At halftime, this game felt really good. The Cougars were up 14-7. They were able to move the ball well enough. The defense was doing its job against the Fighting Irish offense. All the momentum belonged to BYU. But then the second half came around, and the game slowly slipped away from BYU. Here's a look back at our keys to the game.
Win the turnover battle
The final scoresheet will show 2 interceptions to 1, in favor of the Irish, but for the sake of analysis, I'm not counting the last one against Riley. Everyone knows that with fewer than 12 seconds remaining and a lot of ground to cover, the ball is going as far as you can chuck it, regardless of where your receivers end up. Effectively then, the teams broke even on turnovers. Both came on passes tipped from receivers into the hands of the opposing defense. I was especially glad to see Kyle Van Noy get the tipped INT for BYU, since his tip against Oregon State ended up in the hands of a Beaver. Overall, Riley preferred the long sack today as opposed to the interception, which was preferable. He even threw the ball away at least once.
Maybe the tougher competition is wearing on these guys, but I felt that again, we have not seen enough defenders getting into the backfield. Ezekiel Ansah and Kyle Van Noy ought to be getting through to the quarterback much more often than they are. I know other teams are scheming for them, but then, shouldn't someone else be getting pressure? The defense did a great job against Tommy Rees, though he is Tommy Rees, so that was working in BYU's favor anyway. Rees ended the game 7/16 for 117 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. He only attempted 3 passes in the second half, after having one stretch in the first where he was 0-7. Where the defense really struggled was in the run game, as they gave up 270 rushing yards, including a 55 yard run by Notre Dame senior Theo Riddick.
Offensive and defensive balance
You know, I actually thought we had a pretty solid game from both sides. There's obviously room for improvement on both sides. The offense could have scored more points, and I'm specifically thinking of a play where Cody Hoffman was wide open downfield, and watched the ball bounce about ten yards behind him. Our total yards were only 243, but I didn't expect much more than that against this tough Notre Dame defense. Our defense obviously could not handle the Irish rushing attack. But we were in this game, and could have won it. Despite the lopsided score against Oregon State last week, I think we could have won every game on our schedule to this point. In this game, neither the offense nor defense excelled, but neither one was horrible either.
Don't give up
The Cougars definitely did better at this against Notre Dame than they did against Oregon State. The Irish could have run away with this game, but they didn't. Perhaps the only question for me on this is, why did we punt that last time with just a few minutes remaining? It reminded me of the Boise State game, and it sucks to have the clock run out on you. Better to take your chances on a long 4th down play than give it back to a team that's been carving you up with their run attack. Also, we only had one timeout late in the game again, which is something I'd love to have the coaching staff address.
What we know about Notre Dame (7-0)
Well, they certainly don't seem as big and bad as they did coming into the game, but they made enough plays to win, and they're still undefeated. They only have two big tests left standing between themselves and perhaps a national championship game appearance, and they are both top ten teams: Oklahoma and USC. I'd be somewhat reserved about picking the Irish to go undefeated, especially given their flat performance against BYU, but they definitely have the potential.
What we know about BYU (4-4)
The record really says it all. Coming into the season, we were looking at four tough tests for the Cougars: Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech. Oregon State replaced Georgia Tech as the fourth tough game, as the Beavers have far exceeded expectations, and the Yellowjackets have fallen well below them. In the revised top-4 games, the Cougars are now 0-4. Three of them were decided by a total of 7 points, which you could call a moral victory, or a dagger a little too close to the heart. Not too long ago, we were the team that would win almost every close game, but this year, we've been falling just short. Hopefully the Cougars can muster some magic and come home with a road win next week as they face ACC foe Georgia Tech.