The Miami-Notre Dame rivalry is rich with memorable games, but Saturday’s matchup in Chicago isn’t about the past; it’s about which program belongs in the current discussion concerning the nation’s elite. At 4-0 and a No. 9 ranking in the Associated Press Poll, the Fighting Irish already have all eyes on them. With a 4-1 mark, the Hurricanes want to steal some of that thunder.
Fresh off an ACC-record-breaking day against North Carolina State, when he threw for 566 yards and five touchdowns in a 44-37 shootout victory, junior quarterback Stephen Morris is trying to play it cool before the ’Canes blow into the Windy City.
“We handle every game the same way,” he said Tuesday. “We want to have the same preparation, the same mental focus and we want to approach every game the same. Of course it’s a big game. Every game we play on this schedule is a big game for us. We can’t go into Chicago thinking this game is something other than what it is. It’s a great game and a great opportunity for us. I just think our guys will be ready and we’re treating it like every other game.”
But it’s not. And the Notre Dame defense is by far the best Miami has seen to this point, and likely will see in all of 2012. Even with a secondary that has yet to be truly tested, the Fighting Irish front seven, led by co-captain and inside linebacker Manti Te’o, has been dominant.
“He’s a very good athlete, very quick to the ball, very physical and very tough,” Morris said of Te’o. “He knows his defense very well and plays within the system very well. A lot of things are funneled to him for him to make plays. Offensively, what we’re trying to do is just play our ball and execute. We expect him to make plays and we expect ourselves to make plays.
“I just think the game plan we have will work out fine. Our biggest thing is just to continue to execute. He’s one of a kind.”
What appeared to be a lack of trust in an inexperienced receiving corps through the first three games has given way to a fire-at-will attitude for Morris, who has led 12 scoring drives this year in two minutes or less.
“Everyone on this offense is just clicking right now,” Morris said. “I think we’re moving great and Coach [Jedd] Fisch is doing a great job of calling a great game every single game. We’re not worried about anything else; we’re not worried about who our opponent is or anything like that. We’re just trying to play our best game every game.
“The first couple games it was just getting a good feel for each other, getting a good feel for this offense. I think this offense can be very explosive. I’m very confident in all my receivers, in my offensive line, my tight ends and my running backs. I’m confident they’re going to make a play for me.”