ATI 2.8 – BYU Football vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

What’s your biggest gripe about BYU’s team this year?  How can the team improve in that area the rest of the season?

Carl: This time of year there is a lot to be grateful for.  However, if you are a disgruntled fan of any under-performing college football team, there is a lot to be upset about.  We could talk about so many angles here.  But I’m going on record with Riley Nelson.  I’m really REALLY disappointed in him for showing us no progression from last season to this.  No improvement on arm strength, no improvement on mechanics, no improvement on decision-making, and no improvement on being a leader.  I hope he is beginning to realize that a large portion of this offensive crisis is on him.  He does not understand how good this offense could be if he just would have worked hard in the off-season learning how to be a game-managing quarterback.  Quote me: with what I’ve seen this season, he is showing this Cougar fan that he thought he could continue being the Riley he has always been, feeling his qualities were already superior, that the team would rally around the guy that will put his body on the line at any time, the guy that BYU faithful loved in comparison to Jake Heaps.  I’m sorry Riley, but I’ll be glad to see you go.

Matt: Inconsistency.  Since Max Hall graduated, nothing has remained consistent, except Bronco’s focus as the defensive coordinator.  Jake Heaps played fine, then regressed, then left. Robert Anae gets fired and replaced by Brandon Doman, who still doesn’t know if he is calling plays for a spread, option, or pro-style offense.  Riley Nelson is hurt, then a back up special teamer, then a hero, then a sub-par quarterback who can only beat inferior teams.  There are rumors of in-fighting among the coaches and a player who disregards what his coach says to him.

You want to know how to fix this?  The head coach needs to start being a HEAD COACH again and not be so single-minded about his defensive coordinating responsibilities.

What exactly is BYU’s offensive identity?  Spread, option, pro-style?  What would you like it to be?

Carl: This picture should spell out my answer to this.  And BYU is somewhere at the beginning stages near ‘you’.  As southern people say, their offense is a ‘Hot Mess’.  I honestly can’t believe how destitute they are.  They try to be the option, spread and pro-style in the same game.  It’s not working.  I think they’ll eventually get back to the pro-style offense because they don’t have any quarterbacks in the pipeline to run a true spread nor is BYU athletic enough offensively to run it.  They play smash-mouth, straight ahead football.  We protect the quarterback and he throws down the field.  I realize BYU is probably trying to plug offensive inefficiencies during the Nelson era because he is not John Beck or Max Hall and Jake Heaps was an internal ‘Hot mess’! I’m ever the optimist that Taysom Hill and Ammon Olsen will learn and grow being a BYU quality quarterback and right this wayward ship.

Matt: I don’t know.  How could I know if the offensive coordinator doesn’t even know?  Given the talent level of our gritty quarterback, I think we best fit a spread offense.  And with the shovel pass that has worked so well the past two weeks between the quarterback and Jamaal Williams, Doman should really employ some of Urban Meyer’s theories of a spread offense.

If they give in and let James Lark finally have the reigns this season, Doman should focus it more on a pro-style type of offense that allows Lark to make some throws downfield and continue to set up Williams in the back of the I formation.

Is BYU’s defense a legitimate top 5 defense?  Were they exposed because the offense didn’t get it done or because they were buying into their own myth of being a top 5 defense?  And more importantly, will they be better against Notre Dame or should we saddle up for more of Saturday’s performance?

Carl: Let me answer this concisely:

A – No, BYU is not a legit top 5 defense.

B – Neither, I think the defense simply got out-worked in the trenches.  Oregon State played masterfully on the offensive line, leading to all day for Cody Vaz to throw the football.  We all knew our secondary was largely untested.

C – Offensively, I doubt that Notre Dame is as good as Oregon State.  The question will be psychological.  Can they still perform knowing they are not the best and that the offense will do them no favors?

Matt: Statistically speaking, yes, this is a top five defense. But they haven’t played an offense with any sort of special talent all season.  That is, until Saturday when Cody Vaz was made to look like a veteran quarterback.  The secondary’s success has been largely a result of a super talented front seven that thrive of pressuring the quarterback into quick reads and short passes.  The front seven have controlled the run game in every contest, forcing the quarterback into passing situations the defense could control.  On Saturday, Beaver head coach Mike Riley just opened up the playbook from play one and showed the remainder of BYU’s opponents just how not-special the secondary is.  Furthermore, I think this defense had bought into its own myth of its success and coupled that with an inexperience quarterback making his first start in more than three years.  They looked past the Beavers and into South Bend.

Speaking of South Bend, this defense just gave me reason to be very scared this weekend.  Notre Dame is fantastic on defense and I have no expectations of offensive success this weekend with our current game plan.  Defensively, the Cougars could stack up well.  Notre Dame isn’t an offensive juggernaut but are capable of exposing a weakness and could very well drop another 400+ yards and 36+ points if BYU doesn’t play assignment-sound football for 60 full minutes.

Make your case for starting James Lark or Riley Nelson against Notre Dame.

Carl: If the offense no longer believes in the abilities of Riley Nelson, you must go with Lark.  How much worse can it get?  Remember, the Utah State win all but assured BYU of the Poinsettia Bowl.  With Taysom Hill out, why not go with Lark?  Because it’s Notre Dame.  Neither QB should be expected to put up any resemblance of typical BYU numbers Saturday.  Yet, in my opinion, the coaches and players have lost trust and confidence in Riley, save maybe Bronco.  They only way to try to spark this team going forward is to #FreeJamesLark.  Why weren’t we saying this 2 years ago?

Matt: I’m so off the Riley Nelson bandwagon.  When people used to think of BYU it was in relation to the great quarterbacks that have called Provo home.  Now, they just look and see a less-than-pedestrian quarterback with a limp noodle for an arm and a delusion of grandeur in his own abilities.  We don’t know James Lark.  What we do know about James Lark though is that he was recruited by BYU and Riley Nelson was not.  What we do know about Lark is that he’s been a loyal soldier and watched as a prima donna and a gritty fighter got chance after chance and failed while he’s held a clipboard on the sideline.  Sure, the coaches see him play every day and they know what we don’t know.  But you know what?  I don’t care anymore.  All I know is that James Lark is a quarterback who can throw a football and I want to see a throwing quarterback in blue and white again.

Predictions:

Carl: This may be lower scoring than you might think.  Notre Dame’s offense is not as potent as Brian Kelly’s teams of yore.  The most important key is the defense getting stops or limiting to field goals, and the offense not turning the ball over.  We can win the field position.  But I don’t see how our deficient offense can score a touchdown on a Notre Dame defense that has given up just 3 the entire season.  Unless Manti Te’o comes down with the flu and can’t play, we will have to play perfect just to have a chance to win.  And I just don’t believe in BYU enough right now to say they can play perfect.

Notre Dame   16

BYU                 3

Matt: I started in on this a bit on the third question, but I’ll elaborate now.  Notre Dame is a top five team this season and they are there for a reason.  They are tough on defense and find ways to get it done on offense.  And this game is in South Bend so I imagine 80,000+ fans will provide a daunting home field advantage for the Irish.  If Riley Nelson plays the way he played on Saturday (specifically focusing on his own hero status and not playing smart) BYU’s offense is going to be tabled by Manti Te’o and his defensive teammates.  On the other side of the ball, BYU will need to get back to playing nasty, fundamentally sound football and I think they will.  But I don’t know that fundamentals was the cause of Jordan Johnson’s inability to play coverage on his man this past week.  I’m nervous that he will get picked on again this week and allow the Irish to make big plays when they need them.

BYU doesn’t know who they are right now.  There is a mighty clash of history meeting the present; offensive team or defensive team.  Their lack of direction and leadership (from the coaches to the captains to the players) is screaming of dysfunction and I don’t think this is the week the Cougars want to be playing in South Bend, Indiana.  I don’t like this game to be close.

Notre Dame   41

BYU               17

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