Nov. 13, 2017
By John Heisler
The end result of college football play over the weekend is that there are now only four remaining unbeaten teams — Alabama, Miami, Wisconsin and UCF. Notre Dame stands 8-2 (and ranked ninth in both polls), with its losses coming to teams rated second (Miami) and seventh (Georgia) in the Associated Press voting. Here are some leftovers from the Irish loss to the Hurricanes Saturday night in South Florida:
- Notre Dame’s running game. From the Irish standpoint, there has not been a better story this fall than Brian Kelly’s squad nearly doubling its per-game average from a year ago. Notre Dame came into the Miami game with five straight games of 318 or more rushing yards — and even the record-setting 1973 team with its average of 350.2 ground yards per game had not accomplished that (despite five games of 414 or more yards). But Miami held the Irish to 109 net yards and no running back gain of more than a dozen yards — with only one second-half carry for Josh Adams. In Notre Dame’s eight victories the Irish have averaged 358.5 rushing yards. In their two defeats they’ve averaged 82.0.
- Mistakes make the difference. These were two of the better programs in the country when it came to avoiding mistakes. Miami had turned the ball over only nine times all year (ranking 20th nationally coming in), and no turnovers against the Irish moved the ‘Canes to ninth in that category. Meanwhile the Irish had turned it back seven times (fifth in the country) coming in, but suffered through four turnovers Saturday night (their most since four at Clemson in 2015). Notre Dame traveled to Miami having not turned the ball over at all in its previous three games (against USC, NC State and Wake Forest) and lost a fumble against the ‘Canes for the first time since the third game of the season at Boston College. A 4-0 turnover deficit, as the Irish ended up with against Miami, makes it difficult to win on any given Saturday.
- There’s plenty to play for. Any 33-point loss prompts disappointment, but plenty remains ahead for the Irish. At 8-2 with assignments left against Navy (6-3) and Stanford (7-3), Notre Dame continues as a major candidate for a New Year’s Six bowl assignment. How Brian Kelly’s crew fares in those two final two regular-season outings will determine that.
- Maybe it’s the water. There have been a variety of circumstances involved over the decades, but it has not been easy for the Irish when it comes to playing football in South Florida. Defeating the Hurricanes on their home turf has been hard enough — Notre Dame hasn’t defeated Miami in Miami since 1977 — and even the last two Orange Bowl assignments (after the 1995 season versus eighth-ranked Florida State and after the 1990 season against 11-0 and #1 Colorado) have ended up in Irish losses. Throw in a defeat in the Bowl Championship Series title game versus Alabama after the 2012 season, and you have to go back to the 1989 regular season after which the Irish came to the Orange Bowl and defeated top-rated Colorado 21-6 to identify a Notre Dame win in South Florida.
- As schedules go. If the season ended today, Notre Dame in 2017 would have faced its most difficult schedule in three decades, according to the NCAA toughest schedule ratings. So far in 2017 Notre Dame’s slate ranks as the second most difficult in the country at .660 (Irish opponents are 68-35 versus FBS opponents). The last time Notre Dame’s combined opponent record ended up higher than that was 1987 (.671 at 71-34). Notre Dame that year met teams ranked ninth (Michigan), 17th (Michigan State), 10th (Alabama) and second (Miami) before facing 13th-ranked Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame led the country in schedule difficulty in 1987, as it did in 1978, 1985 and 1995.