by Mike Coffey
In the last of our guest-lecturer game reviews, Rocketshark follows up on his pre-game assessment of the Cougars’ clash with the Fighting Irish. John Vannie will return to his usual pontifications next week when Notre Dame travels to Stanford.
At one of the coldest home football games in recent memory, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame bounced back from a disappointing loss to Pitt to grind out a satisfying victory against Brigham Young University. The Irish improved to 8-3 while the Cougars are now 7-4.
It was also Senior Day, the annual celebration of football players who have (probably) played their last game in the House that Rock Built. Before the game, seniors were announced one-by-one and walked out onto the field with their parents to well-earned applause from the capacity crowd.
As plumes of snowflakes swirled through the air, the sight of Notre Dame in their gold and blue uniforms facing an opponent wearing white with blue trim may have had some reminiscing about the famous Snow Bowl of 1992 against Penn State. Another vintage memory was rekindled with kicker Kyle Brindza’s 51-yard boot through the goalposts of the South end zone (recalling Harry Oliver’s game-winning field goal against Michigan in 1980). Last second heroics weren’t needed on this day to defeat the Cougars, but there were a few times when the game got interesting.
Notre Dame actually did not start the game on offense for a change, having won the coin toss BYU elected to receive. On the first series the Irish defense held BYU to 27 yards gained before punting. From their own 16 yard line, ND displayed an impressive five-play touchdown drive that began with four straight rushing attempts for 23 yards and ended with a Tommy Rees-to-DaVaris Daniels 61 yard strike for the first points of the game. Kicker Kyle Brindza remained perfect on extra point attempts.
But BYU answered with a methodical 12-play drive from their 29 yard line (courtesy of 27 yards gained on the kick return) to knot the score at 7.
The Irish used their next possession to take a 14-7 lead. Rees found TJ Jones for a nice 30 yard gain to the BYU 5 yard line. Two plays later Tarean Folston scored (it would be the last touchdown scored by either team for the remainder of the game). The Cougars were called for pass interference, offsides, and facemask penalties to contribute 19 yards to Notre Dame’s drive, although the Irish gave back 5 yards on a false start.
From here Notre Dame had a good handle on the game. The Cougars tried to match pace with the Irish on the scoreboard, but a 4th down conversion attempt was stopped by sophomore defensive lineman Jarron Jones, who recorded 7 tackles for the game (4 solo). The Irish offense took over on downs but were held to 3-and-out. The Irish defense returned the favor and the trading of 44 yard punts resulted in little movement in field position.
Kyle Brindza tacked on a 26 yard field goal to pad Notre Dame’s lead, 17-7. Later in the game he nailed another 26-yarder (to make the score 20-7, Notre Dame’s largest lead of the evening), and, of course, the 4th quarter 51 yard field goal.
Before the end of the third quarter BYU’s kicker made it a one-possession game by hitting two field goals to make the score 20-13. But in the fourth quarter the final score was cemented with Brindza’s 51-yarder (I love that I’ve worked this in three times now) and a BYU field goal attempt that was blocked by Jarron Jones and recovered by Austin Collinsworth.
Statistically, Notre Dame’s and Brigham Young’s numbers were fairly evenly matched. ND had 24 first downs to BYU’s 23. Neither team fumbled, but both recorded an interception. Both teams were around 50% on 3rd down conversions (ND: 8-of-16; BYU 11-of-20) and 0% on fourth down conversions (each were 0-of-2). Notre Dame had an edge in time of possession (33:51 to 26:09), passing yards (235 to 168), and less yards penalized (ND was called for 4 penalties for 25 yards, BYU had 6 penalties for 47 yards).
Tommy Rees enjoyed excellent protection from his line while the shifty Taysom Hill was caught by Dan Fox and later Stephon Tuitt. Fox led the team in tackles with 9 (2 solo). Eiler Hardy, Sheldon Day, Tuitt, Carlo Calabrese, and KeiVarae Russell all recorded at least 7 tackles in the game.
Here’s a look at the pre-game questions.
Will the Irish defensive backs tackle BYU players? Certainly many tackles were made but there were some missed opportunities as well.
Can the Irish defense stifle the Cougars’ rushing attack? The Cougars gained 262 yards on the ground, including 101 yards for quarterback Taysom Hill and Paul Lasike, each. But Jamaal Williams was held below his average with 43 yards rushing.
Will this be the last time football is played on grass in Notre Dame Stadium? We’ll see.
What impact will bad calls have on the game? There were missed calls, such as the usual holding, and no one was erroneously ejected.
Will Cam McDaniel do something impossibly awesome? With 117 yards on the day, Cam was the game’s top rusher. Although this was not “impossibly” awesome it was still awesome.
Finally, a note of thanks to the Class of 2014 football players for the memorable four years they have provided, and roles they played in bringing Notre Dame football back to a level not seen since Lou Holtz was head coach: Kevin Carr, Austin Collinsworth, Will Cronin, Nick Fitzpatrick, Bruce Heggie, Andrew Hendrix, Bennett Jackson (captain), TJ Jones (captain), Christian Lombard, Arturo Martinez, Luke Massa, Kendall Moore, Louis Nix III, Tyler Plantz, Tommy Rees, Jude Rhodes, Joe Romano, Kona Schwenke, Prince Shembo, Daniel Smith, Danny Spond, Justin Utupo, Alex Welch, Lo Wood, and Alex Wulfeck. Thanks also to the fifth year seniors who came back to lend the program the benefit of their experience: Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Tyler Stockton, Nick Tausch, Chris Watt, and Zach Martin (captain).
Matt James, the Notre Dame recruit who died before he could play for Notre Dame, was honored by St. Xavier friend and teammate Luke Massa, who wore No. 78. Danny Spond, who was forced to end his football career due to severe migraines, was honored by freshman Jaylon Smith, who wore Spond’s No. 13 jersey.