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  • Irish Host BYU on Senior Day

    by John Vannie

    Our BYU preview this week is authored by long time NDNation contributor Joe Stachler, who also is known by the handle Rocketshark. The Irish have made a habit of playing close games this year, and Joe tells us why he sees another nail biter on Saturday as well as which team will emerge victorious.

    Leave it to me to create this insensitive image file ditty with the hope of not having to use it in my postgame review this weekend should an unfortunate loss to BYU occur. Of course, Pitt beat me to the punch and the rest — including Notre Dame’s BCS bowl eligibility — is history.

    After losing to #24 Wisconsin (who rushed for 229 yards) BYU rebounded by thrashing 3-7 Idaho State 59-13. Meanwhile, Notre Dame had to deal with losing to a mediocre .500 Pitt team in the worst way…by having a weekend off. While the bye may have been beneficial for regaining health, it allowed the bitter disappointment to simmer for twice as long. Perhaps that stinging can be channeled into a physically-assertive presence by the Irish on the field, which by the way is what I believe will be necessary to make a favorable difference for the Irish. And this one will be a challenge.

    Concerns aside, as a fan I welcome this kind of match-up. While un-ranked Brigham Young isn’t a juggernaut, they’re a spirited team who has notched a few impressive victories this season. Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall is in his ninth season at BYU, with a 81-32 overall record in Provo, UT.

    The Fighting Irish and the Cougars have met seven times beginning with their first contest in 1992. Notre Dame had little trouble handling BYU in ’92 and ’93 but during an “off year” Lou Holtz’s team fell 21-14 in 1994. Tyrone Willingham’s 2003 squad managed a solid victory against BYU but the following year lost 17-20 in the season opener to immediately ratchet up calls for his firing. In 2005 Charlie Weis’ aerial offense enabled a banner day for Brady Quinn who threw six touchdown passes (four to Maurice Stovall). The next meeting wouldn’t occur until seven years later as the 2012 Irish embarked on a memorable season, including holding off the Cougars for a 3-point victory to preserve a perfect regular season in the making.

    Brigham Young players look back on that 2012 game as the one that got away. In their minds they are presented with a great opportunity against a vulnerable ND team, compared to last year.


    Senior quarterback Tommy Rees has been the leader of the offense, and by all accounts a respected member of the team. He may not be remembered along with names such as Carideo, Lujack, and Montana but he should be remembered as a player who, like Blair Kiel, Steve Beuerlein, and Brady Quinn, gave everything he had as four year veteran to help the team in every way he could to be successful, even during disappointing seasons.

    Another senior on offense that deserves a large amount of recognition is T.J. Jones. In watching him both during and between plays I’ve concluded that he’s the toughest player on the team. He’ll make a play, get physically punished for it, then get back up — maybe a little slower than usual on occasion — ready to go for the next snap. I want to see guys like Rees and Jones make a farewell lap around Notre Dame Stadium at the end of the game. And the only way that will occur is if the Irish win. So, it will be up to them, and their teammates, and their coaches, to make this happen.

    Out to ruin the moment will be BYU linebackers Kyle Van Noy and the team’s top tackler Uani ‘Unga. At nose tackle is Eathyn Manumaleuna, who missed last year’s game due to injury. Productive linebacker Spencer Hadley will probably miss the game due to injury.

    Notre Dame’s offense overall has been average. With the two long touchdown throws to begin the season against a team that has since gone 1-9, there was a glimmer of hope amongst the skeptical and jubilation amongst the zealots that the offense was going to purr like a Bavarian motor. Since then the Irish have settled into a 41st ranked passing offense coupled with an 87th ranked rushing offense to stake a 7-3 record thus far. Against the 23rd ranked scoring defense in the county, the Irish will need to make plays and possessions count in order to be successful.

    Last year the Irish tallied 270 yards rushing, including the game winning touchdown scored by George Atkinson III, against the Cougars. Based on Notre Dame’s victory last year against BYU and Wisconsin’s this season, it seems apparent that a sincere dedication to a commanding rushing attack will be an essential ingredient for success this Saturday. BYU’s run defense is ranked 57th, so ND might as well give it a shot. And by shot I mean more than a few times early in the game.


    Anyway, Notre Dame’s 62nd ranked run defense will be tested by quarterback Taysom Hill, who happens to be the Cougar’s leading rusher with 165 carries for 956 yards (a 5.8 yards per carry average). RB Jamaal Williams is no slouch himself with 940 yards on 172 carries for a 5.5 ypc average. Together, they’re the 1-2 backfield punch that has the Cougars rushing attack ranked 12th in the country. Hill was out for last year’s game, which may partially account for BYU’s flimsy 66 yards gained on the ground that day.

    BYU has been doing well with a fast-tempo offense that averages over 80 snaps a game. Hill makes plays with his arm as well as his legs. This year he has thrown 16 touchdown passes but he has also tossed 12 interceptions. Wide receiver Cody Hoffman returns and is again the Cougars’ top catcher, breaking the record for most career touchdown receptions. TE Kaneakua Friel has missed five games this season but is expected to play this Saturday.

    Expect Notre Dame’s defense to be probed for vulnerability. The defensive line may not be able to substitute as often as wished with the no huddle offense. This makes it all-the-more critical that Notre Dame’s offense capitalizes on their opportunities and give the defense a few breathers.

    Again, I hope to see the seniors on defense make that victory lap around the stadium.


    Hello, Kyle Brindza! He is 10-of-15 on field goals, but he is 2-for-3 on 50+ yard attempts, with the longest a 53-yarder against ASU. He is perfect in point after attempts made and with 62 points contributed to Irish campaigns he is the leading scorer on the team.

    Yet, as we’ve seen even in critical situations the special teams have been sloppy in bringing down returners. It is a perplexing how Notre Dame, a program which has richly benefitted from productive special teams play, including their last three national championship seasons, seems to regard special teams as an afterthought or risky venture. Or at least something not to invest much time or effort in. Perhaps Coach Kelly or Coach Booker would take issue with that speculation, but what we’re talking about here is the nation’s 121st kickoff return defense…out of 123 teams. Punt return defense is ranked 90th.

    Brigham Young U’s punting defense is ranked 62nd, which, comparatively speaking, is something Notre Dame can envy. But their kick return defense is 100th in the country. Their kicker, Justin Sorenson, is about as good as any team can expect from their kicker. He’s 16-of-19 on field goals, with one of the misses occurring beyond 50 yards out.


    When I think back on the Purdue game (the Boilermakers are God awful, by the way) and the challenge the Irish unnecessarily made that night for themselves, all I can say is I hope there were lessons learned because BYU is better than Purdue…and Pitt. But the Cougar’s are just as prone to making mistakes, and Notre Dame would do well to capitalize on them. There will be some psychological factors in play for both teams. For Notre Dame, the seniors are playing their last game at Notre Dame Stadium and underclassmen will also be thinking about sending them out in style. For Brigham Young, they’ll be thinking about a chance at redemption they desperately crave on a national stage. Not just to atone for last year’s loss to Notre Dame, but also for the Wisconsin game two weeks ago.

    Here are a few questions that may factor into the outcome, or at least be answered at the conclusion of the game, or even sometime during the off season (where applicable):

    Will the Irish defensive backs effectively tackle BYU players?

    Can the Irish defense stifle the Cougars’ rushing attack?

    Will the Notre Dame offense be able to convert 3rd-and-short?

    Will this be the last time football is played on grass in Notre Dame Stadium?

    What impact will bad calls have on the game?

    Will Cam McDaniel do something impossibly awesome?


    I boldly predict that Notre Dame will get the ball first. Other than that this game has felt like a pick ’em all year. At this point it looks like an even match-up, particularly as Notre Dame has too often played below expectations and BYU has played above them. I can see this game going to overtime, with BYU getting the ball after Notre Dame settles for a field goal and scoring a game winning touchdown. On the other hand, I can also visualize the Irish defense tightening up and preserving a 3-point Notre Dame victory. So I’ll pick that scenario based on preference: a 26-23 Notre Dame victory, possibly in overtime.


    21 Responses to “Irish Host BYU on Senior Day”

    1. Len Kozlosky says:

      Even though I know ND will be in a tight game as usual, I wonder what ND ‘s record is after any bye’s. My memory is clouded with close games against inferior opponents for the last 20 years so another close win or loss will feel normal. Even on senior day in South Bend where home field doesn’t seem to matter anymore. From what I remember a bye that usually helps other teams not only to get healthy and supposedly help the coaches prepare for their opponent doesn’t seem to work for ND. I especially mean coaching. I don’t remember a Davie, Wilingham, Weis or BK team coming out after a bye and dominating. After all they did lose 9 straight bowl games. Poor coaching as always

    2. BYU will want this game more than ND (sad but true).. I agree with Mike Frank we will find
      ways to lose this game.. Kelly in over his head with no Manti Teo to rescue him. Hill has a field
      day like he did against Texas…

      We used up all of our miracles last year against Pitt, Purdue, and BYU.. Not enough heart from the
      Irish to win this game.. I have to admit that I’ve lost faith in the coaching staff to build a dominate
      team.. Look for another game plan that is poorly prepared. I’m tired of Kelly making excuses
      about why we don’t execute. Why does Northern Illinois execute every week.. And Fresno State.
      I guarantee you they do not have four and five star recruits!!

      BYU 35
      ND 20

      • Kevin Welsh says:

        You may have lost faith in the coaching staff, but we now see that didn’t mean anything. You had ND losing by 13 and the result was a 10 point win. Nice down in the mouth call.

    3. Once again the Irish will play down to the level of their opponent.

      Will the Irish defensive backs effectively tackle BYU players? Why should the start now? They haven’t had serious tackling skills all year.

      Can the Irish defense stifle the Cougars’ rushing attack? – No, especially the Quarterback scrambles.

      Will the Notre Dame offense be able to convert 3rd-and-short? – No. Either Turnover Tommy will turn over the ball or Kelly will call his usual stupid play that has 0.00954% probability of working and will be fully anticipated by the BYU defense.

      Will this be the last time football is played on grass in Notre Dame Stadium? Who cares?

      What impact will bad calls have on the game? The level of whining will increase exponentially.

      Will Cam McDaniel do something impossibly awesome? He will score a touchdown for BYU.

      A 7-5 season looms for the Irish.

    4. Sad Warrior says:

      Len, you are an ignorant fool. You insult the quality of the opponents in those bowl games.

      • We have won two of our last 13 bowls. Thats bad.

        • 2012 BCS Title Game 1/7/13 lost to Alabama 14-42
          2011 Champs Sports 12/29/11 lost to Florida St 14-18
          2010 Sun 12/31/10 beat Miami-Florida 33-17
          2008 Hawaii 12/24/08 beat Hawaii 49-21
          2006 Sugar 1/3/07 lost to LSU 14-41
          2005 Fiesta 1/2/06 lost to Ohio State 20-34
          2004 Insight 12/28/04 lost to Oregon St 21-38
          2002 Gator 1/1/03 lost to North Carolina St 6-28
          2000 Fiesta 1/1/01 lost to Oregon St 9-41
          1998 Gator 1/1/99 lost to Georgia Tech 28-35
          1997 Independence 12/28/97 lost to LSU 9-27
          1995 Orange 1/1/96 lost to Florida St 26-31
          1994 Fiesta 1/2/95 lost to Colorado 24-41

    5. Hill will undoubtedly have a big game because ND defense has yet to show they can stop a running QB and seem to make even average QB’s (which Hill isn’t) look like Heisman Trophy candidates. If they can slow him down, Kelly decides to pound the football (highly unlikely) and specials teams don’t self destruct, the Irish have a shot. Otherwise, it could be a long, cold, and possibly snowy senior day.

    6. Jerry Beckett says:

      “…but the following year lost 17-20…”

      I believe that people who give the score of a game with the lower score mentioned first have no place in civilized society.

    7. irishhawk50 says:

      I hope the team has recovered from the Pitt loss better than us fans. That loss just seemed to take the heart out of us. We could believe up until then that a BCS year was possible even if a long shot. The Pitt loss seemed to say this is a run of the mill Irish season like so many others that we have lived through over the past couple decades. The player developement just seems to be lacking and although we long suffering Irish fans are true believers we can’t help but keep asking ourselves how do teams full of 2 and 3 star recruits keep out playing us and how do coaches paid half of our coaches keep outcoaching us?

    8. ArnoldTPants says:

      Don’t sell yourself short, Jamaal, you’re a tremendous slouch.

    9. ND will win this game soundly. They will play at the level they are capable of. 28-17
      If ND can win out, I personally will consider this season a sucess. From going all the way back to loosing are true Aqaba QB, the countless injuries, and some real bogus calls. A 10-3 record isn’t too shabby given all this team has been through this year, and paints a bright picture for next year.

    10. You guys are giving BYU and Bronco Mendenhall too much credit. BYU and Bronco are choke artists. I’ve followed the program since the Ty Detmer days and I don’t expect BYU to win any game against a decent team such as Notre Dame until Bronco Mendenhall is no longer our coach.

    11. Benjamin Turin says:

      “Senior quarterback Tommy Rees has been the leader of the offense.”

    12. My instincts tell me the Irish win by 10 or more. Diaco abandons bend don’t break and plays a more aggressive defense. New players on ND defense emerge. Big game for Folston.

    13. Another Saturday, another day of praying that ND will display the talent that they possess on the field of play. Alas, they won’t. Their coaching staff has no clue how to get these kids, talented as they are, thinking in the same manner as the kids at Bama. The coaching staff refuses to play to the strengths of the offense which is running the ball (New Mexico gained 213 yards against Pitt when they played. We ran it a total of six times in the entire second half two weeks ago.). And Rees’ Pieces will once again show why he is more suited to QB’ing a Pop Warner team than starting on a major Div-1 team by waiting until the most inopportune time to hand the ball over to BYU.

      I can recall in May saying that I was already hoping for this season to be over. Rees’ greatest moment at ND will be the moment he has completed his final game at ND. And I don’t care about the refrain of “he’s given his all for this team.” His “all” has resulted in losing games that should be counted as victories. His “all” has resulted in competitions for top recruits between other schools going against us. His “all” has done nothing but damage and set back ND’s slow climb from where it fell way back in 92, you know that last time we were ranked number 1 AFTER beating the number 1 team. But Rees isn’t the only culprit. Brian Kelly has done just as much damage with his stupid dedication to doing nothing but throw the damned ball. Let me restate: SIX TIMES RUNNING IN THE SECOND HALF AGAINST PITT!!! What. The. Hell!!! I am sick and damned tired of this crap. If the AD at ND can’t find a coach that at the very least recognizes what ND does well and sticks with it, then the AD needs to be fired too.

      This is a team that has talent all over the place, but it has not lived up to that talent since Holtz left. Is this really what we ND fans have to look forward too for the rest of our lives? Teams with leadership deficiencies that leave these kids doubting their abilities and losing to teams that should be a warmup for them? I feel sorry for these kids, I really do. I know they want to win, but they have been led to believe that it is hopeless due to an inept QB and a head coach that should have stayed his ass in Cincy. Hell, we would have been better off boarding up our football program after Holtz left. I mean given the past twenty freaking years how would it have been any different?

      God bless Notre Dame and Go Irish!!

      • If a guy can’t do something, don’t ask him to do it 51 times. It’s not Rees’ fault. If Kelly had played to his strengths of presnap reads and game management, and made this the run-first team the talent screamed it should be, we’d be entering this game 10-0. And Rees would be the same hard-working, team-first guy with limited arms and legs he is now.

    14. I don’t blame Tommy Rees for ND’s on field struggles this year as there are many factors which led to their disappointing ledger. Kelly is either too arrogant or too dense to realize Tommy’s limitations and game plan around them. Instead he thinks Tommy is Andre Ware or Johnny Manziel and puts the game in his hands when TR does not have the skill set to takeover a game. And this vaunted spread offense goes 3 and out around 66-75% of the time.

      I hope ND beats BYU, but similar to the Vannie/Stachler game prediction and echoing the comments of others I believe it will go down to the wire. I just hope the home field counts for something today. If a looming bid to the Pinstripe bowl doesn’t light a fire under these guys then I don’t know what can.

    15. My instincts were correct. ND by 10. Jarron Jones emerges with big plays………….and as expected Farley misses another big tackle. Go Irish!