The question came innocently enough to University of Miami left tackle Kc McDermott this week after practice.
Is there a rivalry between Miami and Notre Dame? Is there?
All 6-7 and 300 pounds of the sweat-drenched McDermott shot back as quickly as a lineman executing a perfect pancake block.
“Yeah, there’s absolutely a rivalry,’’ McDermott said. “This is Miami-Notre Dame, dude. They made a ‘30 for 30’ about this. This is a rivalry, no question, and we’re going to be ready for it.’’
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In a prime-time showdown with national playoff implications Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium, No. 7 Miami (8-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) — one of four Power 5 teams still undefeated — will take on No. 3 Notre Dame (8-1), the iconic college program that fans adore … or despise.
Sort of like Miami.
“It’s the biggest game we’ve had the joy to play since the seniors have been here,” said slot receiver Braxton Berrios, who leads UM with 474 receiving yards and seven touchdowns and was described by Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly as “the engine” to UM’s offense.
“That’s an honor to hear it from him,” Berrios said. “I can’t say that I’m an engine, but I’m definitely part of the engine. I’m an accelerating force.”
The last time the Hurricanes lost a game was Oct. 29, 2016, against, guess who?
The Fighting Irish, in South Bend, Indiana, kicked a 23-yard field goal with 30 seconds left to lift Notre Dame to a 30-27 win in front of a sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Hurricanes’ offense was manhandled at the line of scrimmage that day and looked lost. Former quarterback Brad Kaaya was pummeled by five sacks and even more hits.
The Canes, now led by quarterback Malik Rosier, remember.
“It really has been a payback season to everybody that we lost to last season,” said linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, who led UM in that game with eight tackles, a sack and tackle for loss. “We are just working down the line. We can’t wait to line it up Saturday.”
Notre Dame will not be an easy conquest. The Irish, favored by 3 points, have the fiercest offensive line in college football, anchored by 6-8, 315-pound left tackle Mike McGlinchey and 6-5, 330-pound left guard Quenton Nelson, both projected to go high in the first round of the NFL Draft.
“Big, strong, physical maulers,” UM coach Mark Richt said. “Guys that can move people. When you run the ball for over 300-some yards a game and you’re not Air Force or Army or Georgia Tech running the triple option, you’re doing something special.”
Once those highways are created, the Irish’s fifth-ranked rushing offense and seventh-ranked scoring offense take over with Heisman Trophy candidate Josh Adams, who has 1,191 yards and nine touchdowns, and is third nationally with an astounding 8.7 yards a carry.
Add to that quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s 639 ground yards and 13 rushing touchdowns, not to mention 11 touchdowns and 1,286 yards passing, and UM will have all it can handle.
Miami’s rushing defense (170 yards allowed a game) has given up some big chunks this season. But the Canes have often been magnificent shutting teams down as they approach the goal line. The Canes are allowing only 17.6 points a game, 12th best nationally. They lead the country in tackles for loss and are fifth in sacks and 10th in turnovers gained.
Whether UM can score early and often enough is another issue, as the Irish are not much behind UM in holding teams to 18.4 points.
“We just have to put points on the board,” said Rosier, who has thrown for 2,273 yards but tossed a career-high three interceptions last week against Virginia Tech. “We can’t have as many turnovers as we had.”
The last time the Hurricanes defeated Notre Dame at home was the 1989 regular-season finale in the Orange Bowl. They went on to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl for their third of five national titles.
A victory Saturday would put UM firmly in the race for the four-team College Football Playoff, and extend UM’s nation-leading 13-game win streak with remaining games against Virginia and at Pittsburgh.
Should Louisville defeat Virginia at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Kentucky, the Hurricanes would clinch the ACC’s Coastal Division and earn their first trip to the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“It’s going to be electrifying,” Quarterman said of the expected packed house. “It’s going to be an even bigger showing than last weekend. Everybody is pumped up, everybody is riled up for this game.
“They have good reason to be.”
Saturday: No. 3 Notre Dame at No. 7 Miami
Kickoff: 8 p.m.; Hard Rock Stadium.
TV/radio: ABC; WQAM 560; WMEN 640; 990 ESPN Deportes.
Favorite: Notre Dame by 3.
Records: Miami 8-0 (6-0 ACC); Notre Dame 8-1 (Ind.)
Series: Notre Dame leads 18-7-1.
Miami injuries: Out — DL Demetrius Jackson (knee); RB Mark Walton (ankle); WR Evidence Njoku (knee); LB Jamie Gordinier (knee).
Notre Dame injuries: Questionable — RB Dexter Williams (thigh); QB J.D. Carney (concussion). Out — WR Cameron Smith (hamstring); WR Freddy Canteen (shoulder); DL Elijah Taylor (foot).