CHICAGO — The unbeaten Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-0) resume play after an off week with a Saturday clash with the Miami Hurricanes at Chicago’s landmark Soldier Field, resuming a regular-season series that’s been dormant since 1990.
A sellout crowd of 61,500 is expected for the nationally televised clash on NBC, set to kick off at approximately 7:40 p.m.
The No. 9/10 Irish not only remain unbeaten, but they haven’t trailed in a game this season and have no more teams on the schedule ranked higher.
But Irish coach Brian Kelly remains a realist, tempering enthusiasm and hype with a splash of perspective.
“We’d refer to that (hype) as the noise,” he said during a Tuesday press conference. “They need to focus on the process, and the process for them is every day, the attention to detail, how they go to practice, how they prepare.”
“However, it’s important that there’s a balance there,” he added. “You don’t just put blinders on. But what you ask them to do is focus on the task at hand, so there is a balance there as well.”
Sophomore Everett Golson remains the starting quarterback despite being pulled in favor of Tommy Rees against Michigan.
“An analogy that I like to use is (Golson’s) still cooking,” Kelly said. “He’s still learning all of the things that are not necessarily visible from game film. He’s still learning how to effectively communicate, and how he’s able to lead, and all of those things.
Miami (4-1) is coming off a 44-37 thriller over North Carolina State last Saturday that lifted the Hurricanes to their first 3-0 start in ACC play since 2004.
“For our guys, it just has to be business as usual,” second-year coach Al Golden said. “I want to see us improve, take care of business every day and just trust the process. And we’ve got to get healed up. This is our fourth road game in six weeks so we’ve got to get healed up and healthy.”
The Hurricanes are a team with multiple weapons in quarterback Stephen Morris, 10th in the nation in passing yardage (327 yards per game); a top receiving target in Phillip Dorsett, 21st nationally with 92.5 yards per game; and freshman running back Duke Johnson.
“They’re a tempo team, they like to go fast,” Kelly said. “They’ve caught their last couple of opponents not prepared for that. So I don’t know that there’s a schematic piece that’s not there as much as there is they’ve got some big weapons on the perimeter. Two outstanding backs and a quarterback that’s playing better and better each and every week.”
Notre Dame tends to play well following a bye week. The Irish are 61-16-2 (.785) in games following a week off.
The Irish and Hurricanes have agreed to a three-game series, with home-and-home games in 2016 and 2017.
NOTES, QUOTES: Notre Dame and Miami were locked in titanic struggles in the late 1980s through 1990. In 1988, the Irish beat the then No. 1-ranked Hurricanes en route to a national title. Miami scored a payback in 1989 as it upended the top-ranked Irish 27-10.
While Notre Dame is ranked in the Top 10 in two national polls, Miami is unranked but receiving some votes.
SERIES HISTORY: Notre Dame leads 16-7-1 (last meeting in the 2010 Sun Bowl, a 33-18 Irish victory)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: While coach Brian Kelly would like more points, Notre Dame will remain cautious with Everett Golson still a work in progress. “But clearly we want to be more of an offense that can have big-play capabilities,” Kelly said. “We’re not scoring enough points. But as you can see, and it’s been the theme. We’re going to be careful with the football. We’re not going to be careless with it. Until we’re ready to amp it up, so to speak, we’ll be careful with the football.” DaVaris Daniels has nine catches for 159 yards, while Tyler Eifert has nine grabs for 158 yards and a touchdown.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Notre Dame has given up the fewest points of any Irish team since 1975 and ranked third nationally in scoring defense. But they’ll be challenged by Morris, who set school and ACC records last Saturday with 566 passing yards against NC State. He also had a school-best five TD passes. Johnson, meanwhile, presents a multiple threat, especially on the ground with 359 yards and five touchdowns. “We’ve had those players that we’ve had to prepare for,” Kelly said. “He’s a very good football player, and a number of player that’s we’re going to see over the next eight weeks that have similar skill sets.”
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I’ve been waiting for this game since freshman year. It’s going to mean a lot to me and my family. It’s going to mean a lot for this program. So we’re going to make sure that we’re ready for this game.” — Miami QB Stephen Morris.