Hurricanes receiver Stacy Coley didn’t feel much like talking this week about what the Notre Dame-Miami rivalry — or former rivalry — meant to him.
Never heard of it growing up? Coley was asked.
“No, not really.’’
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“We’re just focused on right now and what we have to do,” the left tackle said of the 3:30 p.m. nationally televised showdown between the once-perennial powerhouses that have become afterthoughts among the big boys.
But to Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, 42, who was a teenager in Miami when the Canes and Fighting Irish were stirring it up in the late 1980s, this game is anything but ho-hum.
If we are 12-0 or 0-12 and playing here, there or on the moon, Miami must beat Notre Dame.
Manny Diaz, Miami defensive coordinator
“They’re being told that at Miami you get judged by whether you beat Notre Dame or not,” said Diaz, when asked what the rivalry meant to him and how he’s conveying that to the team. “If you don’t beat Notre Dame, it’s a failure. It’s a big deal. It’s a big thing in this university, and it’s a big thing in this town.
“If we are 12-0 or 0-12 and playing here, there or on the moon, Miami must beat Notre Dame.”
Chances are the Irish diehards are feeling exactly the same way.
Notre Dame, which leads the series 17-7-1 and as recently as 2012 went undefeated (including a 41-3 romp over Miami) until it lost to Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship, comes into this game with a 2-5 record after being ranked 10th in the preseason.
Miami, ranked 10th with a 4-0 record going into the Oct. 8 game against Florida State, has lost three in a row and is now 4-3 with a 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference record that puts the Canes out of league contention.
Each team believes this game is the one that can eliminate the gloominess and put it on an upward trajectory. While Notre Dame needs to win four of its last five to even qualify for a bowl, the Hurricanes could finish with a 9-3 regular-season record in a rebuilding year under a new coach.
“They haven’t had the year they wanted to and neither have we,’’ said Miami receiver Braxton Berrios, adding that the energy this past week was “probably higher than it’s been in a while.”
“We’re ready to turn the page,’’ Berrios said. “We’ve got to get a road win — now.’’
Notre Dame’s losses have all been in games in which the Irish could have won or tied the score on the last drive. They lost by 3 points at Texas, by 8 to Michigan State, by 3 to Duke, by 7 at North Carolina State during horrendous conditions caused by Hurricane Matthew and by 7 to Stanford two weeks ago — the last time the Irish played.
Notre Dame’s weakness early in the season had been its defense. Six sacks in seven games, only one by a lineman, is sickly, though it suits a UM offense that allowed eight sacks in its last game.
Notre Dame’s spread offense is led by redshirt sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer, who is being projected by some as a high first-round pick if he enters the draft early. Kizer’s passing numbers are strikingly similar to UM quarterback Brad Kaaya’s.
Kizer has completed 118 of 203 passes for 1,775 yards and 14 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. Kaaya has completed 121 of 196 passes for 1,696 yards and 12 touchdowns, with five picks.
But, unlike Kaaya, Kizer can run (285 yards and seven touchdowns), which has proven to be a Miami killer.
“Their offensive video is not 2-5,” Diaz said. “They played a game that should have never been played. The game in Raleigh [North Carolina] was a farce. They were playing in a lake. … For the rest of their games, they’ve all been very competitive. They’ve all come down to the last possession, similar to ours.’’
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday that the history of the UM-ND rivalry wouldn’t be “a huge point of emphasis’’ before the game. The last time these teams met in South Bend was in 1990, with the Irish winning 29-20.
“We’ll bring it up in passing,’’ Kelly said. “Both these teams are young teams that are looking to gain a foothold in consistency and performance and winning games. And so we stay more in the present. … These kids are really more focused about winning a football game.”
UM coach Mark Richt, who was the Canes’ starting quarterback at Notre Dame Stadium in 1982 — a 16-14 Notre Dame win — said he would give his players “a little history” of the rivalry but would “not spend the whole week just harping on that.”
Added Richt: “But I think it’s important for them to know the history of the series and some of the great games that have been played by two teams that have a national brand.
“That’s pretty impressive.”