Notre Dame (3-1) takes on Miami, Ohio (2-2) this weekend as the No. 22-ranked Fighting Irish program looks to improve its win streak to three games.
There is no doubt that Notre Dame has the better roster, and the Irish don’t have to play their best to win the game. A key for Notre Dame in this game, however, isn’t just coming away with the win, it’s taking positive steps forward as a program and to continue dominating inferior opponents.
Below are the keys for Notre Dame making that happen.
OFFENSIVE KEYS TO THE GAME
1. CONTROL THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE: Notre Dame has a significant size and talent advantage up front, and the line must continue its recent strong play by dominating Miami up front.
The only hope Miami has in this game is to attack the Irish offense, create negatives on early downs and force Notre Dame into turnovers and big mistakes. Strong offensive line play is key number one to keeping that from happening.
The line has to handle the pressures, keep a body on a body and finish blocks. If that happens, the Irish ground game will roll, which will eliminate any chance Miami has at making this a game.
2. AVOID BIG MISTAKES: This is a pretty simple point. Notre Dame cannot have the bad mistakes that take points off the board, and even more important it can’t have the big mistakes that give Miami points. No turnovers deep in your own territory, which gives the RedHawks short fields.
If Miami has to go on long drives over and over to win the game it will not be able to score enough to threaten Notre Dame in this matchup.
3. WIN ONE-ON-ONE BATTLES: This is especially true on the perimeter, where the Notre Dame wide receivers must continue improving their play. Miami has a quality secondary, especially at cornerback, so winning these battles won’t be easy.
Being able to get open and make plays on the perimeter will be a key part of dominating this matchup, but it also should give the wideouts – and the pass game – the confidence it needs moving forward against even better opponents.
4. PUT THEM AWAY EARLY: The longer this game remains close the more Miami’s players will believe they can pull off the upset. Notre Dame needs to eliminate that feeling early. The Irish need to be physical, efficient and assignment sound. If they do that they will control the game from the outset.
Putting the game away early also proves beneficial in that it gives the coaches an opportunity to rest starters and limit reps on both sides of the ball.
DEFENSIVE KEYS TO THE GAME
1. STOP THE RUN: Miami is good when it can run the ball. Miami isn’t very good when it can’t run the ball. That means keeping the RedHawks from getting its ground game going is priority number one for the Irish defense.
In Miami’s 0-6 start to the 2016 season it averaged 99.2 yards per game on the ground. During its 6-1 stretch to finish the season it averaged 168.1 yards per game.
It has been the same story in 2017, with the Miami offense averaging 100.5 yards per game in its two losses and 163.5 yards in its two wins.
Controlling the line of scrimmage against what is a big Miami line is important. If quarterback Gus Ragland and the Miami ground game gets going it will keep the Notre Dame offense off the field and will shorten the game, which is good for the RedHawks. If the ground game scuffles Notre Dame will roll in this game.
2. LIMIT GARDNER’S EFFECTIVENESS: Miami has two weapons that could give Notre Dame problems: junior receiver James Gardner and senior tight end Ryan Smith. Smith is more of a chain mover, but Gardner is the guy who could make the big plays Miami needs on offense.
Gardner isn’t overly fast, but he’s very long, has very good ball skills and he can win one-on-one battles down the field. Notre Dame’s defense hasn’t done all that well playing the ball down the field in the first four games.
If Miami can’t rip off big plays in the pass game it will struggle to score enough points to make this close, especially if its ground game can’t get going.
3. ATTACK EARLY AND OFTEN: Notre Dame has been disruptive this season, but there is definitely room for improvement, especially when it comes to disruption from the linebackers. This would be a good game to really get seniors Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini more involved with stunts and pressures, putting them in position to neutralize Ragland.
The more Notre Dame attacks – assuming the pressures hit home – the more negatives it will create. If Notre Dame can create early negatives it will completely shut Miami down.
4. LIMIT MISTAKES: Notre Dame can’t allow the long runs or make the assignment mistakes that lead to big gains. Miami isn’t good enough to consistently move the ball up and down the field, so it will look to find ways to create big plays. Notre Dame’s defenders have to play aggressive but disciplined football, and it has to play assignment sound ball that limits those big plays.
SPECIAL TEAMS KEYS TO THE GAME
1. GET THE KICK RETURN GAME ROLLING: Miami ranks 124th in kick return defense, and Notre Dame needs to get its kick return game going. This is the perfect game to start making that happen.
2. WIN THE FIELD POSITION BATTLE: Miami can’t go on long drives for 60 minutes and come away with a win, or even be in a competitive game. That means the Irish special teams has to pin the RedHawk offense deep and force it to go on long drives.