There are three main questions that I have entering the game and how they're answered will determine if Notre Dame emerges victorious or not.
1. Will Tommy Rees play like the deer in headlights he was in the third quarter against Southern Cal?
Miami's defense is fast, athletic, and aggressive just like Southern Cal's. I'm not knocking Rees all that much because it's understandable that he'd struggle against top defenses as a freshman, but he MUST limit his mistakes. He was almost single-handedly responsible for giving away the game in the Coliseum--we can't expect the defense to bail the offense out in the same ridiculous manner they did that day.
In order for Notre Dame to win he can't hand Miami easy points. We're not asking for an All-American performance by any stretch; he just needs to manage the game well like he did against Utah and Army.
2. Will the Irish be able to establish a consistent running game to ease the pressure on Rees?
Was the final drive against the Trojans a turning point or an aberration? In the final minutes of The Fall of Troy, Robert Hughes bulldozed his way down the field and into the endzone leaving helpless defenders scattered in his wake. While it was a breath of fresh air to see Hughes run with such authority, it was equally exciting to see the offensive line manhandle the opposition in the trenches. They imposed their will on the Trojans and the result was a brand of smashmouth football that's been lacking for a decade (and one many people were convinced couldn't exist in the spread offense).
Miami has the #2 ranked pass defense in the country. Chances are they're going to stack the box and force Rees to beat them with his arm. If ND can't impose their will like they did against Southern Cal there could be serious issues.
3. Will Notre Dame force Jacory Harris into some crippling mistakes?
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris is an enigma that's equally capable of delivering great plays and epically boneheaded ones. The Notre Dame defense has played exceptionally well since the Navy game. If they can pressure Harris and force bad decisions then there's a good chance that he'll gift the Irish a few turnovers that will lead to points.
Notre Dame must win the turnover battle to win and the key to that is making sure at the end of the game all Notre Dame fans nod when someone says, "doesn't he remind you of Chris Rix?"
This is going to be a slugfest, nothing like the glitzy showdowns on the late 80's. I have a feeling that turnovers will be plentiful on both sides (think 2-4 per squad), but in the end the Irish keep the momentum rolling into 2011. The big games come from Harrison Smith (one interception), Michael Floyd (eight catches and a TD), and Manti Te'o (one decapitation...charges pending). And ugly win beats a pretty loss any day.
Notre Dame 20
GO IRISH, BEAT CANES