This Saturday the BYU Cougars will travel to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the eighth time in school history. BYU has not fared well against the storied Irish program and looks to improve on their 2-5 record. This will be the Cougar's sixth trip to South Bend with their only road win being in 1994. The first game between the teams took place in 1992 and the last time was in 2012. After this year the two teams are scheduled to meet twice more in South Bend and twice in Provo.
South Bend, IN 1994 (1-2)
BYU went into Notre Dame a 15 point underdog and most had written off this game as another Notre Dame win against the Cougars. The BYU players had a different idea as they went out to win. The Cougars defense did not change the minds of any critics the first time Notre Dame had the ball. In six plays the offense drove down the field and capped off the drive with a 41 yard touchdown run to put the Cougars down 7-0. After a BYU field goal the Cougars took their first lead when John Walsh hit Jamal Willis for the Cougars first touchdown of the game. With a 10-7 lead, the Cougars looked poised to take the lead into halftime before the Fighting Irish scored a touchdown of their own, just before the half. With a 14-10 lead going into the third, the Cougar defense stepped up and shut out Notre Dame in the second half. After another Cougar field goal, BYU would take back the lead when Willis dove over the pile for his second touchdown of the game and with the 2-point conversion the final score sat at 21-14. Notre Dame had their chances but they misfired on three field goal attempts and allowed the Cougars defense to dictate the pace of the game. BYU quarterback John Walsh finished the game 17-30 for 216 yards and a touchdown.
Provo, UT 2004 (2-3)
In the Cougars home opener of 2004 the Fighting Irish made only their second trip to Provo. BYU was fighting to keep Coach Gary Crowton's unbeaten home opening streak alive while Notre Dame was looking to play spoiler. BYU scored on their opening drive as Todd Watkins caught a 50 yard pass from John Beck to set up a three-yard touchdown run by Fahu Tahi. Matt Payne followed the touchdown with 44 and 53-yard field goals to put the Cougars up 13-0. Beck would leave in the second quarter with an injury and was replaced with Matt Berry who finished the game. The Cougar defense looked to shut out the Notre Dame offense in the first half but, in part due to penalties, the Fighting Irish made it to the Cougar three yard line before having to settle for a field goal to end the half. After a 42-yard pass from Berry to Austin Collie put the Cougars up 20-3, the Cougars looked poised to put the game away but after a 54 yard touchdown pass for Notre Dame, the score was 20-10. Notre Dame was able to pull within three after a Berry pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. After punting with just over two minutes remaining, the Cougars were able to run out the clock. Berry finished the game 15-23 for 167 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Watkins finished with five catches for 115 yards.
South Bend, IN 2012 (2-5)
BYU visited South Bend for the most recent game in the series last year when they faced a Notre Dame team that was ranked 5th in the country. Notre Dame started the game with a drive that ended in a 40-yard missed field goal. BYU took over and started to drive before a tipped pass ended up in the hands of Manti Te'o for the interception. With 1:30 left in the first quarter, the Fighting Irish ended a 64-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to go up 7-0. The Notre Dame defense had gone 17 quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown but on the next BYU drive, Riley Nelson found Cody Hoffman in the back of the endzone for the tying score. After Ziggy Ansah tipped a pass that was then intercepted by Kyle Van Noy, the Cougar offense took the lead on a two-yard pass from Nelson to Kaneakua Friel with just over six minutes left in the half. Notre Dame and BYU each missed a field goal before the half leaving the score 14-7 going into the break. In the Third quarter the defense held inside the red zone to force a Notre Dame field goal that close the game to 14-10. Notre Dame would score their winning touchdown with 12:52 left in the game on a two-yard touchdown run, putting the Irish up 17-14. BYU fans will remember this game as a game of missed chances. A few throws that were off the mark cost the Cougar points and put them in a position to lose the game. Riley Nelson ended the game 23-36 for 177 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Jamaal Williams ended with 14 rushes for 64 yards, and seven catches for 42 yards.
The Cougars look to be in a good position to provide Notre Dame a competitive and exciting game. The Cougars have started off as one-point underdogs, going into a hostile environment. Since most of the players traveled to South Bend last year, the team should have a better feel for the atmosphere and should have more focus. With some question marks still plaguing the team, the Cougars should be working out the kinks before taking on their next big-named opponent.
It is hard to pull many positives from a game that was more along the lines of a scrimmage, but it is hard to argue against the 49 points scored in the first half. The running game was magnificent with a couple of 60+ yard rushing touchdowns and a number of players receiving carries. With an over-matched defensive line, the offense was able to make holes for the running backs on any down, including fourth.
The second and third stringers were able to take some valuable snaps in preparation for any role they must step into. It was against lesser competition but the live snaps cannot be overstated or dismissed. Even with the back-ups playing significant time, the Cougars still only allowed 13 points.
With limited time on the Field, Taysom Hill still managed to throw three interceptions against a sub-par defense. Many will chalk this up to the difficulty of focusing on a much inferior team, but this needs to be corrected for Hill to take his place among the elite BYU quarterbacks.
Penalties continued to plague the Cougars as they committed eight penalties for 67 yards, though many of these came while the back-ups were playing. This is still an issue with focus and should never have happened against Idaho State.
The key match-up in the game will be the Notre Dame offensive line going up against the BYU front seven. The offensive line is very tough in pass protection but at times has had a hard time making holes for their running backs. If the Cougar linebackers can slip through the gaps and spend time in the backfield, tackles for loss will be available for the defense. The Cougars front line will need to force the offensive line to double team them so the linebackers will have time to slip in and cause some havoc.
The Keys to Watch
When Notre Dame has the ball: Watch for the Fighting Irish to test the Cougars run defense early. They will attempt to replicate the success that the Wisconsin running game had against the Cougars, and then add the pass. Since the receivers are the best weapon that the Fighting Irish have on the field, they will test the Cougars cornerbacks regardless of the success in the run game. Look for the Cougar defense to shore up against the run and force Tommy Rees to throw the ball. He has been consistent but not great as he is completing less than 60% of his passes and has thrown 10 interceptions. If the Cougars can make the offense one-dimensional, the linebackers can hang back a bit and disrupt the passing lanes.
When BYU has the ball: Look for the Cougars to continue with a balanced attack. The Cougars will try to throw different looks from the run game in order to keep the defense off-balance, leading to chunks of yards being picked up. The Cougars should be able to put up some numbers on a struggling defense, but will need to be prepared to mix it up. Look for the Notre Dame defense to play run defense first and make Hill beat them through the air. Even with the struggles, the defense has talent and all it takes is one game for them to step up and build some momentum.
Not only do the Fighting Irish take their football team serious, they have taken Intramural football to another level. For the winners of the schools intramural semi-finals games, they will have the opportunity to run through the tunnel and play the Championship game in Notre Dame Stadium. For the full release, click here.
Even with four games with the Irish still under contract, the next game has not been scheduled at this time.
The Broadcasting Details
Time: 1:30 pm MDT
Where: Notre Dame Stadium-South Bend, IN
Radio (BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143
Listen Live via Internet (KSL): Click Here