Mayer Carries Irish Past BYU

The Michael Mayer show in Las Vegas on Saturday evening was highlighted by two touchdown receptions in a dominant performance to lead Notre Dame to a 28-20 victory over BYU. The All-American tight end continually bailed out the offense with clutch third down catches to help the Fighting Irish build a 25-6 lead. The Cougars fought back gamely and took advantage of Notre Dame’s second half defensive lapses to close the gap to 25-20 early in the fourth quarter. The Irish later added a field goal and stuffed BYU on a key fourth down play before running out the clock. The win moved the team over .500 to 3-2 on the season after an 0-2 start.

Notre Dame started the game on defense but that series lasted only one play. Cougar quarterback Jaren Hall hoisted a wounded duck down the sideline that Tariq Bracy intercepted at the BYU 44. Drew Pyne moved the Irish into scoring territry on the ensuing possession but the drive fizzled out inside the ten yard line. That would become a recurring theme for the rest of the night. Notre Dame had to settle for a Blake Grupe field goal to open the scoring at 3-0.

The Cougars answered later in the period after a dazzling 42-yard punt return by Hobbs Nyberg. They covered 25 yards to the Irish one-yard line where Coach Kalani Sitake elected to go for a touchdown on fourth and goal. Hall hit Kody Epps on a well conceived pass play to take a 6-3 lead after a missed extra point.

Mayer took over on the next series for Notre Dame. He caught four passes covering 56 of the 75 yards on the drive. The final catch was good for 24 yards and a 10-6 Irish advantage. The defense forced a punt and Pyne went to work again. He hit Lorenzo Styles for 26 yards and Mayer again on a third down pass to bring Notre Dame into the red zone. The drive stalled inside the BYU five yard line when the Irish could not make two yards in two running plays. BYU took over at its four.

The defense swarmed Hall when he dropped back on the very next play. He fumbled in the end zone but the Cougars recovered to prevent an Irish touchdown but they did record a safety for a 12-6 lead. BYU then had to kick it to Notre Dame. Pyne led a 79-yard scoring march featuring hard running by the Irish backs. The final 30-yards came on a touchdown strike to Jayden Thomas, who outmaneuvered and outfought the Cougar defender for the ball. Leading 18-6 late in the half, Coach Marcus Freeman called for a two-point conversion try. It failed, and that decision would become a factor later in the contest.

The Irish appeared to put the game out of reach when they took the second half kickoff and drove 75 yards for a touchdown. The 11-play drive took seven minutes off the clock and gave Notre Dame a 25-6 lead. Mayer’s 19-yard reception closed the deal as the Irish faithful celebrated.

As it turned out, BYU was just getting started. Hall struck back on the next possession by hitting Epps on a 53-yard strike to close the gap to 25-13. Epps beat freshman Jaden Mickey badly deep down the middle while safety Houston Griffith was nowhere to be found. Notre Dame responded with a three and out and punted the ball back to the Cougars,

A sack by Prince Kollie pinned BYU deep in its own territory. With the Cougars facing a third down and 18 at their own five, the game turned into a nail-biter when Lopini Katoa ripped off a 20-yard run through a series of half-hearted attempts to tackle him by the Irish. Moments later, Chris Brooks finished the drive with a 28-yard burst to paydirt. Notre Dame’s lead had shrunk to 25-20 with 14 minutes left in the game.

Pyne led the Irish back on what could have been the clinching drive. Two passes to Thomas covered 44 yards and brought Notre Dame into scoring territory. Pyne’s next pass was tipped, however, and picked off by BYU at their own 17.

The Irish defense needed a stop. The Cougars answered the prayer with a dropped third down pass and punted the ball away. Once again, Pyne led a march that should have iced the game. Audric Estime provided the horsepower with a 46-yard run to the BYU seven yard line. As had been the case all night, the Irish failed to punch it in on the ground from there. Grupe came on to make a short field goal for a 28-20 margin.

Thanks to Freeman’s first half decision not to kick an extra point, the Cougars had a shot to tie it with six minutes remaining. They drove across midfield with a series of runs and a 27-yard pass from Hall to Epps. Facing a fourth down and one at the Notre Dame 27, the Irish defense turned the tables on BYU by stuffing Latoa for no gain. The offense came on to run out the clock behind Estime and Logan Diggs.

Notre Dame dominated the statistics including yardage and time of possession but they left at least 22 points on the field by my count. The red zone offense and goal line plays in particular were uniformly ineffective. Deep handoffs to anyone but Estime and short passes from the pocket into a crowd don’t cut it. Tom Rees and the entire offensive staff have to do a better job in this area.

Let’s look at the answers to our pregame questions:

  • Can Pyne and the Irish avoid negative plays and long third downs? No penalties or sacks were a positive but the still needed Mayer’s heroics on many third downs. He delivered.
  • Which offense will produce the most productive ground game? Both teams were very good although the Irish have a chronic short yardage problem. The defense could not stop a simple off tackle play to the right side that Brooks ran all night.
  • Can Isaiah Foskey and the Irish pass rushers take Hall out of his rhythm? Not with any consistency. Foskey was often double-teamed and the line missed Howard Cross who sat out with an ankle sprain.
  • Will the uber-talented Tobias Merriweather make a contribution this week? No, but Jayden Thomas had a breakout performance.
  • Can the Irish special teams deliver a game-changing play? Unfortunately they gave up the long punt return to Nyberg to set up BYU’s first score.
  • Will Notre Dame’s pass protectors be able to handle BYU’s blitzers? The line did a great job in pass protection all night. Good thing because Pyne took forever to find his receivers.
  • Can either team force a turnover to alter the course of the game? Each team’s turnover proved to be costly but they evened out the damage.
  • Will I have enough money left to make it home from Las Vegas? Apparently so, despite overpriced food and watery drinks. We won’t talk about anything else.

The experience at Allegiant Stadium was great. Both teams were well represented and loud. Everyone behaved well as you would expect from these schools. The Irish remain a work in progress but have the rest of this month to figure out how to score from close range. The defensive secondary still breaks down at inopportune moments while the linebackers often disappear. These issues are fixable, however, and the Irish were fortunate to survive BYU without greater damage.

38 thoughts on “Mayer Carries Irish Past BYU

  1. Mayer for Heisman! He is the dominant player in college football this year. After failing Rocket, Manti, Bettis, and Zorich, perhaps the Irish PR machine could step things up. Get NBC with the program!

    • IndyIrish – please tale a look at the stats of OSU’s QB, CJ Stroud, and let me know if any logical ND school representative would promote Mayer for Heisman. Yesterday’s stat line alone for Stroud bests Mayer’s YTD stats performance. I love Mayer and can’t wait to see his draft stock climb, but Heisman, c’mon.

      On a separate note, great team win and nice to see the running game paying dividends. Go Irish!

      • Mackey Award finalist for sure, just based on 5 games. Keep it up, and the winner…….unless, of course there might be some SEC favoritism lurking some where……nah, can’t be, right?……Right….?

    • As you alluded to the failed extra 2 point try came to early in the contest as a one point kick would have given the Irish a 9 point lead at the end of the game and forced BYU to score twice. As you also pointed out the lack of consistency by the defense is sad. No way having BYU pinned back inside the 5 with 3rd and 17 should a running play be allowed to run up the gut of the defense for 20 yards. Pyne has been better than advertised, but overall this team is still not a top 25 team.

      • If you don’t think this Irish team is one of the top 25 in college football, you aren’t paying attention to the other teams in college football. We just dominated two very good teams start to finish, both away from home. I challenge you to find a team with two better wins their last two games. If Buchner doesn’t overthrow Lenzy at the end of the first half against Marshall, ND is likely ranked 6th right now. I know that’s an if, but ND has top ten talent and is playing at that level now after one bad game. Many others haven’t played anyone yet. Thier losses are coming. Side note, 21 is the lowest by far Ohio state will score this year. Go Irish!

        • As of Sun we’re not a top 25 team. The polls are not forgetting the loss to Marshall. At the end of the season I think we can hope to be a top 25 team We are not a top 10 team. Next week should be cake. Based on last night’s collapse against the Beavers, Stanford is exploring new levels of “they stink”.
          JV Thanks for the writeup, it was a fun game to watch.

  2. In all fairness, the game shouldn’t have been so close. If Mayer is being single covered by a guy over whom he has 6 inches and 70 pounds, keep going to him, but with a decent run game and more than 200 more yards in offense, you should be able to win by more that 8 points. Clearly, the failed 4th down conversion didn’t help, but you get the feeling Pyne isn’t let loose to throw much on 1st and 2nd down, and that he doesn’t distribute the ball well enough or make the right reads. On the interception he threw to a double covered Mayer who wasn’t even close to open when he had a wide open receiver who could have caught a 3 yard pass and turned it up field for at least 4-5 more yards after the catch. The point being, if you want to win big football games, you have to get more diverse and take advantage of what the defense gives you. I also think Pyne should be able to get it to more receivers deeper down the field in rhythm, he had a pass that was broken up on third down after he scrambled because it was thrown near a defender who hit the wideout, who was actually open early in the play and could have been thrown the ball for an easy completion if Pyne makes the right read. The reason I am stressing the QB is because he has a lot of potential, but the coaches seem to restrict him or not know how to coach him to get him to the next level, which we will need if we want to beat an Ohio State or Clemson.

    • ND doesn’t have the elite or capable receivers. They knew they were thin in this category-pre-season, and the receivers CAN’T GET OPEN! Styles may have speed, but can’t run a good pattern.

      You see Pyne checking down his progressions. He had all day in the pocket. Other than Mayer the receivers just can’t get the separation they need! It was nice to see Thomas step up. With athletic tight ends, passing from the 3 tight end set is making more sense as it opens the run-pass option.

      The defense lapse is puzzling. To let those home run pass plays in the last 2 games seems to be mental errors. (Unfortunately, USC has the elusive QB AND 2-3 great receivers).

      • They were open in a few cases and Pyne didn’t make the right read. The modern game from the shotgun and with multiple receivers, (especially when you’re running the ball well), makes it easier on the QB if he makes the right read. The coaching staff needs to work harder with him and allow him to throw on first and second down. I have felt like the routes, and this is going back for many years, take too long to form, in other words, you often see 4 receivers running routes with their backs turned to the QB which take 4-5 seconds to finish to where the QB can make a throw. The receivers might not be the best, but we’re talking college football, and very few secondaries are that good. Mixing it up a little could go a long way; don’t wait until we play Clemson and get behind to allow Pyne to let it fly, we’ll never beat anybody good unless the coaches have more confidence in the players and they take risks. ND hasn’t had a marquee win since FSU in 1993, you can’t win unless you have tough, confident players that compete and believe in one another, wereyalways showing up to big games trying to play it safe, and it’s been awful to watch, OSU being the latest example.

      • Irish in the South says:

        Jayden Thomas gives us another option in our passing game. He just came out of hiding and showed good skill and confidence. His TD catch was spectacular. I expect to see much more of him now.

      • Irish in the South says:

        I do see improvement each week in our young secondary. By the time we get to Clemson and USC, those guys have to be playing at a very high level. Pass rush will be a big part of it. Optimistically, against BYU, we had one interception and should have had another, and our pass rush was good.

  3. It seemed as though Chris Tyree was playing with half a head last night. You want to talk about opportunities missed; Rees called a screen pass to Tyree that was set up beautifully but Tyree dropped a pass that was right in his hands. Had that pass been caught, Tyree had a wide open field and blockers ahead of him. We also could have had a pick six with Clarence Lewis but he couldn’t hang on to it. I agree, the red zone offense missed a lot of chances but I don’t think all of the calls by Rees were necessarily bad (the 4th and 1 where we got stuffed was awful) but the pass to Mayer on the 2 point conversion was a good call…Pyne just has to keep working on getting the ball out of his hands sooner.

    • Irish in the South says:

      I agree. Tyree needs to get focused. He is a breakout threat and should be more productive. He seems to run into defenders instead of around them. He is not Estime.

  4. 1) It would be nice to see some leadership emerge when there’s an opportunity to put teams away. No size lead or game domination seems to be enough until the clock runs out. Thank goodness for the first-down gift late or this was a 50-50 game.
    2) Mayer was very good, and there were many chances to preserve or extend the lead, but the Mayer drop on 3rd down when driving to take a 32-6 lead seemed like an important turning point that went unnoticed.
    3) Can we please ditch the silly 2-point conversion card, at least for the first half? Put the point on the board.
    4) If we’re going to run the ball, is there any reason to hand it to anyone other than Estime? I’m tired of the east-west running (especially when it doesn’t seem like there is a speed advantage) and collapse-like-a-house-of-cards-upon-first-contact styles of Tyree and Diggs.

  5. Beat Stanford next week and Freeman goes over .500 and he won’t look back.

    They were good yesterday, but nothing special. OSU, Georgia, and Alabama are in a category by themselves, although Alabama had a serious tussle with A&M yesterday. UM is almost there but not quite, IMO ND is 2 years away.

    Given that he started out as a Head Coach @ ND, Freeman is learning fast and the future looks good.

  6. Good win and ND keeps steadily improving after being at ground zero after the Marshall loss. It seems they sold out against the pass but BYU’s run game still almost made this game too close to call. The ND defense will give up at least one 90yd drive per game. Hopefully they can clean up some things on defense.

  7. Wouldn’t Angeli be a better option near the goal line, because of his size and running ability, to create some diversity who’s getting the ball?

    • Intriguing thought, playing Angeli in the red zone. Like Tim Tebow and Chris Leak back at Florida in 2006?

  8. Glad for the win. The boys played hard. Coaching and play calling nearly cost the game though. Disappointed in Tyree. Love his speed but great backs have great balance and keep their feet. He seems to trip up from arm tackles or all by himself. Kyren Williams had great balance. Pyne played surprisingly well with good protection. Defense has brain farts probably combination of player and DC. Prince Kollie needs to be the starter. Liafau seems to always be chasing the play and out of position.

  9. If this was Game #2 this year, we’d find a way to lose it. But, at this time, we find a way to win it, despite 5-7 bad plays. I see improvement in most all aspects save short yardage (which has been a problem for a decade or more) which need to continue if we want any chance at 9+ wins.

  10. I think your being too hard on Pyne. .The offensive line gave him great protection and allowed him to find the best recover. 75% is a great stat.. Don’t like the lack of diversity on 4th and short. We can’t block the eight man front of the opposition. Time to spread he offense and take better play calls with diversity that lets you make the short yardage. Defense is terrible at times. The line backers seem to be lost at best and the secondary is awful. However, a win is a win the time should be on our side to stiffen up the defense. Great stops on 4th and one that saved the day.
    Great offensive yardage for second game in a row. I Ilike the way Pyne surveys the field to find the open receiver. Don’t know how he will stand up under intense pressure yet, but I think he should have been the starter from day one.

    • I’m sure it wasn’t clear on television, but those of us at the game saw wide open receivers in the middle of the field on numerous occasions. Pyne either couldn’t see them and held onto the ball or just threw it too late. Mayer bailed him out several times in these instances with great catches but there were easier plays to be made. It was frustrating for us to watch.

      I don’t believe I was “too hard”” on Pyne. He is who he is. That’s one reason why my praise of Mayer was the main point of the article. Without him we would certainly have lost.

      • Pyne could be a great quarterback, but he needs to make reads and decisions and let it fly. The receiver was open on the 3rd down and 9 from the ND 9 in the first quarter early in the route, but he held onto the ball and scrambled only to throw a hospital ball to the same receiver that the defensive back broke up. For whatever reason we haven’t seen a decent QB at ND since Brady Quinn. The offensive coordinators don’t seem to put the game into perspective for them and simplify the scheme, I feel like the QBs lack confidence and stagnate or get worse. I remember Kirk Herbstreet watching Ian Book and saying, “He needs to make a decision and if nobody’s open throw a 50/50 ball,” commenting on the fact that the ball continually never left his hand. He did the same thing when he got in for New Orleans. Unless we get a good QB, we’ll never beat a good team; even Alabama can’t pound teams anymore, the modern game depends on an efficient QB, yet with 13 years of spread offense, we still haven’t solved that riddle.

  11. Great win over a rank team in BYU! Happy to see the offense put up a lot of yardage 2 games in a row!! I felt the defense overall played well and got the necessary stops during crunch time. It just seems that every now and then that the DB’s mess up on their assignments. Therefore, leaving the middle of the field wide open.

    Anyway, like I have said before a ND win always makes my weekends so much more enjoyable! Go Irish beat the ” Trees”!!

  12. Unless he has assignment problems, Kollie should be getting on the field more often. Tyree is what he is at RB, Straight line fast, not much more than that. Irish are getting better, but the secondary play is really poor, is it scheme, miscommunication?
    Interesting point John on Pyne not seeing the easier throws to open guys. More film room time should help thst. Go Irish

  13. There are some bright spots but overall this game should have been a blowout – John V said it and the Iirsh should have had 3 more TD’s with better play calling close to the goal line. The defense has 8 to 9 in the box and it is run straight ahead. Have seen the same thing on QB sneak which goes nowhere. Pyne needs to not fix his eyes on one receiver – seems like his mind is made up before he looks at all the options. Get more speed in the game with wide outs and Tyree needs to be more of a factor – find ways to get him the ball ! Irish seen to take their foot off the pedal after they score – the 3rd and 17 with BYU pinned in was awful giving up that for a first down. Great for the win but there are many areas needing improvement. The standards and expectations need to be improved. Would like to see Coach Freeman take charge with play calling and be more invoved in decision making. At times looks unsure – learning on the job at ND – not good. Irish need to step up their game this weekend – be more physical on both siides of the bll.