CHICAGO -- Miami's fan base traveled a great distance this week to see an offense. Unfortunately for Hurricane fans, the wrong one showed up.
Notre Dame's 41-3 humbling of the Hurricanes was impressive in its totality: the offense's biggest yardage total of the season, the program's largest single-game ground gains since the 2000 season, the first pair of 100-yard rushers in one contest since 2003.
And oh yeah, another game sans a touchdown scored from the opposition.
The latter is a reality the college football world should be used to. No team has hit pay dirt vs. defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's unit since Purdue hit for a tying score late in the fourth quarter of the home opener on September 8. Three games, 12 quarters, only field goals -- and just four of those.
"We got a couple of breaks early on. I thought we adjusted well to the speed of the game after the first quarter," said head coach Brian Kelly. "We've now held the University of Miami, Michigan, and Michigan State without a touchdown and that's an incredible feat for our defense."
Those breaks were pair of point blank dropped touchdown passes by Miami's leading receiver Phillip Dorsett. The sophomore target saw the game's first pass and its fourth bounce off his hands and chest before the Irish defense could settle in.
"We had a guy who drops two right off the bat that normally doesn't do that," said Hurricane's coach Al Golden. "He'll be the first to tell you that he's not going to make an excuse for it."
Dorsett's drops were momentum changers to be sure, but this game would have gone to the Irish regardless. Two dominant fronts on opposite sides of scrimmage guaranteed that eventuality.
"We knew they were very good coming in, and if you can play Cover 2 in three-cloud (zone coverage) like they do and (still) get pressure with a four-man rush, then you're going to be tough to beat.
For the first time this season, Notre Dame's defense failed to register a sack. It instead harassed Miami signal-caller Stephen Morris throughout the evening, and Morris received no help from his downfield targets, a group that suffered a full handful of drops, each of which could have produced points or chain-moving receptions.
But that was the least of their worries.
For the first time this season, quarterback Everett Golson presented as an option in the running game, utilizing the read-option keeper and various scrambles for 51 yards on an economical six carries.
"We really took a hard look at where we were offensively and knew we had to open up the offense, formation ally, and the zone-read game which obviously helps us quite a bit in focusing on the run game, said Kelly of the season's first true read-option attack."
The Irish ripped off 376 yards on 51 carries with five rushing scores by four different runners. Leading the charge was George Atkinson with 10 carries for a career-high 123 yards and a 55-yard touchdown. While Atkinson did most of his damage in the final quarter, senior Cierre Wood carried the day in the decisive third, finishing with 100 rushing yards on 14 carries in the third alone. The Irish totaled 197 rushing yards in the quarter alone, part of a 230-yard explosion that blew open a 13-3 halftime margin into a 34-3 humbling.
Well, maybe humble is the wrong choice of words.
"Everybody knew I could do this. I know I can do this. It's just another walk in the park for me," said Wood of his best game this season. "The line was great. Without them I wouldn't be able to do it. But given the fact that I had the opportunity to do it and I had more carries to do it, the proof is in the pudding, really."
Notre Dame played its best game of the season despite a pre-game, one-series suspension to its starting quarterback Golson, whose tardiness took away a chance to start every game for the Irish this fall.
"Our team rules are pretty simple as it relates to being on time," said Kelly. "It wasn't a big thing in terms of a disciplinary approach, but we have high standards and we hold all of our players to those standards. He was meeting with a professor and he lost track of time. He knows he has to communicate with us and do a better job of that but he took full responsibility for it. I thought he came in and played very well. I was proud of him today."
Golson was contrite post-game. "I didn't handle it the best I should of. Me and Coach Kelly talked about it and I understand that was a violation of team rules. That's why I sat out the first series."
Asked if he needed such an effort following a benching against the Wolverines in his prior outing, Golson deferred to team progress rather than his own.
"This game was needed, but I don't necessarily think for my confidence, just the offense's confidence. We had a lot of rushing yards and it really showed us that we were capable on offense.
"I think (the zone-read) opened up a lot of things for the offense," he continued. "It presents another thing you have to prepare for. I think it adds diversity to our offense. Not too many people saw the zone-read, its something we just implemented."
A 300-yard gap between the victors and vanquished. More than an 18-minute advantage in time of possession by Kelly's Irish over Golden's overmatched 'Canes. And apparently, room to grow.
"We're nowhere near how good we can be," said Wood of the stark improvement. "People that look at us now…that's nothing compared to what we can be. We have a lot of work to do."
Enjoyable work for all involved after a 5-0 start.