wants Miami to do good,’ said middle linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said. ‘That’s just the way that we feel. We know that every week we have to perform and there’s no margin for error when it comes to Miami.’

“Players after the game even talked about being underdogs, not knowing that at the last second on Saturday the point-spread shifted to Miami’s favor.”

• Miami won nine games last season after only hitting nine wins twice in the previous 10 seasons. Now the Hurricanes are in the thick of the playoff conversation. How has head coach Mark Richt turned around the program so quickly in two seasons?

Miller Degnan: “Mark Richt has brought stability, invaluable experience, perspective and a great coaching staff to Coral Gables. He has taken a holistic approach to his job, winning back the fans and thereby driving ticket sales and raising money for a $34-million indoor practice facility (of which $1 million was pledged by Richt and his wife Katharyn).

“He reaches out to the community by visiting hundreds of youngsters and their mentors and coaches at youth football leagues. He can flat-out recruit.

“But when it comes to coaching, he’s a calm, completely organized, no-nonsense kind of guy. And his defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, has been nothing short of amazing in elevating play to an elite level.

“Every coach Richt has hired is impressive, and together, they have put it all together for the turnaround.”

• Only 23 teams average more passing yards than Miami’s 281.7 per game. Has Malik Rosier exceeded expectations in his first year as the starting quarterback?

Miller Degnan: “Absolutely. Coming into the season, Rosier had served as Brad Kaaya’s backup, and only played in three games in 2016, completing two of four passes for 32 yards. His previous knock was that sometimes he freelanced and didn’t do exactly what Richt wanted.

“He did have one start in 2015 when Kaaya had a concussion, and completed 20 of 29 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns (with an interception) in UM’s eight-lateral miracle victory against Duke.

“But Rosier is now 9-0 as a starter, has a strong arm and perfect on-field demeanor. This season he has gone in spurts, missing targets during some series and making beautiful plays — boom, boom, boom — in others. What’s impressive is that no matter how he does on the field, he doesn’t get flustered and battles back.

“He is a quarterback who thrives in the clutch, leading UM to last second victories against Florida State and Georgia Tech and helping preserve late leads against Syracuse and North Carolina. He also can take off and run, and has 295 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He’s mobile, fast and physical.”

• Miami ranks 12th nationally in scoring defense for allowing just 17.6 points per game. What have the Hurricanes done defensively that’s allowed them to be so successful?

Miller Degnan: “They hired some amazing defensive coaches, starting with Diaz, who stresses tackling and aggression and wreaking havoc on quarterbacks. The Canes’ defensive line, which will be missing a key component in Demetrius Jackson — announced out for Notre Dame on Monday with a knee injury — is dominant.

“And the young defensive backs, who had to make up for four DBs going to the NFL, have been impressive, ranking seventh nationally with 13 interceptions and 35th in passing yards allowed. But the bottom line is, no matter how many chunks of yards they sometimes allow, they rarely break.”

• What should be Miami’s biggest concern in Saturday’s matchup with Notre Dame?

Miller Degnan: “Until last game, the Hurricanes tended to start slow and catch up later. And I mean much, much later. If they do that with Notre Dame, it will likely be too late.

“Specifically, the Canes need to tighten up on the offensive line when it comes to run-blocking, which they did against Georgia Tech, which allowed running back Travis Homer enough space to break free. After losing star tailback Mark Walton to a season-ending ankle injury, they have little depth in that area.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Miami linebacker Shaquille Quarterman celebrates a tackle during a game with Florida State, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. Miami won 24-20. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

WHEN: Saturday, 8 p.m. EST

WHERE: Hard Rock Stadium; Miami Gardens, Fla.

TV: ABC

RADIO: WSBT-FM (96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

LINE: Notre Dame by 3