There are a lot of similarities between Notre Dame and Miami. Both are among the most storied programs in college football history, and both have more national championships than USF has bowl wins.
Both have high-powered offenses, inconsistent defenses and, most importantly for Bulls fans, USF beat both teams by a score of 23-20 in the last year.
For USF (5-4) this week, the challenge is stopping that offense and notching a second straight win over Miami. With an offensive line that averages 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, and a host of speedy, skilled players in running back Lamar Miller and wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Tommy Streeter, the Hurricanes’ offense is among the most potent USF has seen this season.
“It starts with (numbers) 3, 6 and 8 (Benjamin, Miller and Streeter),” USF coach Skip Holtz said. “Those are the three guys that you see all over the field. Probably the best offensive football team, and very similar to what we played in Notre Dame.”
Miller leads the Hurricanes (5-5) with 1,108 yards this season, the fifth-highest single-season total in Miami history. On the perimeters, Streeter and Benjamin provide a tandem of receivers that has combined for 1,223 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Production from the receiver position is possible because of the improved play of embattled senior starting quarterback Jacory Harris.
Last season, Harris threw 15 interceptions compared to 14 touchdowns. In 2009, he threw 17 interceptions.
With a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in Jedd Fisch this season, Harris has limited his interceptions to five – compared to 19 touchdowns – and posted career bests in completion percentage (64.2 percent) and quarterback rating (166.15).
“It seems as if (Harris) is more poised,” USF linebacker Sam Barrington said. “He’s doing a great job, just like Lamar Miller, of moving the offense. They’re doing some great things in the red zone, so we’ve got to play great pass defense.”
With Miami’s offensive line averaging three inches taller and 41 pounds heavier than USF’s defensive line, pressuring Harris into risky decisions will be difficult.
“It’s very difficult to get to these guys,” USF defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. “People are not getting to (Harris). It’s a combination of how big they are, they’re very well-coached and those kids’ feet.”
If the Bulls can succeed in getting pressure, possibly without sack-leader Claude Davis, who is questionable with an ankle injury, and force Harris to make mistakes, then they could find themselves celebrating another historic win.
Flustering Harris could force Al Golden to consider benching him, just as Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly benched his starter for the second half in South Bend, Ind.
Kickoff at Raymond James Stadium is scheduled for 3:32 p.m. on ESPNU.