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2017 Week 5 Preview: Miami (OH) RedHawks at Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Who will "play like a champion" Saturday?

Temple v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Notre Dame vs. Miami.

No, it's not a rematch of the iconic 1988 "Catholics vs. Convicts" game between the Fighting Irish and Hurricanes. Instead, Chuck Martin's 2-2 RedHawks will travel to the land of "Touchdown Jesus" for a shot at upsetting the 22nd-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Miami (OH) isn't worse — could be undefeated

Miami (OH)'s 2-2 mark is the team's best start to a season since 2012, but the RedHawks could easily sport a 4-0 undefeated record at the moment. Miami suffered a 31-26 loss to Marshall in the opener, primarily as a result of poor kick return coverage and a costly pick-six in the third quarter. The game finished on an unsuccessful Hail Mary attempt by Gus Ragland.

The RedHawks' second loss occurred in Oxford. For the first time since 2005, Miami looked poised to beat the Cincinnati Bearcats and reclaim the coveted Victory Bell. The RedHawks defense suffocated the Bearcats all game long, leading 17-6 as the clock read 3:00 in the fourth quarter. But during these waning moments of the game, Cincinnati revived from the ashes.

Quarterback Hayden Moore led the Bearcats downfield on a 75-yard drive, completing a touchdown pass and two-point conversion with 2:52 remaining to cut the deficit to 17-14. On the ensuing possession, Miami panicked on 3rd-and-7 backed up against its own 8-yard line. Ragland tossed a questionable interception to Cincinnati's Malik Clements, who ran into the end zone to completely flip the score in the Bearcats' favor. Miami responded by driving all the way to the Cincinnati 20, but could not convert on 4th-and-5 with 30 ticks remaining.

The RedHawks rebounded with a convincing 31-14 victory at Central Michigan, but the team is much better than their 2-2 record suggests. Without a couple costly mistakes, Miami could be a member of the exclusive undefeated club that currently has 24 members enrolled.

Notre Dame went 4-8, but trending uphill now

Notre Dame went 4-8 in 2016. The Fighting Irish could not escape close games with the 'W' in 2016, faring 1-7 in games decided by one possession. But this year's Notre Dame doesn't prefer to keep things on the close side.

Through four games, Notre Dame has only participated in one one-possession contest, falling 20-19 to Georgia. Given Georgia's impressive 31-3 outing against Mississippi State, this appears to be a quality loss for the Irish, who were a costly fumble away from potentially winning the game.

But in Notre Dame's other three games, the Irish have blown away the competition. Temple, the reigning American Conference champions, was introduced to the re-energized Notre Dame program on opening weekend. The Owls fell 49-16 to Brian Kelly's squad in South Bend. Notre Dame continued its dominance in Weeks 3 and 4, defeating Power Five foes Boston College and Michigan State by a combined score of 87-38. This Notre Dame team can score, and it can score quickly, averaging 38.75 points per game this season.

Meanwhile, Miami, a team primarily known for defense, has yet to hurdle the 31-point barrier in 2017.

Players to Watch

Brandon Wimbush, QB, Notre Dame

Notre Dame's first-year starting quarterback has boosted the program back to where it stood in 2015. The dual threat junior made his presence known in the team's opener against Temple, where he passed and rushed for over the century mark in the blowout victory, contributing three total touchdowns. But against Boston College, Wimbush proved how dangerous he can be on the ground. In the quest to take home the Ireland Trophy, Wimbush rushed for 207 yards on 21 attempts. Four of these carries would wind up as touchdowns.

Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame

Through four games, Adams ranks ninth in the country in total rushing yards. The junior halfback has accumulated 499 yards on the ground, specifically bulldozing the defenses of teams with bird mascots. Against Temple, Adams stormed for 161 yards and two touchdowns. His career-high of 229 came two weeks later in the 49-20 victory over Boston College.

Drue Tranquill, OLB, Notre Dame

You may be familiar with Western Michigan's star safety Justin Tranquill, who was recently sidelined with a torn ACL. Starting on Notre Dame's defense is Justin's older brother, Drue. Drue suffered through countless injury issues too, tearing two ACLs in a 12-month span at the beginning of his Fighting Irish career. Now healthy, Tranquill — a a former safety converted outside linebacker — is a steady defensive contributor for the Irish. He has 14 tackles this season, one forced fumble, and one interception — a key contributor in the turnover battle that Notre Dame is winning at a +4 this season.

Gus Ragland, QB, Miami (OH)

Ragland is a solid game manager quarterback. Similar to NFL quarterback Alex Smith, he doesn't require 300 passing yards to win a game. But if you need Ragland to complete crucial passes and move the sticks, then he's more than capable of running a functioning offense. Ragland threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns in Miami's 31-14 steamroll over Central Michigan last week. The junior quarterback recovered in mature fashion after a heartbreaking finish versus Cincinnati. Ragland's always-impressive TD-INT ratio stands at 8-to-2 this season, remaining rather mistake free and executing his passes in the red zone.

Kenny Young, RB, Miami (OH)

Young, along with sidekick Alonzo Smith, kept the rushing game in tact against the Chippewas' struggling defense last week. On 14 attempts, Young recorded a season-high 91 yards against Central Michigan, including a 31-yard touchdown run. The 5-foot-7 junior has surpassed the 100-yard mark once but still finds a way to play a crucial rule in Miami's multi-back system.

De'Andre Montgomery, SS, Miami (OH)

The junior strong safety has performed at a high level in all four of the RedHawks' contests this season. He totaled a season-high 10 tackles in the loss to Cincinnati, intercepting a pass in the heartbreaking defeat as well. Montgomery ranks first on the squad with 27 tackles this season and has forced two fumbles as well. He thrives as a strong tackler and when dropped back in coverage — a versatile defender.

How Notre Dame Wins

Winning this game should not be too difficult for Notre Dame, a team that just shellacked Michigan State 38-18 in East Lansing. The Fighting Irish just have to kick their explosive offense in gear and run the ball. Wimbush and Adams must attempt a variety of running plays, stretching the field to wear out the tough RedHawks' defense.

Considering Notre Dame's defense held Georgia to 20 points, shutting down Miami should be a doozy for Brian Kelly and Co. The RedHawks only managed to score 17 points at home against Cincinnati and have only scored 40 points once since November 2014. The Irish should control the scoring pace in this one. Getting past the stingy Miami defense will be the Golden Domers' main source of difficulty.

How Miami (OH) Wins

The RedHawks must keep the game close throughout, as Notre Dame often struggles in tightly-contested matchups. Miami's defense cannot allow anything and must force several game-changing turnovers in favorable areas of the field. Offensively, Ragland cannot afford to make mistakes. He must utilize his star receiving target James Gardner to pierce through the Notre Dame secondary and maneuver down the field.

The RedHawks must key on Wimbush and Adams in the backfield defensively. With the defensive unit playing the role as the team's strong suit, Miami cannot afford to allow multiple touchdowns in the first quarter. The RedHawks' defense must perform their best game all year to provide the offense with a chance to stay in the game. Special teams mistakes, including but not limited to allowing two kick return touchdowns in one game (Marshall), must be avoided at all costs.

Game Info

Kickoff time: 5 p.m. CT on Saturday

Location: Notre Dame Stadium — South Bend, IN

Spread: Notre Dame (-21)

ESPN FPI Matchup Predictor: Notre Dame has a 95.9% chance of winning

All-time series: Notre Dame leads the all-time series 1-0. The teams last met 108 years ago in 1909. The Fighting Irish won 46-0 in South Bend.

Prediction

Although Miami appeared in the postseason last year and Notre Dame did not, there is little question that the Fighting Irish are heavy favorites for this clash in South Bend. Removing the Georgia game, Notre Dame has absolutely dominated its opponents in every manner possible this season, keeping its foot on the gas to the finish. Miami's defense is normally tough, but handling the Irish's rushing attack will be a different story. The RedHawks (24.7 PPG vs. FBS teams, no Power Five opponents) will struggle to match this offensive intensity, causing a lopsided score.

Prediction: Notre Dame 41, Miami (OH) 16