Saturday, September 30, 2017 3:20 pm
Pregame: Notre Dame (3-1) vs. Miami of Ohio (2-2)
CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette
SOUTH BEND — It's the Chucky Bowl, as Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly faces his former offensive coordinator, Chuck Martin, now the coach of Miami (Ohio).
Today's spotlight will be on Martin, who spent four seasons on Kelly's staff with the Irish. Kelly and Martin can downplay it all they want, but this game is special for them.
Kickoff is 5:18 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium. Here's what to watch for:
1. Kevin can wait: Wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, a possible starter all things being equal, did not play in the first four games. However, he apparently has clawed his way back into good graces. Kelly said Stepherson will see "limited action" today.
"He's doing a better job," Kelly said. "His cumulative work is such that he just doesn't have the volume, but he's been doing a much better job in terms of the day-to-day attention to detail and focus. The traits I had been talking about with him, he's better, but don't expect him to be playing a high-volume game."
As a freshman in 2016, Stepherson caught 25 passes for 462 yards and five touchdowns. He had emerged as Notre Dame's No. 3 wideout in the second half of the season.
"He's got great explosion," Kelly said. "He can run by anybody we play against. Elite speed. He's got to work on his concentration skills and focus. He'll drop a ball here and there because he's not locked in the way we need him to be, but I'm proud of the progress he's made."
At some point in the offseason, a talented player who can stretch the field wound up in Kelly's doghouse. Repetitions for Stepherson in training camp were few and far between and typically came with the third-team offense.
"This has been a long haul for him," Kelly said. "This is since January, he's had to do a lot to get himself here. Off the field, he's made significant progress, and he's got to work his way up the depth chart. We're not going to accelerate that. He's going to have to earn that."
2. Covering James Gardner: This should be interesting. The Miami receiver ranks in the top 50 nationally with 294 receiving yards, even though he didn't catch a pass two weeks ago against Cincinnati in a game in which he was injured. Throw that one out, and Gardner is averaging four catches and 75 yards a game over his past 14 contests. Oh, and he has eight touchdowns in that span.
The 6-foot-4 Gardner has the ability to singlehandedly keep the Redhawks in the game. He is a difficult matchup for the Irish because of his height. We all know their secondary isn't the tallest. Presumably, Notre Dame will put 6-1 Nick Watkins on Gardner.
3. Getting to Gus: Miami quarterback Gus Ragland has been trained to avoid turnovers. His passes almost always either go to a teammate or fall incomplete. In his three-year college career, less than 1 percent of Ragland's throws have been intercepted. If the Irish can pick off a pass or two, they should be pleased.
4. Style points: This is a chance for Notre Dame to pile up style points to impress the pollsters against one of the least capable teams on its schedule. Yes, Miami played in the St. Petersburg Bowl last season, but the RedHawks are viewed as a second-tier team in this year's Mid-American Conference. Going against Notre Dame, they are a huge underdog for a reason.