Chuck Martin understood the challenge, so losing didn’t paint such a terrible picture for his Miami University football team Saturday night.
The RedHawks did drop to 2-3 after coming to storied (and sold-out) Notre Dame Stadium and taking a 52-17 loss at the hands of 22nd-ranked Notre Dame before a crowd of 77,622.
“I felt like we had a number of guys that were fine on the field, which is awesome for them,” Martin said. “There’s probably 15 guys I really think can play with the guys from Notre Dame. I’m not saying they’re better. I’m just saying they belonged on the field.
“We didn’t have enough, obviously, and we had some positions that got really exposed. They’re good (Mid-American Conference) players. We’ve got to get them to bounce back and understand that, hey, there’s some guys that played really good against Central Michigan last week that were outmatched today. That’s just part of it.”
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The Fighting Irish (4-1) tallied six touchdowns and a field goal in their eight first-half possessions, taking a 45-14 advantage into the break.
Miami’s offense wasn’t bad. Gus Ragland completed 19 of 37 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns, both to James Gardner, and Alonzo Smith ran 10 times for 66 yards.
“We’re like everyone else. We’re going to be dreamers,” said Martin, a Notre Dame assistant coach from 2010-13. “We came in with a crazy aggressive plan. We were going to attack them and whip it around and hopefully catch them in some pressures and get the ball in the seam and try to get them back on their heels, which I thought we did early.
“The problem is, we couldn’t stop them. We wanted to get the toss (and didn’t). I didn’t want their offense on the field first. I didn’t feel like that was the best matchup, even though our defense has totally outplayed our offense. And then we had the turnover.”
Josh Adams scored on a 73-yard sprint in the opening 25 seconds for the Irish, and quarterback Brandon Wimbush followed with a short TD after Greer Martini picked off a Ragland aerial.
Ragland also fumbled the ball away late in the first period. Less than two minutes later, it was 28-7.
“You saw we were able to move the ball on them pretty much the whole game other than a couple turnovers, which were on me,” Ragland said. “We had a couple injuries, and guys stepped up. I’m really proud of the way our offense moved the ball on a high-powered defense like Notre Dame.”
The Irish had 503 total yards. Adams ran eight times for 159 yards and two touchdowns before a tweaked ankle sent him to the sideline as a precaution, and Wimbush was 7 of 18 for 119 yards and three TDs (to Equanimeous St. Brown, Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin).
Deon McIntosh added a scoring run for Notre Dame. The 45 first-half points were the most by an Irish team in the Brian Kelly era.
“Proud of my football team,” Kelly said. “I challenged them on Monday to exhibit mental toughness, and the mental toughness was really about accountability to a standard that we’ve set here in terms of how we want to play. They had that mental toughness today.
“Knowing that physically they were more talented than their opponent, to come out with that mind-set was another real growth moment for this football team.”
Gardner, a 6-foot-4, 216-pound wide receiver out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had five receptions for 115 yards. He was tightly guarded on his two touchdown catches, but secured them anyway.
“Me and Gus pretty much worked on it all summer. We trust each other,” said Gardner, noting that he’s been seasoned by practicing against MU’s defensive backs. “When the game’s on the line, my team trusts me to make the play, and that’s all I do is make the play.”
“It’s awesome having James out there,” Ragland said. “The dude just goes out and makes plays week after week. He’s proven to be virtually unguardable.”
Said Martin, “He’s not the fastest, but he’s really good at catching it. He’s been very good at MAC play, but when he’s stepped up the competition, he’s played well against the best people he’s played.”
Sam Sloman booted a 38-yard field goal for Miami, while Justin Yoon converted a 43-yarder for the Irish.
Both teams are back in action next Saturday. The RedHawks host Bowling Green at 2:30 p.m., and Notre Dame visits North Carolina at 3:30 p.m.