SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame’s secondary has exceeded expectations in the first four games.
The Irish have only one player in their secondary who started a game before this season – safety Zeke Motta – and the three other starters – safety Matthias Farley and cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell – were recruited to play offense. Farley and Jackson started as receivers, and Russell was a running back.
But even with the new faces, which became necessary when safety Jamoris Slaughter and cornerback Lo Wood were lost to Achilles injuries and the graduation of last year’s starting safety Harrison Smith and cornerbacks Robert Blanton and Gary Gray, No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0) enters tonight’s game against Miami (4-1) at Chicago’s Soldier Field holding opponents to 178.8 passing yards per game and with a 96.8 defensive pass efficiency rating.
One thing we know about them is they’re a good, disciplined group and that goes a long way, coach Brian Kelly said of the secondary.
It is also a group that will be tested by Miami.
The Hurricanes are averaging 328.4 passing yards, 15th best in the nation, and quarterback Stephen Morris has thrown for 1,635 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
This will be the second time Notre Dame has seen Morris, who replaced Jacory Harris in the first half of the Irish’s 33-17 Sun Bowl win in 2010. Morris threw for 282 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against Notre Dame.
He’s obviously matured a little bit from two years ago, Motta said of Morris. That’s something you have to take into consideration.
The Irish also have to be concerned with the Hurricanes’ ability to hit deep passes.
Morris connected on 10 passes of 40 yards or more in Miami’s last two games, wins over Georgia Tech and North Carolina State.
Miami sealed its 44-37 win last weekend over N.C. State when Morris hit receiver Phillip Dorsett for a 62-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds to play. Dorsett has a team-high 28 receptions for 464 yards with three touchdowns, and receiver Rashawn Scott has 17 catches for 326 yards.
It makes us focus a lot more on our detail, not giving up at the end of the play, guarding your man past the whistle to prevent those sort of things, Jackson said of defending against the deep pass. You have to compete through all phases, off the line, intermediate, the long ball and just not give up on the route.