The identity of these teams are in different places heading in to Saturday. Notre Dame is attempting to not see the Cougars as a trap game before their next game, at Oklahoma. BYU, as a trap game? Is that what Cougar football has been relegated to? It makes sense, at least for right now. Why, because BYU is not the same BYU of yesteryear. BYU has been struggling mightily to find its offensive identity, while Notre Dame is enjoying an undefeated record. The stats may look nice, but BYU has been plagued by the offensive impotence plague; they’re very vanilla in their play-calling and not utilizing all the talent on the field. Whether it’s a coaching issue or a QB issue, it hasn’t been fixed through 7 games.
The Fighting Irish have been winning largely through their defense. Led by Manti Te’o, the defense allows less than 9 points a game, has given up just 3 passing touchdowns this season, and remarkably, no touchdowns on the ground. It’s a suffocating defense on the front seven that gives up just 287 total yards a contest. Given their iron fist defensively, Notre Dame hasn’t needed to show off offensively, nor have their fans seen any explosion. Head Coach Brian Kelly, know for his offensive prowess, has given his of his attention to winning the defensive side of the ball rather than showcasing offensive stats.
BYU’s defense has been good all season and has bailed out the offense multiple times. Although they were exposed and weakened by a top 10 Oregon State squad, their front 7 remain very good and statistically, a top 10 defense of their own. The weakness that prevailed last week was 2 fold: when BYU brought a blitz, it was picked up nicely by Oregon State, giving Cody Vaz just enough time to throw to our less experienced secondary. Second, Mendenhall mentioned after the game that most of the time they didn’t bring pressure because it wasn’t effective. Yet, when they only rushed three, Vaz and the Beaver receiving corp had even more time to get open and let plays develop. It’s like the kryptonite of BYU’s defense; if they don’t get pressure, the secondary could get beat.
BYU may not be the team to challenge the Irish defense. They haven’t been explosive or even productive all season against tougher opponents. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has had his struggles figuring out how the help his offense be productive. Their best weapon at times has been the punter, Riley Stephenson, ranking in the top 10 in punting. He’s been the most consistent at least keeping field position in favor of BYU. Riley Nelson has had his struggles, especially with throwing the ball beyond 20 yards. It’s kept opposing defenses closer to home, making it tougher to throw and run the ball effectively. It’s made things even more frustrating for the talented, under-utilized receivers Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo.
UND’s offense hasn’t needed to be super productive, but Everett Golson has found a way to get the Irish in the endzone. He reminds me a bit of former TCU quarterback Andy Dalton; do just enough to move the chains and piss off the opponents fans. His numbers aren’t flashy: 161 Passing yards a game, 58.5 completion percentage 4 td’s and 3 int’s. But he doesn’t make critical mistakes. And the mistakes he has made his teammates on defense have stepped up for him. Notre Dame will make the game as short as possible running the football. The time of possession tips their way at more 32 minutes a game. They’re averaging 185 a contest led by the trio of Theo Riddick, who also leads the team in receptions, George Atkinson and Cierre Wood.
The great thing about this match-up is it’s pitting strength against perceived weakness. BYU’s less than effective offense versus the Irish defense and BYU’s formidable defense versus Notre Dame’s run-heavy offense. It may be a case of the first team to screw up loses. The most notable stat for Notre Dame would be their offensive production in the first and third quarters. They’re outscoring their opponents 74-10 combining both quarters. Conversely, BYU’s quarter to score is the 2nd. They’ve outscored opponents 64-6 in the 15 minute span.
If this game comes down to punts and field position, BYU has a great chance at winning. Mistakes and turnovers will undoubtedly affect BYU more than Notre Dame. The Irish have the better game managing QB. The defenses should rule this day. I look for a low scoring, NFL-esque showcase of defensive talent. I don’t foresee BYU gaining more than 200 yards offensively. But if they do, it will be offset by 1 or more turnovers.
UND- 16 BYU- 3