It’s Redhawks Week!
It’s a rematch over a century in the making, as the Miami (of Ohio) RedHawks travel to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish for the first time since 1909. With East Lansing and the Spartans in their rear-view, the Fighting Irish hit a bit of a soft spot in their schedule with Miami (OH), North Carolina, and then a bye week scheduled before a South Bend showdown with rival USC.
Now, if it sounds like I’m looking past the RedHawks, or North Carolina, for that matter, I’m not. Or, at least I’m trying not to. But, I have to admit that this year’s Fighting Irish team is playing with a different attitude and fire, and after last season’s never ending disappointment, it’s refreshing to be able to embrace optimism without coming across as completely delusional. They’re still a work in progress, something even the most ardent Fighting Irish fan will admit, but there’s been a noticeable shift in attitude amongst the fan base over the last few weeks; the one point loss to Georgia’s still going to sting for a while, but the Bulldogs 31-3 mauling of Mississippi St., and Notre Dame’s own subsequent blowout wins over Boston College and Michigan St. have even put that loss into perspective. So while it’s far too early to break out the “playoffs or bust” banners, I am looking forward to being able to enjoy another Notre Dame game where they play beyond their competition, as opposed to playing down to their competition. Now that’s something worth Fighting for!
Notre Dame comes into the game with a 3-1 record, and after their 38-18 demolition of Michigan St., they’ve vaulted back into the AP Top 25, landing at No. 22. The RedHawks come to South Bend with a record of 2-2 following a 31-14 win over Central Michigan last week; the RedHawks’ only other win on the season came against Austin Peay in Week 2. Their two losses have come against Marshall and Cincinnati.
The Fighting Irish and the RedHawks have only faced each other once before, a 46-0 win by the Fighting Irish in 1909.
Players To Watch
The first year starter’s passing game took a strong step forward last weekend, as he led the Irish to a 38-18 road win over Michigan St., not so much with the strength and speed of his legs, but with the strength and accuracy of his arm. Wimbush only threw twenty passes, but he spread the ball around, and got St. Brown involved in the passing game in a meaningful way for the first time since the season opener against Temple. With Wimbush under center, the Irish are a perfect 19 of 19 in the red zone, with 17 TDs and 2 FGs; Wimbush has accounted for 6 of those TDs on the ground, and 3 TDs through the air.
In 2016 the Irish gave up an average of 182.4 yards per game; so far this season, they’ve given up an average of just 151.5 yards per game. It’s a marked improvement for the Irish run defense, and while Nyles Morgan and Te’von Coney might get the lion share of attention, Tranquill’s making a habit of being in the right place at the right time, and coming up with big plays. Tranquill’s the fourth leading tackler for the Irish with 20 total tackles (9 solo, 11 assisted), and has 4.5 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 INT, and 1 FR, as well.
The Irish had just 14 turnovers gained (5 fumble recoveries, 9 interceptions) in 2016, ranking them a miserable T-109th in the country in turnovers. This season, they’re looking like they’ll eclipse that mark in the next few games, as they already have 9 (5 fumble recoveries, and 4 interceptions) ranking them T-13th in the country. The Irish have Crawford to thank for nearly half of those turnovers gained, as he’s come up with 2 INTs and 2 FR, none bigger than his forced fumble at the goal line, and subsequent recovery, against Michigan St. just last week.
Players To Watch
Gus Ragland (QB)
The second year starter is a steady, if not spectacular, QB for the RedHawks; he doesn’t have a particularly big arm, and he’s not likely to hurt the Irish defense with his legs, but he’s not going to hurt the RedHawks with bad decisions, either. Through four games this season, Ragland’s thrown for 881 yards, 8 TDs, and just 2 INTs.
James Gardner (WR)
The 6’4” Gardner is Ragland’s go-to receiver, and the junior’s no stranger to making big plays. He’ll have a height advantage against the Irish secondary, so he’ll probably see plenty of jump balls thrown his way. Garner’s hauled in 16 receptions for 294 yards and 2 TDs so far this season.
Fighting Irish Keys To Victory
Forget any talk about a “trap game,” this is a different Fighting Irish team, and this season, so far, just has a different feel to it. The concern here shouldn’t be whether the Irish win this game, but how they win this game. With large margins of victory over Temple, Boston College, and now Michigan St., anything less than a blowout win against the RedHawks is going to feel like a bit of a step back for a team that’s made steady progress across the board the last two games.
Final Analysis – The Irish are going to win, and they’re going to win big. Miami (OH) may make a play for a MAC title this season, or the next, but the RedHawks are about to take on an Irish team that’s playing with heart and discipline, and when you factor in the talent differential there’s just no way, short of a complete self-destruct from the Irish, that the RedHawks can keep pace with the Irish through four quarters.
Final Score: Notre Dame 52 – Miami (OH) 13