Miami University’s football players savored the experience that is Notre Dame Stadium.
Saturday night’s outcome wasn’t great, a 52-17 loss to 22nd-ranked Notre Dame, but playing in front of 77,622 fans in the land of the golden dome and “Touchdown Jesus” was memorable.
“It was great,” quarterback Gus Ragland said. “People consider that to be the mecca of college football. It’s one of those games where you grow up and kind of dream in your backyard about playing in venues like Notre Dame Stadium.”
Wide receiver James Gardner said last year’s opener at Iowa was like a warmup for playing at Notre Dame.
“It felt good to me,” Gardner said. “Growing up as a kid, you always want to play in front of a big stadium, especially Notre Dame. I was happy just to play, and obviously it showed on the field.”
Gardner had five receptions for 115 yards and two touchdowns against the Fighting Irish. He caught six balls for 95 yards and two TDs in last year’s 45-21 loss at Iowa (the attendance there was 68,390).
Miami coach Chuck Martin, a former Irish assistant, wasn’t necessarily thrilled by the thought of going back to Notre Dame and battling a lot of his friends.
“It was actually better than I hoped,” Martin said after the game. “The outcome wasn’t better than I hoped. I thought we could play with them a little better than we did. But it was fun to see so many people that I love. Not just coaches and players …. there was tons of other people that I got to see.
“Anytime you play in one of these big venues and you’re a (Mid-American Conference) team, it’s cool for these kids. You can act like it isn’t. We could’ve stayed on the field yesterday for four hours and our kids wouldn’t have left. It was cool to be in Notre Dame Stadium.
“The kids that played well, I think they’ll have that. Everybody got in the game, and the kids that got their butts kicked, hey, they got their butts kicked at Notre Dame. It’s not like getting your butts kicked at some other places.”
The RedHawks have played Notre Dame just once before, losing 46-0 on Nov. 13, 1909.
“It was unbelievable to be here,” Martin said. “I’m appreciative that they scheduled us. I’d love to schedule them again. We certainly didn’t run into a bad Notre Dame team. They’re playing the game the right way, and they’re only going to get better.”
Big-time players: Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush didn’t have a high completion percentage Saturday, but he was a major thorn in Miami’s side.
Wimbush, a junior from Teaneck, N.J., converted 7 of 18 passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns while running 11 times for 36 yards and a TD. Irish junior running back Josh Adams rumbled to 159 yards and two TDs on just eight carries.
“Their offensive line overwhelmed us run and pass,” Martin said. “Wimbush is scary enough running around, but we really never made him run around. I don’t know that we could’ve tackled him if we got guys back there, but it was like Fort Knox in the pass game.
“They’ve got good receivers, and I thought our DBs chased them around as much as they could, but it was just crazy too much time in the pass game. Then obviously the run game … we tried to load the box and defend the run. We knew going in that would be a struggle. We felt like we had to keep them bottled up, and if Adams got loose, it was going to get ugly in a hurry. He proved that pretty quickly.”
Martin conceded that if the 6-2, 225-pound Adams had played the whole game — he went out as a precaution after tweaking an ankle — it would’ve been a record-setting night for the Warrington, Pa., native.
“We were not stopping him. It’s pretty simple math,” Martin said. “He’s big and strong. He doesn’t really make you miss. He just runs through arm tackles.”
Adams has 658 yards and four touchdowns on 73 carries this season. That’s an average of nine yards per carry.
“He’s a stud,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “(Saquon) Barkley’s a great player at Penn State, but Josh has got to start to get some kind of national recognition for the kind of season that he’s having. He is a load. He’s a big, physical runner who gets in the open and then runs away from people.”
Barkley has rushed 86 times for 574 yards and four TDs for the Nittany Lions.
Back in the MAC: Miami will return to MAC play next Saturday afternoon at home against Bowling Green. The RedHawks opened conference play with a 31-14 win at Central Michigan last Saturday.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” Gardner said. “I feel very confident in us making a run for the championship.”
Ragland said Miami has plenty of confidence and pointed out that CMU represented the first MAC-opening win in Martin’s four seasons in Oxford.
“I think all the guys are in there right now just thinking about Bowling Green and the hell of a journey we have ahead of us,” Ragland said. “We’re going to be able to do a lot of great things.”
Notes: Stats and facts coming out of Saturday’s game …
• Josh Allen, Heath Harding and Sam Connolly registered seven total tackles apiece for the RedHawks.
• Notre Dame is 22-for-22 in the red zone this season and went 3-for-3 against Miami.
• MU freshman Jaylon Bester collected 189 all-purpose yards. He returned seven kickoffs for 163 yards and rushed five times for 26 yards.
• Alter High School graduates Nick Coleman and Chris Finke are playing significant roles for the Fighting Irish. Coleman, a junior and starting free safety, had two solo tackles and an assist. Finke, a junior wide receiver, had a diving 48-yard reception.
• Ragland passed the 1,000-yard mark this year. He’s 80 of 154 for 1,143 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions.
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