CHICAGO — No brawls, no chippiness. Not much of a game, either.
So much for nasty ol’ Notre Dame-Miami.
Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III gave Notre Dame its first 100-yard rushing duo in a decade, and Everett Golson came off the bench to lead the No. 9 Irish to a 41-3 victory over Miami on Saturday night in what was a very tame sequel to the heated “Catholics vs. Convicts” rivalry.
“We didn’t play smart enough, we didn’t play disciplined enough and we didn’t make enough plays,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “It’s that simple.”
The Irish improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2002. Their 587 yards of offense was a season high, and their 376 yards rushing was their most since Nov. 11, 2000. Wood had 118 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and Atkinson added 123 yards and another score. Golson, who sat the first series as punishment for showing up late for practice, completed his first six passes and finished 17 of 22 for 186 yards passing. He also ran for 51 yards.
“We felt like we found a way to run the football today,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Our game plan was situated on running the football, which equals time of possession for us. We felt like if we could keep them from getting the big plays, and we could run the football, that was going on our recipe for success
Notre Dame’s defense held Miami (4-2) to 285 yards after the Hurricanes had piled up 1,260 yards and 86 points in their previous two games. A half-dozen drops, including two certain touchdowns by Phillip Dorsett on Miami’s very first drive, didn’t help. Neither did the time of possession, where Notre Dame had a whopping 39:08-20:52 advantage.
Notre Dame had been leaning on its defense to remain undefeated.
“I think this game was needed,” Golson said. “I don’t know necessarily about my confidence but just for the team’s confidence, the offense’s confidence.”
Miami’s only points came on Jake Wieclaw’s 28-yard field goal in the first quarter. The Hurricanes got to the Notre Dame 7 late in the fourth quarter only to turn the ball over on downs.
“It was really lopsided in terms of them having the ball, and we didn’t really have much opportunity. The times we do have opportunities, we were on the field and we were off,” quarterback Stephen Morris said. “We can’t win games like that.”
Back in the 1980s, Notre Dame-Miami was perhaps the nastiest, most hotly contested rivalry in college football. Most entertaining, too.
Both teams were ranked in the top 10 when they met in 1987, ‘88, ‘89 and ‘90, and from 1987 through 1989 the winner went on to win the national title. The teams didn’t like each other, either, and made no secret of it. Police actually had to be called in to break up a pushing and shoving match as the teams were leaving the field after pregame warmups at Notre Dame Stadium in 1988.
In a video posted on Notre Dame’s website, former Irish coach Lou Holtz said he urged his team to avoid any on-field incidents against Miami.
“After we win the game, if Miami wants to fight, fine, we’ll meet ‘em in the alley,” Holtz, on the video, recalled saying to his team. “And if they do, you save Jimmy Johnson’s (butt) for me.”
The Irish stormed out of the locker room and beat Miami 31-30. Many still consider it the best home win in Notre Dame history, and it propelled the Irish to their eighth — and most recent — national title.
The teams played the next two years before the rivalry was discontinued, with Notre Dame officials feeling “it brought out the worst sides of fans.” (Considering it was Notre Dame fans who came up with the “Catholics vs. Convicts” moniker, it’s hard to argue with them.) It would be 20 years before the teams would meet again, in the 2010 Sun Bowl.
But that old chippiness was nowhere to be found at Soldier Field. Most of the Irish and Hurricanes weren’t even born in 1988, and it’s hard to nurse a grudge when the history is so ancient.
Hard when the game is such a mismatch, too.
“There’s no excuses,” Golden said. “We had too many penalties, too many drops. We lost our poise at times. We didn’t play well enough in this environment against a really good team, and that’s my fault. I’ve got to get it fixed.”
Miami should have been up 7-0 after its first series, but Dorsett dropped two would-be touchdowns, the second going through his hands on the goal line. Instead of making the Irish play catch-up, the Hurricanes were forced to punt.
“Obviously that doesn’t happen much to me,” said Dorsett, who had 375 yards receiving on 16 catches in Miami’s previous two games. “I guess I got a little too excited, the ball got caught in the lights and I couldn’t see it. I’m not a person to make excuses, I got to come up with those.”
Golson inherited the starting quarterback’s job when Tommy Rees was suspended for the opener, punishment for his May arrest for a skirmish with police after an off-campus party. Kelly has said repeatedly that Golson is the Irish quarterback, but his hold on the job seemed tenuous after Rees had to bail him out against both Purdue and Michigan.
This time, it was Golson off the bench with a big day.
He was benched for the first series after being late to practice — a meeting with a professor ran long, and he hadn’t told Kelly ahead of time — and Rees was run off the field in three plays. But the Hurricanes gave the Irish a second chance when Gabriel Terry was called for roughing the punter, and Golson took over.
“I understand it was a team violation. That was the consequences I had to deal with,” Golson said. “I just kind of knew when I got my time I had to go out there and have fun and manage the team.”
He led the Irish to scores on their first three drives, and would have made it four out of five if Kyle Brindza’s 34-yard field goal attempt hadn’t squeaked right. The running game took over in the second half — the Irish ground out 270 yards in the final 30 minutes — with the Irish scoring on all four of their drives. Wood set the tone on the very first one, taking off from the Miami 39 and ripping off a long run up the right sideline that looked like it was good for a touchdown. But reviews showed he stepped out at the 2. No matter. He rumbled right up the middle on the next play to give Notre Dame a 20-3 lead with just under 12 minutes left in the third.
The Irish chewed up 86 yards, all on the ground, on their next drive, capping it with a 3-yard run by Wood. That gave Notre Dame a 27-3 lead, and the game was all but out of reach.