MIAMI — While No. 7 Miami's viral turnover chain embodies the swag of a once-proud program that sure looked back Saturday night, it doesn't tell the whole story about one of the nation's four remaining undefeated teams.
Even when it's not taking the ball away, this Hurricanes defense sparkles. That was obvious early and often in Saturday's 41-8 rout of No. 3 Notre Dame, in front of a Hard Rock Stadium crowd that rocked hard in UM's biggest home game in years.
The catalyst for the 'Canes (9-0) was the week-long external doubt that Miami could stop the top-tier rushing attack of Notre Dame (8-2).
"I think they took offense to the assertion that we'd have a hard time stopping their run game," defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "That's where it all began."
And who knows where it will all end? UM is set to jump into the top five in Sunday's polls for the first time since November 2005. Miami clinched its first ACC Coastal Division title before kickoff (thanks to Louisville's win over Virginia) and will play No. 4 Clemson in the Dec. 2 conference title game — probably with a College Football Playoff berth at stake.
And if the defense's ball hawks and bruisers continue to play like this, don't count out the 'Canes, even against the defending national champs.
Miami swarms its opponents in waves, one play after the next. Entering Saturday, 21 Miami players had at least half of a tackle for loss, and 13 had at least half a sack. Against Notre Dame, 17 different players contributed to 20 first-quarter tackles. UM's five sacks were spread among four players, against an offense that had allowed only 14 all season.
"They were struggling blocking our guys," UM coach Mark Richt said.
That's an understatement. Consider one routine stop five minutes into the third quarter. Notre Dame's Heisman Trophy contender, running back Josh Adams, took a handoff and rushed right. Miami end Chad Thomas followed, chasing him into linebacker Shaq Quarterman. Then cornerback Malek Young flew in. Finally, end Joe Jackson joined in to finish a 5-yard loss that sent Adams to the sideline.
UM's defensive dominance was even more impressive considering the offense that deserved its accolades before Saturday night.
Through nine games, the Irish had the nation's No. 7 scoring offense (41.3 points per game). UM held them scoreless until the final 15 seconds of the third quarter.
The Irish rushed for 515 yards two months ago against Boston College and ran for a school-record 10.1 yards per carry. UM held them to 109 yards on 36 attempts.
This season, Adams became the first player in at least two decades to rush for a touchdown of at least 70 yards in four consecutive games. The 'Canes limited him to 40, on 16 carries.
Brandon Wimbush is only the third quarterback in Notre Dame's storied history to rush for 500 yards and pass for 1,000 in the same season. Saturday, coach Brian Kelly benched him — in the second quarter.
Not that it mattered. Even Tony Rice would have had problems against this speedy defense.
"I still wouldn't say we're a dominating football team," Richt said. "Tonight, I guess, was a dominating performance."
The highlights were the four takeaways that sent the crowd of 63,303 into a frenzy and brought out the 5½ pounds of sapphire-studded swag.
Notre Dame was tied for fifth in the country in turnover margin (plus-12) and committed zero turnovers in five of its first nine games. It committed three in the first half alone, with interceptions by Young, safety Jaquon Johnson and cornerback Trajan Bandy.
Bandy's 65-yard pick-six was the first-half dagger that gave Miami a 27-0 lead and its long-awaited first defensive touchdown of the season.
"I saw green grass," Bandy said, "and I went to the house with it."
Then, of course, he went to the sideline to celebrate with the famous chain. But if Saturday night's defensive performance was any indication, that was just a start.
His 'Canes could be showing off even bigger, shinier prizes before this dazzling run ends.