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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love returns an interception against Wake Forest on Saturday. Love leads the Irish this season with three interceptions.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017 1:00 am

Resolve of Irish could be tested

Hurricanes used to close games this year

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame at Miami

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.

TV: ABC

Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM

SOUTH BEND – There are times when folks just look at No. 3 Notre Dame and see a team in a perfect world.

As in, only sunshine, rainbows with pots of gold at the end of them and three-touchdown leads as far as the eye can see.

One of the most unlikely stories in college football continues to get better, what with the Irish leading the nation in yards per rush, their plus-12 turnover margin tied for fifth best in the country and their average margin of victory being 25.9 points.

Overall, Notre Dame has put up 372 points, a total that includes 34 offensive touchdowns and equates to 41.3 points per game (seventh in the nation). If the Irish didn't score another point for the remainder of 2017, this season would still be 15th on the program's scoring list, outdistancing 114 others.

Life is good for the Golden Domers these days. They retained their hold on the coveted No. 3 spot in the second iteration of weekly rankings from the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Yet, there are some worry lines. Shallow ones – but present nonetheless.

Up next is a trip to Miami Gardens, Florida, where Saturday's prime-time matchup with No. 7 Miami (8-0) should reveal even more about what these Irish (8-1) are made of in a matchup of two of the nation's surprise teams of 2017.

“It's our biggest challenge of the year, by far,” Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool said. “We all know that. We know we can't go into a game thinking we're going to blow someone out.”

And therein lies the rub. What happens when things get a little rocky? How do the Irish react when they find themselves in a close game in the fourth quarter?

Coach Brian Kelly has taken his team from the ashes, but there might be a bit of lingering residue from last year's 4-8 mess. That would be the question of whether the Irish can be tough and clutch when they need to be.

The only close game Notre Dame has been in this season was at home Sept. 9 against Georgia, and the Bulldogs pulled out a 20-19 win after trailing by two in the final four minutes.

If you start the clock at Notre Dame's gut-wrenching defeat to Clemson on Oct. 3, 2015, the Irish are 3-10 in their past 13 games decided by eight points or fewer.

This year, while Notre Dame has been wearing opponents out and breaking open games in the second half, many of Miami's games have become a grind. One-possession victories account for half of the Hurricanes' total.

“There's been a lot of tight ones,” Miami coach Mark Richt said. “Last year we had three very close games and lost all three. This year, we've found a way to win every one of them. That's the formula: Win your close games and have a few where there's not so much drama.”

It remains to be seen how Notre Dame will respond to in-game adversity if Miami takes it down to the wire and Hard Rock Stadium is rocking. It's a virtual must-win contest for each side in terms of the playoff hunt.

Kelly, however, doesn't envision his team being burdened by the pressure of confronting its fourth-quarter demons. He insisted this is a different team from last year and one that learned from not finishing the job against Georgia.

“You hate to learn lessons in losses,” Kelly said, “but sometimes you have to learn some painful lessons.”

cgoff@jg.net