MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Warren Sapp motored past bystanders on the sideline in his electric scooter while Ed Reed and Clinton Portis smiled and hugged. More than 300 former players came back for this, joining a full, raucous crowd so desperate to see Miami not only take down Notre Dame but claim a spot among the college football elite once again.
What they saw was not only a return but an awakening. No. 7 Miami (9-0) played a near-perfect game Saturday night with a devastatingly dominant performance that featured a swarming, aggressive, fast, athletic defense and an offense that made plays when it had to, particularly off turnovers.
The result: a jaw-dropping 41-8 victory over No. 3 Notre Dame (8-2), flipping the conversation from “How good is Miami?” to “How high should we rank Miami in the top four?” Given the way the game played out, it is hard to believe now that Notre Dame was the slight favorite going into the matchup.
There was a reason for that: All the talk centered on the Notre Dame offensive line and running back Josh Adams, a combination that had proved nearly unstoppable. While Notre Dame beat teams such as USC and NC State by double digits, Miami had struggled in ugly victories over Florida State, Georgia Tech and Syracuse, impressing few with performances that went down to the wire.
But there is something to be said for the confidence that bloomed in these young Hurricanes as the wins mounted. Miami swaggered its way to an impressive victory over Virginia Tech last week in what many called a statement. But undefeated Miami inched up to only No. 7 in the most recent College Football Playoff ranking.
More would have to be done.
So Miami got to work, understanding the magnitude of what lay ahead. With so much talk during the week about the Miami-Notre Dame games that became an iconic part of college football history between 1987 and ’90, players on both sides were fully aware of what was at stake.
A big win in this game would certainly change public opinion, and also get the Hurricanes the type of street cred they desired from the Miami alums they all admire. As linebacker Shaq Quarterman said this week, “We all know that we can’t lose to them.”
And so, after scoring Miami’s first touchdown of the game on a 7-yard reception, Braxton Berrios ran off the field with his arms behind his back in a mock showing of being handcuffed, a clear nod to the Catholics vs. Convicts history.
It kept going from there for Miami, thanks to a defense that finally has established itself the way many anticipated when the season began. The Irish had not seen a unit quite like it all season, and found absolutely no room to run, no open spaces for plays. They looked slow; Miami looked fast. They looked defeated; Miami looked emboldened. They looked tired; Miami looked rejuvenated.
Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush threw two interceptions; Ian Book threw one that Trajan Bandy returned for a touchdown. In all, the Turnover Chain came out four times and Miami scored 24 points off those miscues, more than enough in a game that was never, ever close. It ended up being the worst loss in this series since Miami beat Notre Dame 58-7 in 1985 — the start of the animosity between the teams.
Even before the game began, Miami learned it had clinched its first Coastal Division title when Virginia lost to Louisville. The Hurricanes will play Clemson in the ACC title game Dec. 2, and it is not lost on anybody that they’ll face the same team that unwittingly spurred Miami’s resurgence two years ago: A 58-0 beatdown in this very stadium led to Al Golden being shown the door, and Mark Richt walking in.
Yet as crazy as it sounds, the talk Saturday night was not about Miami finally making ACC history. It was about reclaiming its history in this bitter, heated, storied rivalry.
It was a performance that will not only be remembered by everyone sitting in the Hard Rock Stadium stands, it will be remembered Tuesday night when the selection committee sits down to take its vote, and it will be remembered as the season wears on, should Miami keep winning.
The Hurricanes have found their groove, and while this looked like a throwback performance in so many ways, this Miami team is uniquely its own in character and style.
As former Miami safety Bennie Blades said earlier this week, “It’s time for them to make their own statement. It’s not about the ghosts of the past. It’s about these new kids. You’ll define how this program goes from Saturday on.”