In 2012, Everett Golson, Manti Te’o and Brian Kelly led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to a 12-0 regular season and a berth in the BCS National Championship game in one of the most memorable runs in college football history. Current Miami (2-2, 1-0 MAC) head coach Chuck Martin was a part of that 2012 Irish coaching staff. Saturday, he will return to the South Bend sideline, but this time as a visitor.
“Four years later, for me, not super enjoyable,” Martin said of facing his old team. “I have really, really good friends on the other sideline. That’s not something you really enjoy, coaching against people that you really care about.”
However, that is the task Martin is charged with.
Notre Dame (3-1) is off to a hot start after a disappointing 4-8 campaign a year ago. Offensively, the Irish are putting up incredible numbers four games in, averaging 38.8 points, 459.2 yards with 293.5 of those yards coming on the ground. This potent attack is led by junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush who has thrown for 664 yards while compiling a passer rating of 105.8. Joining Wimbush is junior running back Josh Adams who is well on his way to 1,000 yards rushing on the year and has already amassed 499.
“Our kids who we recruit never talked to Notre Dame,” Martin said of the gap between his team and ND. “It’s like going to recess and they’ve got the first 85 picks.”
Making the upcoming matchup even more difficult is the potential missing pieces the ‘Hawks will have to go without on defense. Senior safety Tony Reid will miss the first half of Saturday’s game due to an ejection last week due to targeting. Additionally, junior linebacker Junior McMullen has missed time, leaving Redshirt junior Sam Connolly to fill in. Connolly however stepped in admirably last week at Central Michigan, collecting nine tackles and an interception. However, the linebacker is trying to keep the excitement of playing such a storied program in check.
“We’re trying not to get over-excited,” Connolly said. “We’ve got to treat it like any other game.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Fighting Irish boast impressive numbers, allowing a mere 18.5 points per contest. Senior linebacker Nyles Morgan leads Notre Dame with 34 tackles on the season, having especially strong outings the past two weeks in big wins over Boston College and Michigan State.
Going up against Morgan and Co. is an improving Miami offense that recovered well on the road last week at Central Michigan. Gus Ragland found his form, completing 11 of 17 passes for over 200 yards and two touchdowns while adding another score on the ground. The RedHawks will need to perform as well, if not better, this week to compete against a stacked Irish squad.
Despite this daunting challenge, Coach Martin is hoping his team, program and the Miami community can take advantage of being a part of the Notre Dame game-day experience.
“The biggest thing for me this week was I wanted Miami football to experience Notre Dame,” Martin said. “We’re going to try to really soak in the Notre Dame experience.”
For some players in specific, playing in Notre Dame Stadium will be a dream come true. For Miami Redshirt junior tight end Nate Becker, Saturday’s game will be much more than an athletic bucket list item, but a family experience.
“[Notre Dame] was probably my favorite college ever. I have family who lives in South Bend, so I went to probably a game or two a year,” Becker said. “Part of the family has never really seen me play. I’m just really excited to go there and play.”
Martin encouraged Miami fans that are making the trip north to arrive early to really get the feel for what fall Saturdays in South Bend are all about.
“I encourage everyone that’s involved with Miami football to get there early, get on campus and experience what it’s like to be at game weekend at Notre Dame,” Martin said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
The ‘Hawks and Irish are set to kick off at 5:15 p.m. Saturday and can be watched on NBC Sports Network or heard on the Miami Sports Network.