Notre Dame runs over Miami for best start since 2002

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- Notre Dame fired up its ground game in the second half while the defense throttled visiting Miami on the way to 41-3 victory Saturday at sold-out Soldier Field.

The No. 9 Irish improved to 5-0, their best start since 2002, piling up a season-high 586 yards as the legendary college football rivalry was renewed after a 22-year hiatus.

"We felt like if we could keep them from getting the big plays and we could run the football, that was going to be our recipe for success," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.

Miami, which slipped to 4-2 with its first loss in a month, managed a field goal in the opening quarter and was held scoreless the rest of the way.

The Irish haven't given up a touchdown in 12 quarters and have surrendered just three this season, the lowest among FBS programs.

Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson didn't start but still completed 17 of 22 passes for 186 yards and rushed for 51 more through three quarters of work.

"I thought Everett grew up today," Kelly said. "He did some really good things throwing the football today, managed the pressure situations very well and had his best week of practice."

Notre Dame found frequent openings with the run -- especially in the second half -- as George Atkinson III led a 376-yard ground attack with 10 carries, 123 yards and a touchdown.

Cierre Wood added 117 yards and two TDs as the Irish had two 100-yard rushers for the first time since 2002.

"Once I get the ball three or four times in a row, something's bound to happen," Wood said. "I give all the credit to my line. They blocked everything to a T."

Miami quarterback Stephen Morris was 18 of 35 or 201 yards but had several passes dropped or tipped.

Notre Dame thwarted a final-quarter Miami drive with a fourth-down stand at the Irish 8-yard line with 9:51 to play.

The Irish, who led 13-3 at halftime, extended the lead to 27-3 on their first two second-half possessions. Wood capped drives with touchdown runs of 2 and 3 yards as the Irish collected 126 rushing yards on the two possessions.

Atkinson III had a 55-yard touchdown run late in the third as the Irish opened a 34-3 lead.

Cam McDaniel added a 1-yard TD run with 1:06 to play.

"They were executing better than we were and our defense was on the field too long," Hurricanes coach Al Golden said. "We weren't getting first downs. We were giving them the ball back. We could never get a takeaway. We just never really brought enough pressure on them to keep it in the game in the third quarter."

Irish quarterback Tommy Rees started the game in place of Golson, left after three snaps, and returned for the fourth quarter.

Golson, pulled prior to the game for violating unspecified team rules, was in after four plays and guided the Irish to a 7-0 lead on their opening drive.

Two Miami penalties proved critical, including a fourth down roughing-the-kicker call on linebacker Gabriel Terry that gave Notre Dame new life at its 31. The next came two plays later on an Eddie Johnson personal foul that set the Irish up at the Hurricane 41.

Four plays later, Golson rushed to the Hurricane 1-yard line and fumbled into the end zone as he tried to stretch the ball over the line. Theo Riddick finished the job on the next play for his third rushing touchdown of the season.

Miami was penalized four times for 45 yards in the first quarter. It also had two critical dropped passes, including an end zone bobble by Philip Dorsett on its opening possession.

"I guess I got a little too overly excited," said Dorsett, who had two first quarter drops. "I'm not a person who gives excuses. I know I've got to come down with those."

A holding call on the second drive forced the Hurricanes to settle for a 28-yard Jake Wieclaw field goal.

Notre Dame made it 10-3 early in the second quarter on Kyle Brindza's 22-yard field goal. Golson moved the Irish to the Hurricane 5-yard line, but his first incomplete pass of the night on a third-down end zone throw to Robby Toma led to Brindza's successful try.

Brindza extended the lead to 13-3 late in the second quarter with a 32-yard field goal after Notre Dame stalled at the Miami 15.

The Irish were buried deep in their territory after a Hurricane punt to the 1-yard line, and Notre Dame eventually punted with 2:17 left in the half.

Miami took over at the Notre Dame 35 but never got past the 30. Wieclaw's 47-yard line-drive field goal try was wide left. Golson guided the Irish 57 yards to the Hurricanes' 17, but Brindza missed a field goal try from the 34.

A 37-yard gain by Irish running back Cierre Wood set the Irish up at the Miami 2-yard line early in the third quarter. Wood got the call on the next play for his first touchdown of the season and a 20-3 lead.

NOTES: Saturday's game marked the resumption of a series that featured yearly meetings between 1971 and 1989. The game, which drew 62,871 fans, was the 25th meeting between the programs. The series resumed after a 22-year layoff, although the two teams did meet in the 2010 Sun Bowl -- a 33-17 Irish win. The series continues in 2016 at Notre Dame and 2017 in Florida. ... The terse announcement about Golson's benching came just 30 minutes before kickoff, but it was already pretty clear who would start at quarterback when Rees ran through drills on the Soldier Field turf with the Irish first team. ... Miami, off to a 3-0 start in ACC play, resumes conference play next Saturday at home against North Carolina. The Hurricanes lead the Coastal Division. ... Saturday's game was the first against the Irish for Miami coach Al Golden. He had already been hired by Miami prior to the 2010 Sun Bowl, but did not coach in that game. ... Miami acting athletic director Blake James said at halftime that he was set to leave for Chicago when he got a call from university president Donna Shalala with an offer to step in after last week's resignation of Shawn Eichorst. "I was literally on my way out the door on the way to the airport when this happened," he said. ... The game was played in brisk conditions, with kickoff temperatures in the 40s on a busy weekend in and around Chicago's Loop. Less than 10 hours after the game's conclusion, 45,000 runners and thousands more spectators and volunteers were set to crowd downtown for the 35th running of the Chicago Marathon.
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