The last time Miami met Notre Dame in football – on New Year’s Eve 2010 – the sun rose over a Sun Bowl Stadium field covered with snow and ice from a rare snowfall in El Paso.
The Hurricanes, wearing white thermal undergarments and head coverings beneath their helmets, proved helpless and hopeless against a Notre Dame team that jumped to a 27-0 lead before winning 33-17.
“It definitely seems like a million years ago,’’ said UM coach Al Golden, who had just been hired to replace Randy Shannon and watched as an observer from inside the stadium.
Safety A.J. Highsmith called that day “the end of a long journey.’’
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“We know we’re a lot different than we were at that point,’’ Highsmith said. “We want to show everybody we’ve come a long way.’’
Less than two years later, the Hurricanes have their chance, as the thrill of an old college football rivalry will be resurrected when the Canes (4-1) take on the No. 9 Irish (4-0) at historic Soldier Field.
UM and Notre Dame have 16 national titles between them, 11 by the Irish. But it has been seemingly forever since each won a championship – Notre Dame in 1988 and Miami in 2001.
“When it’s all said and done,’’ Golden said this week, “it’s a special day for both universities, both staffs, both football programs and the young men that are playing. “We’re going to create memories – hopefully they’re positive memories for the Miami Hurricanes.’’
The last ones were horrible for the Canes, who came into that game favored by 2 ½ points.
“I just know it was cold [34 degrees] and nobody really was into the game,’’ conceded UM fullback Maurice Hagens. “We were like another team out there. It was a different vibe.’’
Saturday, it is the Irish, led by All-American linebacker Manti Te’o and his fierce defense, favored by xxx points.
How dominating is the Notre Dame defense?
*The Irish are the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to have not permitted a rushing touchdown in 2012.
* The Irish have not trailed in any game this season – the only FBS team to have that distinction.
* The Irish are ranked second in the FBS in lowest percentage of touchdowns allowed on red-zone trips – opponents have scored two touchdowns in 10 trips to the red zone.
“Schematically, they’re very, very sound,’’ UM offensive coordinator Jedd Fish said. “They don’t make a lot of mistakes. At all. I’m not sure I’ve seen a mistake.
“No one scores. No one scores against them. It will be quite a challenge for our guys.’’
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said he’s ready for that challenge. Morris, a junior, had sprained his ankle as a freshman the week of the Sun Bowl, and did not win the starting job. After former quarterback Jacory Harris threw three interceptions in seven passes, Morris replaced him and completed 22 of 33 passes for 282 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, with one interception.
Fast forward. Morris has been nothing short of amazing the past two weeks, leading the Canes to a national-best 1,260 yards of offense in an overtime win at Georgia Tech and last-minute win against NC State.
His 1,635 yards in five games this season exceed the total from his first two years at Miami (1,523), with teammate Phillip Dorsett the only receiver in the country with at least two 180-yard games in 2012.
Twelve of Miami’s 26 scoring drives have needed less than two minutes, including five that have taken less than 60 seconds. Morris had seven completions of at least 40 yards last Saturday.
“Explosive plays are the No. 1 factor in scoring,’’ Golden said. “We need explosive plays against this Irish defense.’’
The Notre Dame offense, which has used backup Tommy Rees (he’s the one who beat UM in the Sun Bowl) behind starter Everett Golson more of late, is not as special, but does have 2011 Mackey Award finalist Tyler Eifert at tight end.
UM’s defense, however, is not its strong point.
Miami allowed the second-most yards in school history (664) against the Wolfpack and is on pace to give up the most points in school history. The Canes are ranked 114th of 120 teams in total defense, 112th in rushing defense and tied for 98th in scoring defense (33.4 points allowed a game).
The Irish are 95th in total offense and 76th in scoring (25.7 points a game).
As for the weather Saturday, it won’t be especially inviting for the Hurricanes. But at least there’s no snow or ice forecast. Temperatures are expected to start around the mid 40s and possibly dip into the high 30s by the end.
“I’m from Miami, born and raised in Miami, said sophomore UM cornerback Thomas Finnie. I’ve never played in a cold game. In December here the coldest I think it gets is, like, 60. The players said the only thing that will really be cold is our feet, so as long as we keep our feet warm we should be good.’’
Said Golden: “I hope we’re not to the point where we have to all huddle around the heater. I hope we’re all tough enough to just go out and play. We’re going to be outside for 3 ½, 4 hours against a Top-10 team. If we have a team thinking about heaters or looking to get sweatshirts I’m not doing something right.’’