Irish shine in Sun Bowl
Notre Dame's Cierre Wood, left, and Robert Hughes hoist the championship trophy after defeating Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX, Friday, December 31, 2010 (Tribune Photo/MARCUS MARTER)
It's only a college football rivalry when both teams are competitive.
That didn't happen Friday.
It was supposed to be a battle between a couple of pit bulls. A Chihuahua showed up from South Beach.
A program built on swagger was handed a swig of humility.
Notre Dame's 33-17 Sun Bowl spanking of Miami served notice that maybe first-year Irish coach Brian Kelly is doing something right.
"I don't know if one game sets who you are or where you want to go," Kelly said. "Clearly, we're gaining a lot of confidence. We've beat a lot of good football teams later in the year as we've kinda come together and found our identity."
Four straight wins and an 8-5 record have made potentially devastating losses to Navy and Tulsa appear to be nothing more than a necessary part of the growth process.
The Notre Dame team that dominated Miami Friday didn't even vaguely resemble the mistake-prone unit that flirted with another lost season two months ago.
Two hours before kickoff, the Hurricanes were whipped. It was obvious to anyone who chose to spend some extra time in 34-degree temperatures.
A thick layer of snow was plowed from the artificial surface. The Irish warmed up in shorts and sweatshirts. The Hurricanes reluctantly emerged from their cozy dressing room outfitted in complete thermal suits, including the head gear that covered their mouths.
That's one way to limit trash talking.
Too cold to yap.
"Things got a little chippy from time to time," said Irish safety Harrison Smith, who had three first-half interceptions.
"We're from northern Indiana," Smith said. "We took this as a home game, in terms of the weather. I don't know about it snowing, almost in Mexico. When we came out, we don't care. We're from northern Indiana. We were excited to play."
"(The Hurricanes) were pretty shocked to see the snow," said Irish quarterback Tommy Rees.
Rees was good, much better than his last outing against Southern Cal. Smith was very good.
And receiver Michael Floyd was special.
Will Floyd, who has one year of eligibility left at Notre Dame, enter the NFL draft in the spring? If he does, he'll have a heck of a highlight film to take with him.
Two touchdown receptions, 109 yards on six receptions and the game's most valuable player award will either be a fine send-off or a springboard to a senior season packed with potential.
Whatever the case, it was a victory forged out of toughness and consistency.
Kelly's objectives since he arrived on campus.
Staff writer Al Lesar: firstname.lastname@example.org 574-235-6318