EL PASO, Texas – Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly filled in the blank pretty easily when it came to what his defense has to do to defeat Miami in the Sun Bowl on Friday.
The first-year Irish coach said a balance has to be struck to stop the Hurricanes’ running game while containing their passing game.
They are going to run the football, and they are going to take shots with some skilled players, Kelly said. You can’t sell out against run or you are going to get in one-on-one matchups that Miami can exploit.
Miami (7-5) has the 26th-best running game in the nation, averaging 190.4 yards.
The Hurricanes have run the ball 66 more times than passed (469 rushing attempts to 403 passing attempts), and they average 4.9 yards per carry.
Miami is going to do its offense, they are going to run the ball, throw the ball, Irish nose guard Ian Williams said. We can’t really focus on what they do. We have to focus on us. We have to know what we have to do. If we can do what we do, we will be fine.
Notre Dame has made great strides at stopping the run this season. The Irish are giving up 147.3 rushing yards per game, ranking them 55th in the nation in run defense after finishing last season 89th by giving up 170.3 yards per game.
The Irish, who’s best rush defensive performance was limiting Boston College to five yards in a 31-13 win Oct. 2, have shined against the run in the last three games of the season.
After giving up an average of 164.4 rushing yards in the first nine games, Notre Dame limited its last three opponents (Utah, Tulsa and USC) to 93.3 yards. The Irish also cut the yards per carry they were giving up nearly in half in the last three games, allowing 2.8 yards per carry after the first nine foes averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
We’ve been stuck in that situation all year, stopping the run but also playing over the top for the deep balls, Irish linebacker Manti Te’o said. Stopping the run and stopping the plays that cause losing. We just got to keep doing what we are doing.
The Hurricanes use four running backs, led by Damien Berry’s 865 yards and five touchdowns.
Lamar Miller has run for 633 yards with six touchdowns, and Mike James and Graig Cooper have combined to run for 549 yards and four touchdowns.
The four running backs average 5.3 yards per carry and have combined for 2,047 yards on 385 rushing attempts.
I think at this point it is what you do; you are who you are, Kelly said. You don’t go into a bowl game and change your demeanor. Miami has shown the ability to be very effective running the football. They’re a well-coached football team. Clearly, that is who they are as a personality. I don’t think you depart from that going into a bowl game.