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Notre Dame – Miami not what it used to be

AP Photo/Raul Demolina, File

There was a time when Notre Dame versus Miami meant something. A time when the mention of Hurricanes against the Fighting Irish evoked images of bitter rivals going toe-to-toe each year with national title implications typically on the line for at least one – if not both – college football powers.

That time is gone. At least for now, anyway.

Those cheeky “Catholics vs. Convicts” t-shirts that first appeared before the 1988 meeting between the two unbeaten programs in South Bend in 1988 are, like the former bitterness between the two teams, faded and tattered and, likely, a couple sizes too small for fans who wore them nearly three decades ago.

Miami and Notre Dame played each other 18 out of 19 seasons from 1971 – 1990. The series peaked in the late ’80s when Jimmy Johnson and Lou Holtz fanned the fires of the rivalry with venom and rhetoric, but it ended after the 1990 game in South Bend after (another) pregame fight between the teams in the Notre Dame Stadium tunnel (turned out the Catholics had a little convict in them too).

The two teams square-off Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium in what will be Miami’s first trip to South Bend since the last home field meeting between the two 26 years ago – before any of the current players on either team were born.

“It’s nice for the fan base to remember classic games,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said this week. “But the reality of it is these are kids that don’t remember much about that game and those games that were played.”

They have played a couple neutral site games in the past six years though. The first came in the 2010 Sun Bowl and the second in Chicago’s Soldier field in 2012. The Fighting Irish won both contests by a combined 74-20 margin.

The Sun Bowl came at the end of Kelly’s first season at Notre Dame and in both instances, current Miami head coach was still in charge at Georgia.

Notre Dame (2-5) is coming off a bye week following consecutive losses to North Carolina State and Stanford, while Miami (4-3) has lost three straight to Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech since opening the season with four consecutive wins.

The Fighting Irish have sputtered offensively recently  – with just 13 total points scored in the two games prior to the bye. They’ll face what has been a statistically stout defense this week.

Miami leads the nation with 10.1 tackles for loss per game. They also rank 22nd in total defense (343.4 ypg allowed) and 12th in scoring defense (17.3 ppg).

A grain of salt is needed when looking at those numbers though. The Hurricanes, whose three-year NCAA probation just ended, allowed an average of just 7.3 points in wins over Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic and Appalachian State to open the season, but they’re surrendering 24.5 points on average against the four ACC teams they’ve faced to date.

They will still be a stiff challenge for a Notre Dame offense that’s averaging pedestrian rushing numbers at 150 yards per game (92nd nationally) and 4.0 per carry, while also allowing 19 total sacks (No. 101 nationally) for a 2.71 per game tally.

Both teams have a lot to gain Saturday as they try to climb back to where they used to be.

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