Notre Dame-Miami stirs memories of 1988 game

They should play every year, shouldn’t they? Given the history and success of the programs, Notre Dame vs. Miami is a matchup the public would love to follow annually.

Saturday’s game between the third-ranked Irish and seventh-ranked Hurricanes is their most important meeting since the 1980s. I have had a lot of conversations this week about the 1988 game — the one forever known as “Catholics vs. Convicts” — partly because of ESPN’s “30 for 30” film but mostly because the game was unforgettable.

Notre Dame is favored by 3½ points, and that number is especially important because more than a handful of Notre Dame backers would bet on the 3 — but not with the hook. It figures to be that tight of a game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

The experts had been doubting Miami until last week, when they whipped a decent Virginia Tech team 28-10 as a 2½-point favorite. Those same experts had been doubting Notre Dame before the season and had Brian Kelly on the hot seat, but a seven-game winning streak against one of the nation’s toughest schedules has made that a distant memory.

This game will come down to Notre Dame’s rushing offense against the Hurricanes’ rushing defense. The Irish are averaging a ridiculous 325 yards rushing a game and a nation’s best 7.0 yards a carry. If the Notre Dame offensive line is not the best in the country, it’s certainly in the discussion. The left side is manned by senior Mike McGlinchey and junior guard Quenton Nelson. The right guard is junior Alex Bars.

For you old-timers, you’re going to see the Vince Lombardi power sweep — but in the opposite direction. Lombardi loved to run either Paul Hornung or Jim Taylor to the right for the Packers behind Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston. The Irish will run Josh Adams and Dexter Williams behind the pulling guards to the left, with McGlinchey sealing the edge against the Miami’s outside rusher. If the Hurricanes can’t stop this power sweep, they are in for a long night.

To make things even trickier for Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, quarterback Brandon Wimbush is Notre Dame’s second-leading rusher, so the Hurricanes can never forget about him. Notre Dame first-year offensive coordinator Chip Long has done a fabulous job of orchestrating this attack. And with Adams getting only five carries last week against Wake Forest, it was clear Kelly was saving him for this game.

The only loss for the Irish came in South Bend against the No. 2 team in the country — Georgia, 20-19. The Bulldogs are the only team that has shut down Notre Dame’s running attack, holding the Irish to 55 yards on 37 carries two months ago. You can imagine that Diaz has been running that film over and over. But the question is whether Miami’s defensive personnel is as good as Georgia’s. It certainly has the experience. Six of the front seven are returning starters, and the three linebackers have been starters since they were freshmen.

The more I look at this game, the more it looks like a throwback to that game in 1988, when defensive back Pat Terrell batted down a 2-point conversion pass in the final minute to seal a 31-30 Notre Dame victory.

I don’t remember most of the games I called, but I remember that one vividly. The stage was set three years earlier, when the Hurricanes buried Gerry Faust 58-7 in his final game as Notre Dame coach. Miami coach Jimmy Johnson would have scored 100 if he could.

I was working the game at the old Orange Bowl in downtown Miami with Ara Parseghian, who said, “I would have thought coach Johnson would have shown more compassion.” Legendary columnist Edwin Pope heard that and tore Parseghian a new one. His column on the front page of the Miami Herald was full of references to routs that Parseghian coached at Notre Dame.

That set in motion the buildup for the 1988 game. Lou Holtz replaced Faust, the good fathers in South Bend told him to get some football players, and pretty soon Notre Dame had the same level of talent as Miami. The players were fast and tough, so tough that they wound up in fight in the tunnel before that game 29 years ago.

Pat Haden and I set the scene at Notre Dame Stadium for a day when both teams almost came to blows a couple of more times. It was a rough football game between two rivals with dozens of players who would play in the NFL.

How fresh is the memory of Notre Dame’s victory in 1988? Johnson certainly hasn’t forgotten. He never has forgiven me for saying that the officials made the right call on Cleveland Gary’s fumble in the fourth quarter.

I am often asked whether I miss calling games. Honestly, I don’t miss the travel, and I love being able to talk about more than one game every weekend. But I have to admit that for Notre Dame and Miami, I wouldn’t mind being back there.

Brent Musburger’s betting column appears Saturday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His show on the Vegas Stats & Information Network can be heard on SiriusXM 204 and livestreamed at reviewjournal.com/vegas-stats-information-network.

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