MIAMI, NOV. 28 -- All season 10th-ranked Notre Dame has done far more than it ought to, while No. 2 Miami hasn't done nearly as much as it could have. That combination resulted in a 24-0 victory today for the Hurricanes, who remained unbeaten but not entirely convincing before 76,640 at the Orange Bowl.
Miami (10-0) had not played a team with a winning record in six weeks, slipping past a succession of such opponents as the University of Toledo. That somnolent stretch perhaps contributed to the Hurricanes' many lapses today, including four turnovers and a total of five fumbles while nevertheless taking command during a long, slow afternoon.
An intimidating shutout performance by the Miami defense and Notre Dame's (8-3) makeshift option offense, which did not capitalize on turnovers and got into Miami territory just three times, kept it from being interesting. But it begged the question of what might happen next week, when the Hurricanes go for their 32nd consecutive regular season victory, against No. 8 South Carolina.
That's the one Miami must win before its Jan. 1 challenge of No. 1 Oklahoma in the postseason Orange Bowl classic.
It also was a sign of Miami's offensive potency that it mustered as many points as it did despite the giveaways. The Hurricanes scored on Melvin Bratton's two-yard dive and a Greg Cox field goal in the second quarter for a 10-0 halftime lead, then got a one-yard touchdown from Bratton with 3:18 left in the third period. The end-all was a six-yard scoring run by reserve Len Conley with 5:04 left in the game.
"We only scored 24 points, but we got it done, and it probably should have been 64 with all of the fumbles and everything," wide receiver Michael Irvin said.
What the game showed about Cotton Bowl-bound Notre Dame (8-3) was how well it had done to win eight games, considering some glaring defficiencies and a 5-6 record just last season.
The Fighting Irish have had to deal with a respectable but pressureless defense, the loss of starting quarterback Terry Andrysiak to injury, and a midseason switch to an option to accommodate sophomore Tony Rice. Without a passer or a pass rush, the Irish nevertheless generally mastered what is considered the most difficult schedule in the country.
Certainly, they were far removed from the 1985 team that came down here and lost by 58-7 in former coach Gerry Faust's last game. But they still have some way to go; they gained just 169 yards, and had no drive longer than 40 yards. And they wound up losing here by a greater margin than the aforementioned Toledo (24-14) and down-year Virginia Tech in the Hurricanes' previous walkthrough (27-13).
The Irish trailed, 10-0, at halftime, and moved into Miami territory just once in the second half as the Hurricanes wore them down.
"I thought if we could get on the board in the second half we'd be okay, but it seemed like we were always 80 yards away," Coach Lou Holtz said.
It was a well below average performance for an offense that had rebuilt itself around the rush after drop-back passer Andrysiak was injured at midseason, and had averaged 32.9 points and 269.2 yards rushing a game, 10th best in the country. But their inability to pass ultimately undid the Irish. Rice completed seven of 19 for 84 yards and was sacked six times.
That allowed Miami's defense, led by linebacker George Mira's 17 tackles, three sacks and fumble recovery, to annihilate the ground game as leading rusher Mark Green gained just 28 yards. Even Heisman candidate Tim Brown was held to three catches for 37 yards, two punt returns for 14 yards and three kickoff returns for 42 yards. His only carry out of the backfield was a two-yarder, and he dropped three passes.
"To tell you the truth, I don't think they dominated us," Brown said. "We had a lot of mistakes, and when you do that you're going to get beat."
Not if you're Miami. Few teams could overcome the four turnovers, three of them on fumbles in scoring position. Miami had not fumbled in 421 rushes until Bratton lost the ball in the first quarter at the Notre Dame 1, and Steve Walsh coughed it up in the third quarter at the Notre Dame 11. But the passing of Walsh, 13 of 22 for 196 yards, and the performance of a variety of runners like Bratton (46 yards on 17 carries) and reserve Conley (87 yards on 15 carries) made the mistakes irrelevant.
Most of the day for the Hurricanes went like this: After the numerous squandered first-half opportunities, Randal Hill returned the second-half kickoff 60 yards to the 35. Two plays later the Hurricanes had moved to the 11, but that's where they got sloppy. Two straight false starts on the offensive line set them back to the 21. Warren Williams got 10 yards on a draw to the 11, but then came the Hurricanes' fourth fumble and second one lost.
On third down, Walsh looked to pass but got tangled in a collapsing pocket. He stumbled and the ball fell as he did, bouncing into the arms of defensive tackle Jeff Kunz at the 13. It marked the low point for a team that had given up just nine turnovers all season, the fewest in Division I.
Not that it mattered, for Notre Dame was going nowhere, its option ineffectively pawing at the line. An Irish punt quickly ensued, and Miami mounted its third scoring drive, a 69-yarder that started with a 29-yard swing pass to Williams, and ended with Bratton's one-yard, third-down dive with 3:18 left in the third quarter.
Notre Dame still might have had a fighting chance if the offense had been able to move, or the defense could have created an opportunity. But through all of this the Irish were becoming steadily discouraged and they only reached Walsh once, for a minor sack. The humid Miami weather began to tell, and Notre Dame noticeably flagged as the game wore on. The Irish allowed Conley his six-yard touchdown with 5:04 left on a second chance: a one-yard scoring run by Cleveland Gary was nullified on the prior play for delay of game.
"It was like they didn't want to come out into that hot sun," Irvin said.
Notre Dame 0 0 0 0 0 Miami 0 10 7 7 24
M -- Bratton 2 run (Cox kick)
M -- FG Cox 30
M -- Bratton 1 run (Cox kick)
M -- Conley 6 run (Cox kick)
A -- 76,640
Notre Dame Miami First downs 13 22 Rushes-yards 37-82 50-204 Passing yards 87 213 Return yards 18 81 Passing 8-22-1 14-23-1 Punts-average 8-42 3-45 Fumbles-lost 2-1 5-3 Penalties-yards 6-50 8-50 Time
RUSHING -- Notre Dame: Green 8-28, Brooks 7-26, Banks 4-22, Johnson 4-21. Miami: Conley 15-87, Bratton 17-4
PASSING -- Notre Dame: Rice 7-19-1, 84 yards; K. Graham 1-3-0, 3. Miami: Walsh 13-22-1, 196; Erickson 1-1-0
RECEIVING -- Notre Dame: T. Brown 3-37, Watters 1-17, Ward 1-16, Heck 1-9, Green 1-5, Banks 1-3. Miami: Irv