Notebook: Finding Notre Dame's goal to finish season

Mike Vorel and Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

MIAMI GARDENS — With a national championship being Notre Dame’s stated goal, the 41-8 loss to Miami could suck the motivation out of the Irish for the remainder of the season.

Two losses have essentially wiped out the College Football Playoff chances for Notre Dame without a conference championship game to redeem itself.

Yet the goal for the games left on Notre Dame’s schedule remains the same.

“Win out the rest of our games. That’s all there is to it,” said fifth-year captain Mike McGlinchey. “We know we’re a very good football team. We know we’re better than what we played (Saturday night). It’s a pride.

“We got a lot of good people and a lot of good seniors that have helped turn this program around. It’s their last game in that glorious stadium of ours next week. We’re going to do our best to send all the seniors, including myself, out on the right note. We’re going to start with Navy.”

With wins at home against Navy and on the road against Stanford, Notre Dame can still finish the season with a 10-2 record that would surpass many of the outside expectations for the Irish from the preseason.

The pain of losses in big games against Georgia and Miami will linger, but it beats the repeated agony of last season’s 4-8 disaster.

“Our mission from the start has been to restore the pride and tradition of Notre Dame football,” said senior captain Drue Tranquill. “That’s what we’re going to continue to do.

“That’s what hurts. It hurts when you’re a competitor and a team smacks you in the mouth like Miami did tonight. But there’s a lot of pride in that locker room. There are a lot of guys who love and care for one another. I expect us to come back next week and punish Navy and play well.”

After Notre Dame lost 20-19 to Georgia in the second week of the season, Tranquill said the Irish would punish opponents. They had lived up to his promise for seven straight games. Can they finish the same way?

Loud noises

Tranquill didn’t hesitate with a superlative when describing the crowd at Hard Rock Stadium.

”That was the loudest game I’ve ever played in,” said the Irish rover. “They really added an element to help them.”

And Tranquil didn’t have to play through the worst of it. The crowd was loudest when Notre Dame’s offense was on the field and in celebration.

Tranquill said the defense did have to rely on hand signals to communicate the play calls with each other. The Irish offense had to work on a silent count making it harder for the offensive line to fire off the ball with any advantage over the defense.

It was music to Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s ears.

"This is the way a Saturday night in Miami should be,” Diaz said. “It should be a big-time game with two great teams with an amazing atmosphere. The crowd absolutely had a role. They helped us.

“It’s still an inexperienced quarterback that has not played many road games. It was rough in there. It’s hard. I think some of the mistakes that he made early in the game with the crowd noise, it starts to snowball on a guys, so our fans deserve a lot of credit in the way we played defense tonight.”

Miami’s defense forced four turnovers including three interceptions of Brandon Wimbush (two) and Ian Book (one).

Reed roams sidelines

Ed Reed didn’t play on Saturday.

But that doesn’t mean he didn’t help.

The former Hurricane safety, who finished with 64 interceptions in 13 NFL seasons, served as Miami’s honorary captain on Saturday night.

Of course, he treated it as a week-long position.

“He gave a great speech to the team last night about the mentality that great players play with,” Diaz said following his team’s 41-8 victory over Notre Dame. “I think our guys loved hearing what he talked about and how he talked about it. We got a run of former players that have done a great job, and if Ed Reed’s just standing there, how does that not make everyone want to improve their play and improve their game?

“So he’s limited in some of the things he’s allowed to do, but just his presence was important for us.”

It was certainly important for junior safety Jaquan Johnson, who led the Hurricanes with eight tackles and recorded an interception for the second consecutive game.

“Ed didn’t get a chance to play against Notre Dame and he wanted us to really come out and dominate them, and I took heed and listened to him and I think we gave him the performance he wanted,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t come around that much, so it felt good and special to have him on the sideline.”

Adams climbs record books

Junior running back Josh Adams didn’t turn in a memorable performance on Saturday, producing just 40 yards on 16 carries.

But that was enough to make gains in the Irish record books.

Adams moved into seventh place on the program’s single-season rushing list on Saturday, passing Darius Walker (1,196 yards in 2005) and Vagas Ferguson (1,192 yards in 1978.

The 6-2, 225-pound junior also left the game in the third quarter, though head coach Brian Kelly noted that he was available to return.

“He had a bit of a sprain in the neck,” Kelly said. “He was cleared to go back in. Nothing relative to a head injury as much as a sprain in the neck. But it didn’t seem like we needed to put him back into the game at that time.”

Stuffing the run

Few expected that Miami — which entered the game ranked 67th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 170 rushing yards per game — could limit a potent Notre Dame offense to 109 rushing yards and three yards per carry, as it did on Saturday.

Few outside Miami's program, that is.

"We noticed on Sunday night that the guys were ready to move on (from the previous weekend's win over Virginia Tech)," Diaz said. "I think they took offense to the assertion that we would have a hard time stopping the run game, and that’s where it all began: the idea that, could Miami’s run defense stand up to the fantastic challenge?

"Obviously Notre Dame does a great job in scheme and talent, but our guys took that personal."

No. 7 Miami, which entered the week sitting first nationally with 8.8 tackles for loss per game, contributed nine more of them on Saturday.

In Notre Dame's eight victories this season, the Irish are averaging 358.5 rushing yards per game. In their two losses, that number dips to 82 yards per game.

Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill (23) tries to tackle Miami’s Dayall Harris (80) during the Notre Dame at Miami NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA