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College Football: Miami RedHawks ready for Notre Dame experience

Touchdown Jesus. Golden helmets. Knute Rockne. Four Horsemen. Trophy cases stuffed with Heismans. White slash lines angling across the end zones. “Shake down the thunder.”

It’s not a stretch to suggest that no program has added more mystique and lore to college football than Notre Dame.

The Miami RedHawks will find themselves in the middle of what many consider to be the heart of college football on Saturday when they trot onto the Field Turf at storied Notre Dame Stadium to face the No. 22 Fighting Irish in a 5:15 p.m. non-conference game.

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Miami coach Chuck Martin knows what it feels like, having spent four seasons on Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s staff, coaching defensive backs, safeties and quarterbacks and coordinating recruiting and the offense — not all at the same time. Before that, Martin coached under Kelly at Division II Grand Valley State before taking over as head coach when Kelly left to coach Central Michigan.

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“For me, it’s not enjoyable,” Martin said. “I have some really good friends there, and it’s not enjoyable to coach against them. I just want us to go play our best football and try to improve over last week and get past the excitement of playing football at Notre Dame.”

On the other hand, the fourth-year Miami coach, who’s spent as much time in Oxford as he did in South Bend, Indiana, wants his players and the RedHawks fans to bask in the experience.

“It’s the most historic venue in college football,” he pointed out. “The biggest thing this week is I want Miami to experience Notre Dame football. This is more than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I want our fans to get early on campus and experience game week at Notre Dame.

“It’s a bigger deal for the fans and a big deal for the kids, but for the coaches, it’s just another game.”

Not for fourth-year junior linebacker Sam Connolly and tight end Nate Becker. Connolly, like Martin a Chicago native, and Carmel, Indiana product Becker both have experienced the Notre Dame atmosphere.

“My neighborhood was crazy about Notre Dame, but I was always more of a Big Ten fan,” said Connolly, who has seen games at Notre Dame Stadium. “I was at the game against (Pittsburgh) that went six overtimes.”

Becker has more of a Fighting Irish soft spot.

“Growing up, we had family in South Bend, so I got to go to a game or two every year up until my junior year in high school,” he said. “I’m going to be really excited to be there Saturday.”

The game is being televised on NBCSN with Doug Flutie — who won the Heisman with Boston College in 1984 — handling analyst duties. Meanwhile, Don Criqui will be handling play-by-play for the IMG College Sports production, which also is due to be carried on SiriusXM Channel 129.

Martin hopes Miami fan aren’t harboring hopes of the RedHawks pulling off an historic upset, perhaps logging an upset reminiscent of the wins over ninth-ranked Purdue in 1962 and eighth-ranked Louisiana State in 1986.

Notre Dame (3-1) is coming off an impressive 38-18 win at Michigan State. The Fighting Irish are 19-for-19 in the red zone. Saturday’s game is the 258th consecutive Notre Dame Stadium sellout, a streak dating back to 1973.

“Miami University is a Mid-American Conference-champion team that went to a bowl game — another challenge for our football team in terms of quality opposition, a team that’s won and has an instilled sense of winning football games,” Kelly, the former University of Cincinnati coach, said. “Coach Martin has done a great job of doing that in a very short period of time.

“They do a great job of controlling the football. I think they average almost 34-and-a-half minutes (actually 32:43) time of possession offensively, so you have to be extremely efficient with the football offensively. They don’t give up a lot of big plays defensively.”

Miami (2-2) bounced back from a disastrous 21-17 loss to arch-rival Cincinnati on Sept. 16 to open the Mid-American Conference season with a convincing 31-14 win at Central Michigan last Saturday.

“Physically, it’s not a very fair fight,” Martin said. “It’s like one kid getting the first 85 picks at recess. If anybody thinks we have a shot at winning, they’re delusional.

“Do upsets happen? Sure. They happen every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”

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