By: Evan J. Thomas- January 3, 2011
This is the type of game that Irish fans have been expecting all year, dominating both sides of the ball in the 2010 Hyundai Sun Bowl. Friday’s 33-17 victory of the Miami Hurricanes (7-6) in a very unseasonably cold El Paso, Texas put an exclamation point on a up and down season and will give the Irish and coach Brian Kelly momentum heading into the 2011 season.
Irish freshman quarterback Tommy Rees struck the Hurricanes early with two quick touchdown passes to Michael “Money” Floyd that took the air out of the sail of a reeling Miami squad. With the decisive victory, Brian Kelly became the first Irish coach to win a bowl game in his first appearance since Dan Devine in the 1976 Gator Bowl.
Notre Dame (8-5) scored on three of their first four possessions of the game. Rees completed TD passes of 3 and 34 yards to Floyd and Cierre Wood scored on a 34-yard scamper before kicker David Ruffer belted field goals of 40, 50 and 19 yards and even missed his first attempt of his career late in the game.
"It's not hard when you're throwing the ball to Mike," Rees said. "He's such a great player. I knew that if I threw it anywhere near him he was going to make the catch."
Rees hardly looked like a freshman making only his fourth career start as he completed 15 of 29 attempts without an interception for 201 yards. The win also marked the first time a first year starting quarterback for the Notre Dame won a bowl game.
If you think about the four games Rees has started I almost guarantee this will never be matched. Rees four games were started in Notre Dame Stadium, Yankee Stadium versus Navy, the Coliseum versus U$C and in a bowl game versus Miami. That’s a nice resume for anyone.
Floyd had a big day, too, with six catches for 109 yards receiving. The dagger being the 3rd and 15 play in which Rees found Floyd on a quick slant and Floyd rumbled 35 yards, draggeing defenders for about 10 yards before being taken down. Floyd could have had two more scores but was unable to secure both throws which were slightly overthrown and tipped out of the hands of the man I call “Money” Floyd. "I should have had four. That was all on me," Floyd said, laughing
The game sold out in 21 hours, the fastest in the Sun Bowl's 77-year history, and the crowd of 54,021 set a bowl attendance record. Many fans wore Notre Dame jackets to ward off the 34-degree weather as a round of overnight snow dusted the Franklin Mountains.
The warm-weather Hurricanes -- many wearing head covers under their helmets -- struggled much of the afternoon. "They call it football weather for a reason. You can't make any excuses," Miami center Tyler Horn said.
Jacory Harris was ineffective and later taken out of the game due to an “ankle injury” as it was noted. Harris was 4-7 for 37 yards and 3 interceptions – all three were by Irish safety Harrison Smith. Robert Blanton also corralled an interception during the turnover binge. "It was a total defensive effort," Smith said. "When you knock the receivers off and mess up the timing with the quarterback, it really makes it easier for the safeties."
The Canes trailed 27-0 late in the first half before the change was made for quarterback Stephen Harris taking over the offense. Morris did throw two late touchdown passes to try and make a game but it wasn’t nearly enough. Morris finished the game completing 22 of 33 passes for 282 yards and those two touchdowns. "Early on, we weren't all on the same page," Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson said. "I don't want to say we weren't focused but we weren't making any plays."
The Hurricanes had 10 penalties for 106 yards on the day. "Interceptions and penalties," Miami interim coach Jeff Stoutland said. "I really thought we worked hard and focused on that. It bit us again. It really made the difference in the whole game.”
It was a rough finish to a tough season for the Hurricanes, who saw coach Randy Shannon fired in November. Newly hired coach Al Golden watched from a Sun Bowl suite. He saw a team that needs a lot of work.
But not everything went perfectly for the Irish. Ruffer as I stated before missed wide right on a 36 yard try for his first miss in 24 career attempts. I will give this to Ruffer though; he did attempt the try after hyper extending his planting knee a few minutes prior to the kick. Linebacker Manti Te’o sat out most of the second half with what looked like a gruesome knee injury but later it was stated that he could have played if needed. Floyd was also seen sitting on the sideline after being dinged up and Rees at one point had his knee tangled and limped off the field but played the remainder of the contest.
The Irish started 1-3 under Kelly and consecutive October losses to Navy and Tulsa left them in precarious position to even get bowl eligible. But Notre Dame finished with four straight victories against Utah, Army, Southern California and Miami that should buoy hopes for the future of the program.
"Clearly, we are gaining a lot of confidence," Kelly said. "We've beaten some good football teams late in the year as we've come together and found our identity. It's going to taste a whole lot better in the offseason talking about a win."
"Those 15 practices from USC to now helped a lot," Rees said. "They took some of those mistakes out."
- Michael Floyd caught six passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns to become Notre Dame's career leader for receiving touchdowns with 28. Jeff Samardzija held the previous mark with 27. Tyler Eiffer had 4 catches for 31 yards
- Robert Hughes finished with 27 carries for 81 yards. Cierre Wood had 12 carries for 81 yards and 1 score.