After falling at home to top-ten foe Oregon State, the Cougars are taking the show on the road for a couple of weeks. First up, the #5 team in the nation: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
What we know about Notre Dame (6-0)
Considering that Notre Dame is perennially overrated, it took me a while to accept that they truly warrant the rating they have. But make no mistake, this is the best Notre Dame team we've seen in more than a decade.
The Fighting Irish are 6-0, including wins against 3 teams that were ranked in the top 10-20 at gametime: Michigan State, Michigan, and Stanford. They still have games against #9 Oklahoma and #10 USC remaining. The Oklahoma game comes next week after the BYU game. What an incredible schedule.
Notre Dame sports the #2 scoring defense in the nation--a defense that is led by former BYU recruiting target Manti Te'o. Every time I see that kid play I shed a little tear for what could have been.
Their offense isn't spectacular, but it is good, especially considering who they've played so far. They average 27 points and 387 offensive yards (206 passing, 181 rushing) per game.
What we know about BYU (4-3)
Bronco will be sticking with Riley Nelson until he can no longer walk. This is absolutely, incontrovertibly true. So get used to it. Brett wrote a great piece on Riley's Turnovers™ earlier this week. Basically, in Riley's starts, you are guaranteed a fumble and at least one interception, according to his averages. So there's that.
Last week's game against Oregon State showed that the offense can work well under Riley. The Cougars scored 24 points, and were tied with the Beavers through 3 quarters. The game also showed that the defense is not as impermeable as we thought.
Keys to the game
Win the turnover battle. Last week the Cougars gave up three interceptions, including a pick-6, but did not get a single turnover in their favor. Getting turnovers (also read, more offensive possessions) will be necessary for a BYU victory, because they will not score very often on this tough Notre Dame defense.
Bronco D. The defense was exposed last week against the Beavers, especially in the secondary. They gave up 35 points (remember the pick-6) and 450 total yards. A huge factor in the Beaver dominance was their offensive line winning the battle against BYU's defense. Hopefully the defense will get its swagger back this week. I'd love to see Ziggy and Kyle Van Noy get back into the backfield where they belong.
Offensive and defensive balance. To win a game against a top team, you have to have a good game on both sides of the ball. The defense has had several really good games. The offense has had a couple. They've only done it together against very weak opponents. Both sides need to feed off of each other and perform at Mendenhall's "high level." If we only see one or the other, we lose this game.
Don't give up. Notre Dame will score on our defense. Our offense will struggle. For three quarters against the Beavers, the Cougars kept up and responded each time Oregon State took the lead. In the end though, the team got sloppy, lazy, or tired. Maybe some gave up. It's hard to differentiate the items on that short list. BYU will face adversity this Saturday. How they respond will determine if the Cougars have a chance to win this game in the end.
There's a chance the Cougars win this game. It's slim, but it's there. Unfortunately, so many things have to go exactly right, and we're so far from playing at a top ten level, I just don't see us pulling it off this week. I'm picking Notre Dame to continue their perfect season as they beat the Cougars 28-10.