Viva la Sun Bowl! Notre Dame vs Miami: Game preview

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Only few would have properly predicted the location of the old west Texas town of El Paso for the reunion, but nonetheless, the famed Notre Dame/Miami rivalry reignites on New Year’s Eve near the Mexican border.

Bowl games are a great reward for the teams as the players and coaches get to enjoy a few days of activities and events leading up to the game, but once the ball is kicked, no one will care that Coach Kelly took the team shopping for new boots.

Yes, that did happen.

Both teams thought they were set at the quarterback position going into the season, but entering the bowl game, that is not the case for either squad.

Jacory Harris has been wildly inconsistent all season, and the injury to the Irish’s Dayne Crist has thrust untested Tommy Rees into more action his freshman year than anyone anticipated.

Quarterback play is hard to predict in this game, but it will be these individuals who have more say in the final outcome than almost anyone else. Coach Kelly understands how important this is.

“We have to protect (quarterback) Tommy Rees. We can’t put our freshman quarterback in a position where he has to make all the plays himself,” he said.

Rees has been inconsistent in his play and is coming off a tough game against USC. Though Notre Dame won, Rees threw for less than 150 yards and three interceptions. He will need to play much better for Notre Dame to win.

Jacory Harris will be under center for the Hurricanes, but Miami will still rely on its running game. Damien Berry and Lamar Miller fueled the Hurricanes highly rated running attack. And it will be the running game that plays a large factor in the outcome.

The reemergence of Robert Hughes has been a bright spot for the Irish, and though not always clear in his play calling, Kelly understands the importance of the running game.

“Second, we have to balance stopping the run and also play the ball in the air. We can’t sell out on the run,” he said.

Beyond the questions on the field, Miami is also dealing with Randy Shannon’s firing. Interim coach Jeff Stoutland said, “A lot of guys are still having a tough time. And it’s bittersweet because the man that brought me here is not here.”

This just adds another distraction for the Hurricanes, and could help Notre Dame find its way to a victory. And a bowl win could be a great way to head into the offseason for the Irish and provide some confidence during spring practice.

Two months ago, a bowl victory was the not even on the minds of Irish players and fans. Coach Kelly admitted as much by saying, “We were in a position where a bowl game was not a certainty for us.”

Notre Dame had just lost a heart-breaking game to Tulsa, and no one thought they had a chance against Utah. However, the Irish finished the season by defeating Utah, Army and USC, and now find themselves playing against an old and bitter rival.

Many have noted that Miami and Notre Dame are not what they once were, but both schools are trying to find their respective way back.

Kelly echoed this sentiment by saying, “There are two teams with great traditions that are looking toward the future.”

Neither team was dreaming of El Paso when the season began, but a victory in the Sun Bowl could provide much-needed confidence going into next season.

–Brian McCabe

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