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  • Irish Seek to Avoid BYU Trap

    by John Vannie

    Undefeated Notre Dame hosts the 4-3 BYU Cougars on Saturday afternoon in a matchup of two football independents. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has a 70-27 record in his eighth season at the helm, and is once again the architect of one of the nation’s best defenses. The Irish have a pretty fair defense of their own, and will try to get the offense back on track after a squandering several scoring opportunities in regulation play against Stanford last week.

    Everett Golson will start for Notre Dame after recovering from a mild concussion suffered late in last week’s game. Golson had played extremely well in Chicago two weeks ago, but fumbled twice in key situations against the Cardinal and his passing was not as sharp in the face of strong pressure throughout the afternoon. Tommy Rees, who has nearly achieved Mariano Rivera status as the team’s closer, stands ready in reserve.

    Senior Riley Nelson, who lost the starting quarterback position to freshman Taysom Hill earlier this season, regained the job last week when Hill suffered a season-ending knee injury against Utah State. The Cougars had previously lost starting tailback Michael Alisa due to a broken arm. Notre Dame has stayed relatively injury-free after losing defensive backs Lo Wood and Jamoris Slaughter earlier in the season. The team is still carrying an assortment of bumps and bruises after the grueling overtime battle with Stanford, but everyone is available to play on Saturday.

    BYU’s defense has put up some very impressive numbers to date. The Cougars have given up fewer rushing yards per game than Notre Dame at 67.5, which equates to only 2.2 yards per attempt. Opponents are converting on third down at an anemic 26% rate. BYU had yielded nine points per game through six contests until Oregon State gashed them primarily through the air in a 42-24 victory last week in Provo. Mendenhall was not pleased with that outcome, but expects his team to bounce back at Notre Dame.

    “In reviewing the film, it was all about our execution, our precision, our concentration,” Mendenhall said. “The plays were defendable. They (Oregon State) executed their plays at a higher level, but we were not sharp in the secondary. Concentration. Precision. And really execution. There was maybe a little overconfidence, defensively, from all the accolades. I think there was a little edge that was missing.”

    NOTRE DAME’S OFFENSE vs. BYU’S DEFENSE

    The Irish need to get the timing back in their passing game after having it severely disrupted by the talented Cardinal front seven. Golson has shown an improved ability to find receivers from the pocket when he has time, and his blockers must provide it for him this week. The Cougars have a veteran front seven in a 3-4 alignment lead by senior ends Eathyn Manumaleuna and Ezekiel Ansah, and linebackers Brandon Ogletree and Kyle Van Noy, who leads the team in sacks and tackles for loss. This group is disciplined and Mendenhall’s schemes are solid, so the Irish linemen are going to have to defeat them at the point of attack to be successful.

    Cornerback Preston Hadley and strong safety Daniel Sorenson lead the Cougar secondary, while sophomore field cornerback Jordan Johnson has eight pass breakups and an interception return for a touchdown this season. Notre Dame will test this group with a variety of looks, but the running game must be also utilized to wear down their resistance. BYU has kept opponents in continuous third and long situations, and early success against the Irish will fuel their intensity throughout the day.

    Coach Brian Kelly must also develop an answer for Van Noy when he rushes the passer from the edge. Tight end Troy Niklas had a miserable afternoon last week against Stanford’s talented outside linebackers, and Van Noy represents a similar challenge. Kelly did not utilize the screen pass in that game but may give it more consideration this week.

    Despite BYU’s daunting statistics against the run, the Irish backs are much better than any the Cougars have faced this season and should be able to enjoy moderate success. Notre Dame should also be able to exploit individual matchups where they have an advantage in speed, and Theo Riddick could have a big day as a receiver. The Irish have also established DeVaris Daniels and T.J. Jones as viable options if an opponent doubles its coverage on Tyler Eifert.  The key element again is making sure that Golson has the time to find them downfield.

    BYU’S OFFENSE vs. NOTRE DAME’S DEFENSE

    The injury to Hill, even though he is only a freshman, has diminished the versatility of Mendenhall’s offense. Nelson is not a threat to run the ball and has thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes. The main target in the passing game is 6’4” wide receiver Cody Hoffman, who leads the team in receptions by a wide margin. Tight end Kaneakua Friel is next in line and has four touchdown receptions to his credit. None of the Cougar receivers is exceptionally fast, so Notre Dame’s secondary can afford to be aggressive if the offense gives them a lead to work with.

    Freshman Jamaal Williams has stepped in at tailback and performed well since Alisa went down. He averages more than five yards per carry and is backed up by senior David Foote. Notre Dame’s front wall is coming off an emotional high last week after stuffing Stepfan Taylor in a memorable goal line stand, and will have to find energy and motivation this week to shut down the Cougars. If Manti Te’o and Louis Nix can rise to the occasion, Nelson will be hard pressed to win the game for BYU through the air. He threw the ball 51 times last week, but was sacked four times and suffered three interceptions.

    The battle in the trenches might present a couple of favorable matchups for the Irish. Nix will line up opposite 270 pound sophomore center Blair Tushaus, and either Stephon Tuitt or Prince Shembo will battle freshman left tackle Ryker Mathews. The real issue for Notre Dame might be the amount of gas left in the tank after the Stanford game, but Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco has quality depth at his disposal and is likely to substitute freely during this contest. If the defenders up front play at their season-long high level, there will be opportunities for interceptions by the secondary.

    The Irish should be able to handle the BYU attack provided the offense does not provide gifts via turnovers and special teams keep the Cougars on a long field. The lack of a home run threat or an accomplished short passing game will make it difficult for BYU to break Notre Dame’s four game streak of not allowing a defensive touchdown.

    SPECIAL TEAMS

    The Irish repeatedly found themselves in poor field position during the first half of last week’s game, which had a negative impact on Golson’s ability to sustain drives and put points on the board. Kyle Brindza did his part by booming kickoffs through the end zone, but punter Ben Turk has to step up his game a degree or two. Notre Dame’s coverage teams have been solid, while the return teams have generally failed to impress.

    BYU’s field goal kickers are only five for nine this season with a long of only 35 yards. Justin Sorenson is the full time punter with an impressive (and possibly altitude enhanced) 46-yard average while sharing the place kicking duties with Riley Stephenson. Hoffman and Joe Sampson do a good job returning kicks while the elusive J.D. Falslev is a better than average punt return man. The Irish must find a way to turn this aspect of the game into an advantage rather than a liability. Negative field position exchanges add undue pressure to the offensive and defensive units by leaving minimal margin for error.

    SUMMARY

    BYUs’ style of play and level of competence are essentially Stanford-Lite, and Notre Dame should prevail. That assumes, however, that the Irish do a better job of converting opportunities, avoiding last week’s alarmingly high number of unforced penalties, and taking care of the football. The running game should be utilized throughout, as there is a good chance the Cougars will wear down in the second half if Notre Dame dominates time of possession as expected.

    The Cougars are a veteran-laden team with some players in their early to mid-twenties due to time away from school to fulfill Mormon related obligations. The Irish have more talent but must play at a high level. Brian Kelly’s one game at a time approach will serve him well this week, but the players are only human and some letdown from the Stanford slugfest is not out of the question. Conversely, BYU can be counted upon to give Notre Dame its best shot.

    Here are a few questions that will factor into the outcome:

    Can the Irish protect Golson and allow him to get back into a comfortable rhythm?

    Will Notre Dame’s special teams equalize or even win the field position battle?

    Can BYU get its running game going against the tough Irish front seven?

    How will the BYU secondary fare against Notre Dame’s array of backs, receivers and tight ends?

    Will the Irish secondary be able to focus on Hoffman or will other options emerge for Nelson?

    Which team will win the turnover battle?

    Will it ever stop raining in South Bend?

    PREDICTION

    Expect the Cougars to come in with a lot of energy on defense and try to force Golson and the Irish into mistakes and turnovers. If successful, they can stay in the game well into the second half. Notre Dame can ill-afford another poor performance on offense where two steps forward in each possession are followed by one large step back. Confidence must be restored before next week’s trip to Oklahoma, where all cylinders must be firing to achieve success. The Irish will win comfortably if they play a clean game, and my predicted score assumes they will. Even if they struggle, BYU is the type of opponent against whom Rees should be able to work his magic if it becomes necessary.

    NOTRE DAME 23  BYU 6

    16 Responses to “Irish Seek to Avoid BYU Trap”

    1. This is the ultimate trap game coming off of a huge emotional win with a top ten road game staring them in the face next week. I really believe this is the last hurdle to keeping them from a BCS game. A two loss ND team will be a lock for the Fiesta Bowl. Obviously we all hope for a title game appearance but one loss or two will mean the identical result and I dont think they will beat both SC and OU. It sounds like our young QB is a game time decision and with Rees potentially starting I expect BYU to bring a lot of pressure and wreak some havoc. Still I would expect the defense to dominate and the Irish to score just enough. ND 19-9

    2. Jack
      Agreed on your perception. Once again the Irish face a game that it has lost time and time again in previous years…during the cursed ND mid semester break weekend when the student body is not back in full force for the game. That being said this years team has already cast off some perenial demons… MSU away…M at home and Stanford anywhere. The next 3 games should be a very good measure of how good this team can be. BYU OK and Pitt should tell us how much the program has rebounded and I for one would gladly take 2 of 3. GO IRISH!!!

    3. Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are doing their part to avoid the “trap.” Expect the players to do the same. ND 41 BYU 6. GO IRISH!!

    4. Mark Makers says:

      Pro ball is pretty predictable, but college really depends on what is going on between the ears of the players on any given weekend. So in short, don’t look at talent to predict a trap game. Look for a victory that can make a 20 year old think “lock”. Stanford wasn’t that kind of victory. I look for a solid performance from the lads this Saturday. If we get by BYU, OK is daunting and maybe not surmountable. So OK may remove any trap mentality. If we knock off OK, look out for Pitt or Wake. To me, that is the right setting for a trap game. If we beat OK, Kelly’s coaching acumen will be rightously challenged to avoid a trap.

    5. Mark P - ND '79 says:

      I’m thinking the Irish will be relaxed vs. BYU after last week’s pressure-cooker win, and with the Sooners just over the horizon. Relaxed should equal a better overall offensive performance and an easier-than-expected win — let’s call it 34-13. What I’ll be watching are Golson’s pre-snap reads and his execution. Without some improvement and a start in Norman, my fear is that EG digs a hole that even Tommy can’t dig us out of. I hope Kelly is at least considering a Rees start at QB next week, playing it close to the vest and seeing if the D can carry the day one more time. Go Irish!

    6. I heard on radio this morning that Golson is a game time decision. Reading between the lines… Rees will start. Here’s why, in my opinion:

      Kelly likes to pass in the first half to setup the run in the 2nd half.
      BYU is very good at stopping the run but not so good at stopping the pass.
      Rees at this point is probably a more effective passer than Golson, and they’ll be hesitant to let Golson scramble around too much coming off a concussion.
      So Kelly’s thinking is that Rees gives them a better shot at jumping out to an early lead. Once they get that lead, they’ll work Golson back into the game with more conservative playcalling. Or just give him the day off.

      Not really sure if one strategy is better than the other, but that’s what I believe Kelly’s strategy will be.

    7. The answer to your last question is not till Thanksgiving …it will just turn to snow. This is going to be the first game since Navy that I will be able to enjoy copious amounts of adult beverages and not be nervous about the game (Purdue should have been the same). I just hope the team doesnt have the same mentality that I do. My prediction is a slow first quarter for NDs offense followed by a good 2nd quarter. The second half has consistently been our better half. That is when ND pulls away.
      34- 13 sorry defense I think they will get a late TD when we rest players.

    8. Kelly got some heat this week for talking about his “expectations” for Golson to be back at practice, i think he’s talking about a game time decision and monitoring him for 48 hours to get some people to back up that he’s rushing a concussion.

      Also does anyone think that BK is being overly vanilla with the O because he doesn’t want OU to have film on everything he wants EG to do? I think it’s the progression of a young QB but also for most of the season when has Kelly had to run reverses or do anything crazy, OU doesn’t lose at home under Stoops so if you’re gonna walk in their house why give them everything we’re capable of, maybe Kelly saw this amazing start when the rest of us didn’t and is just managing victories and then throwing the kitchen sink at OU in Norman?

      • JJ
        It would be great to think we have enough offensive power to hide things from the likes of OU. Golsen is a tremendous work in process…look at the games with Navy and MSU and all Irish fans would agree he is the “man”.

        Problem is he has shown the weakness of a very young QB starting at ND. I would love to see him running and passing and causing fits for the opposing defense in multiple sets but the reality is BK is obviously not sure yet of his ability.

        Totally agree that the offense is very vanilla at this point. Tommy is fine to manage a game when we are up to a certain extent but he is a huge target and liability when we play a fast and ready defense. If you are right and BK has held back with “all he has” offensively to get to the big dogs…OU and USC then It would be a tremendous coaching effort. I do not think that is the case.

        I think BK is not the offensive guru we all hoped for as yet but that being said he has taken hold of this team and given the defense to Diaco who has whipped up the best D in the past 10 years. BK needs to do the same on O.

    9. I expect this game to be closer and more competitive than it should be. Irish offense is way too up and down and think it will cost them eventually this year but not tomorrow. Irish win 24-14 in a competitive game that probably should not be.

    10. irishhawk50 says:

      I agree with those who think Rees should get a lot of reps here in the BYU game. I think ND will need him against OKlahoma and BYU is a good defense to see if Rees has progressed and can deal with the 8 in the box that troubled the team last year. Having been a lifelong Irish fan I am not ready to say this game will be a walk in the park, but its time for the offense to start to step up. Go Irish!

    11. I’m curious to know which ND offense shows up. The confident bunch who swamped Miami, or the hesitant, mistake prone team of last week. EG’s health could have a lot to do with it. I hope Rees is ready to go. Having said that 6-0 doesn’t lie. I think we find a way to win and win pretty comfortably this week. Trying not to, as a fan, look ahead to next week, just like we’re telling the players not to do.

      ND 28 BYU 13

      Go Irish!

    12. oh no, dont start ur closer. kelly hearts reese. hope we can pull this one off.

    13. Fitz : to answer your question……neither.

      its the sh*tty one.

    14. Bottom line..

      BK and Tommy are a recipe for doom. The two can not hold candles for their efforts towards a defense that has bailed them out time after time. I can not understand how BK has won the Defense over and left his offense to a shambles. EG for good or bad is the way. Hendrix will sit on the bench forever? Tommy is a proven “not work in the process”

      No loss in the record is nice..but I say again…does this ND team need another demoralzing loss in a bowl game? Insert Tommy in the BCS and we will have another prime-time big bowl loss for the media to pile on again..and the relevant “ND is not relevant” term will continue. Wake up BK…this year three.

    15. What about Hendricks as a reliever for EG?

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