Miami (Ohio)-Notre Dame Preview

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly beams with pride like proud father when he talks about this year's football team.

After a disastrous 2016 campaign, the Fighting Irish have taken the field in their first four games with a chip on their shoulders, hoping to restore the standard of excellence that marked Notre Dame teams of the past.

At 3-1 after last week's 38-18 win at Michigan State, Fighting Irish football officially is fun again -- at least for the 22nd-ranked Notre Dame players, coaches and fans. For their opponents -- not so much.

"The men, the mission is to play for championships and to have championship-type performances week in and week out," Kelly said during his Tuesday news conference. "We expect nothing less from our football team again this weekend."

This week's opponent, Miami (Ohio), will present a special challenge to Kelly and the Irish when the RedHawks come to South Bend, Ind., for Saturday's game. The Miami head coach isn't just another tactician wearing a headset on the opposite side of the field.

There isn't one coach in America who understands Kelly more than Chuck Martin. They've been together for so long, each could finish the other's sentences.

"I know if I ever need something, I call Brian Kelly," Martin told the Blue and Gold website. "In most situations I don't need to call him. I don't really need to call Brian Kelly to get his opinion -- I pretty much know Brian Kelly's opinion on everything."

The 49-year-old Martin, who has coached in seven national championship games, was an assistant under Kelly, first at Grand Valley State and then at Notre Dame. Martin is a winner and has been a winner everywhere he has coached, although it's taking a little longer with the RedHawks (2-2) at the "Cradle of Coaches" in Oxford, Ohio.

He took over for Kelly at Grand Valley State and all his team did was record 48 straight wins.

And when Kelly brought Martin to Notre Dame, it was a dream come true. As offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Martin helped the Irish to a 12-0 mark and spot in the 2012 National Championship Game against Alabama.

"The thing about him that is unique, I think, is he can always keep a clear mind and make clear decisions," Martin said. "He always has assessed his teams and his organization and looked at all phases on and off the field, and he's always been able to sit back and make clear decisions."

Martin has been a Notre Dame fan since he was 5 years old, when he watched the Fighting Irish beat Alabama 24-23 in 1973 to win the national title.

That makes Saturday's game against Notre Dame a juicy conundrum for the fourth-year RedHawks coach.

"I'm almost 50 years old and I've never not rooted for Notre Dame a day in my life," Martin said during his teleconference on Monday. "Saturday at 5 o'clock, I'm going to be rooting against Notre Dame, so that will be a little bit awkward for me."

Kelly is taking a more pragmatic approach to facing Martin.

"You get to know coaches so well that there's a familiar face that you know and have been around and have probably either played golf with or have chummed around with in the offseason," Kelly said. "But you know, I think it ends there.

"I know how he is going to prepare his football team. He knows how I'll prepare my football team."

The focus for the RedHawks will be stopping a Notre Dame offense that's led by dynamic junior dual-threat quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running back Josh Adams. After four games, the Irish running attack ranks seventh in the country at 293.5 yards per game.

Running behind an offensive line that returned four starters from last season, Adams has rushed for 499 yards and is 11th in the nation, averaging a healthy 7.68 yards per carry.

Wimbush has 366 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground to go along with 664 yards in the air and three scores.

The Irish are a perfect 19-for-19 inside the red zone.

"He can bring things to the table that maybe other quarterbacks couldn't," Martin said of Wimbush. "Using his legs more than other QBs in the past. He's got such a strong arm, so he can make every stinkin' throw look easy."

The defense also is light years different from last season's. It's giving up 18.5 points per game, which ties Notre Dame for 29th best in the nation. And after four games, the defense has forced nine turnovers, with the Irish turning those miscues into 56 points. For the year, Notre Dame holds a 56-3 edge in points off turnovers.

Miami ranks 27th in the country in total defense (310.8 yards per game) and 33rd in scoring defense (19.0).

The RedHawks rely on ball control and the offense ranks 25th in the country in time of possession, holding onto the ball for an average of 32:43 per game.

Junior quarterback Gus Ragland accounted for three touchdowns as Miami beat Central Michigan 31-14 last week in the RedHawks' Mid-American Conference opener. He's thrown for 881 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

Saturday's game also will have special meaning for both schools as they honor the memory of Ara Parseghian, who died on Aug. 2.

Parseghian won a pair of national titles while coaching the Irish from 1964-74 and was a two-time graduate from Miami University (1949 and 1954), where he played football, basketball and baseball.

This will be the second time the two schools have met. The first meeting was over 100 years ago. Notre Dame beat Miami 46-0 on Nov. 14, 1909, in South Bend.
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