CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Stephen Morris had just set a slew of records and thrown a 62-yard pass to win a game in the final seconds, easily the highlight of his career as Miami's quarterback.
He took only a few moments to enjoy it all. With good reason — Miami-Notre Dame week awaits.
One of college football's best rivalries resumes on Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago, when the Hurricanes (4-1) meet the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish (4-0), the start of a three-game series scheduled to resume with home-and-home meetings in 2016 and 2017. They last met in 2010, an unplanned matchup put together by the Sun Bowl, where the Irish rolled past a Miami team that was reeling after the firing of former coach Randy Shannon.
"I've been waiting for this game since freshman year," Morris said. "It's going to mean a lot to me and my family. It's going to mean a lot for this program. So we're going to make sure that we're ready for this game."
His first effort toward that goal was getting his team in a huddle in the locker room, a few minutes after he set school and Atlantic Coast Conference records by passing for 566 yards in the Hurricanes' win over North Carolina State. In that huddle, he told the Hurricanes that Notre Dame week essentially started right in that moment, and that focus had to be laser-sharp on the huge challenge that awaits.
The Hurricanes said they listened.
"We know what this game means," defensive back Brandon McGee said.
It's the first regular-season meeting between the teams since 1990, a 29-20 home win for Notre Dame. To say that by then the relationship between the teams had grown icy would be putting it mildly, and it wasn't until the summer of 2010 that the Hurricanes and Irish agreed to play again, obviously neither side knowing at the time that the bowl meeting on Dec. 31 of that year would happen.
Al Golden had been hired to coach Miami prior to that Sun Bowl matchup, but was not involved in the Hurricanes' plans for that game.
"For our guys, it just has to be business as usual," Golden said. "I want to see us improve, take care of business every day and just trust the process. And we've got to get healed up. This is our fourth road game in six weeks so we've got to get healed up and healthy and get ready for obviously a great Notre Dame team in Chicago."
The win over N.C. State was costly to Miami, which lost offensive lineman Ben Jones — a fifth-year senior who had particularly impressed coaches over the past couple weeks — to a foot injury. He will not play against Notre Dame, Golden said.
Miami has lost six of its last seven games against Top 10 opponents, and Notre Dame would seem to have two clear luxuries at play here. One, the Irish were off this weekend, and two, Chicago is a whole lot closer to South Bend than it is to Coral Gables.
The Hurricanes say they accept those, and any other challenges.
"Lot of tradition," said Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett, who has caught 16 passes for 375 yards in the past two weeks alone, both wild wins for the Hurricanes. "I've been following this team ever since I was born. So as a team, we're looking forward to it and we've just got to get ready."
Miami has put up more than 600 yards of offense in each of its last two games, scoring a combined 86 points in those wins over Georgia Tech and N.C. State. The Hurricanes have needed just about every bit of those offensive exploits; their defense has yielded 1,083 yards and 73 points over that stretch.
By comparison, Notre Dame is allowing nine points per game, and none of the last three Irish opponents have gained even 300 yards.
"As you can imagine, as coaches, we kind of live in a perfect world and in a consistent world," Golden said Sunday. "And we're anything but consistent right now. So that contrast or that dichotomy has been interesting to negotiate. But when they're playing as hard as they're playing, and they're resilient as they are, it is fun to coach. They play hard. They're nowhere near flawless, to say the least. But they keep competing."
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