By JOHN FINERAN, Associated Press
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s worst fear came true Saturday night in the No. 9 Irish’s blowout loss at Miami. Miami’s 41-8 thrashing of the Irish at Hard Rock Stadium.
The object that left a window damaged on one of the Notre Dame team buses arriving at Hard Rock Stadium didn’t bother Kelly as much as what he saw during the game.
“Yeah, if I saw the turnover chain passed around (Miami’s) bench like Gatorade, that was probably going to be my biggest concern. Unfortunately, that came to fruition,” Kelly said Sunday before his 8-2 team began preparations for its final home game this Saturday against Navy.
The turnover chain — a gold chain with a large orange-and-green “U” hanging from it that is instantly awarded to a Miami player for coming up with a takeaway — was handed out four times to celebrate the three interceptions and fumble recovery that the No. 2 Hurricanes (9-0, No. 7 College Football Playoff) turned into 24 points against the now No. 9 Irish (No. 3 CFP) whose national championship hopes likely ended.
The turnovers — three by starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush before he was replaced in the second quarter by Ian Book, who threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown just before halftime — were more disabling than the hoopla and atmosphere leading up to the game.
“It was a big game,” Kelly said. “We play in a big-game atmosphere at Notre Dame but this one was a little different. A number of these kids hadn’t played in a game of this magnitude since maybe the Clemson game (a 24-22 loss on Oct. 3, 2015) and I don’t know that there were many defensive players on the field for that. I’ve got to do a better job of making sure that they’re in the moment.”
The Irish didn’t force a turnover Saturday for the first time this season but surrendered 374 total yards, just under the 375.6 yards that had been averaging. It was the turnovers by the offense, which managed just 109 rushing yards, 215 fewer than its average, that proved insurmountable.
“You’ve got to protect the football and we did not do a very good job protecting the football,” Kelly said.
Wimbush, who returned in the third quarter, ended his day with 119 yards and one touchdown (a 14-yarder to tight end Alizé Mack) on 10-of-21 passing and was sacked five times, with Miami recovering a fumble that led to its final touchdown.
“(Brandon) obviously didn’t perform at the level that he wants to perform at and that he quite frankly needs to perform at,” Kelly said. “I think he gained a lot of understanding of what he needs to do to lead this football team.”
The interceptions were Wimbush’s first since a 49-20 victory at Boston College that started the seven-game winning streak which Miami ended. The fumble was his fourth and the second straight week he has lost one. Wimbush played the game with a pad and glove to protect a contusion on his left (non-throwing) hand he sustained against Wake Forest that Kelly said wasn’t a factor.
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