This game’s been circled on BYU’s schedule for a long time, one last chance to prove the Cougars are legitimate contenders. The Cougars travel to South Bend for a rematch from last season, taking on Notre Dame and chasing a marquee win to cap off a successful 2013. Notre Dame is a far different team than last year’s national championship squad, but the Irish are still formidable, especially at home. Before last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, Notre Dame was on a four game winning streak and had lost only to Michigan and Oklahoma. Will Taysom Hill and the Cougars be able to finish what they started last season before falling to the Irish 17-14? Or will Notre Dame take care of business at home? Here’s a position-by-position look at this week’s matchup and which team will have the edge heading into Saturday’s game:
Taysom Hill had a rough game last week and looked like he regressed a bit after throwing three interceptions against a low level team in Idaho State. Hill also threw for his lowest yardage total, 153 yards, since week four against Middle Tennessee. Still, Hill has grown into his own as the season has gone on and is capable of turning in a big performance against Notre Dame with his dual threat ability. After a gritty showing of 19 of 41 completed passes for 207 yards, two touchowns and an interception against Wisconsin on the road, Hill has shown he can compete against marquee teams away from Provo and he should be more than capable of leading the Cougars against the Irish.
Senior Tommy Rees has never been fully embraced at Notre Dame and has lost and regained his job several times in his tenure with the Irish. However, he’s the man this weekend against BYU and has a chance to solidify a positive legacy with a good outing against the Cougars. Rees has struggled the last two weeks against Navy and Pittsburgh, tossing four touchdowns and four interceptions, but was great the two previous games, throwing seven touchdowns and zero interceptions against USC and Air Force. Overall, Rees has 2,504 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season.
Jamaal Williams rolled last week and looked like he did at the beginning of the season: a tremendous compliment for Hill and a bruising back that excels rushing between the tackles. He averaged over 10 yards per carry against Idaho State, gashing the opposing team for 131 yards and three touchdowns. Hill had 62 rushing yards of his own and Adam Hine announced himself as an option to spell Williams with 141 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. The Cougars will have their work cut out for them against a stout Notre Dame defensive line and will need Williams to have a good game to win this one.
Notre Dame’s rushing attack is split between the duo of George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel. Atkinson led the Irish last week against Pitt with 57 yards on six carries, while McDaniel had only 22 yards on nine carries of his own. Atkinson has 512 yards rushing this season with three touchdowns, while McDaniel has 518 yards rushing and three touchdowns. However, neither averages more than 51 yards rushing per game and the Irish will rely on Rees as the top option to beat BYU with the running game as a complimentary option.
BYU’s wide receivers turned in an underwhelming performance against lowly Idaho State, catching only 12 passes for 157 yards. Skyler Ridley led the team with four receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown while Cody Hoffman disappointed with only two catches for 27 yards. Luckily for the Cougars, Hoffman showed he can perform under the bright lights after he caught seven passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns against Wisconsin. BYU will need a similar performance from him this weekend along with a solid showing from Ridley, Mathews or Apo to beat the Irish.
Notre Dame’s go-to receiver is unquestionably senior TJ Jones. Jones has 54 receptions this season for 891 yards and eight touchdowns. In the last three weeks, Jones has scored a touchdown each game and is averaging 121 yards receiving per game. DaVaris Daniels and tight end Troy Niklas are solid options as well and have combined for 10 touchdowns and 924 yards this season. The consistency of a few options for Rees gives the Irish the edge in this category.
Edge: Notre Dame
BYU’s offensive front held up well against Idaho State and only gave up a sack after taking a commanding 56-10 lead in the third quarter after Hill had been pulled. However, Idaho State is no Notre Dame, and after giving up four sacks against Wisconsin, the Cougars could struggle against a talented Irish front seven. So far this season, BYU has surrendered an ugly 29 sacks.
Notre Dame’s offensive line has been solid all season, surrendering only seven sacks all year. Rees was sacked only once in the loss to Pittsburgh and has only been sacked twice total in the last three weeks. The last time Rees was sacked more than once in a game this season was a month agao against USC when he was brought down twice.
Edge: Notre Dame
The Cougars’ front seven only brought down Wisconsin’s quarterback once, a harbinger for potential struggles against a big, physical line like Notre Dame’s. BYU racked up five sacks against Idaho State and will need to at least knock Rees down a few times, even if it doesn’t equate to a sack, to keep the senior uncomfortable. This will be a big game for Kyle Van Noy in both coverage of Niklas and rushing the passer.
Notre Dame’s defensive front is full of potential first round draft picks, creating the potential for a long day of harrassment for Hill. Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt have a combined 10.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks this season. Although their stats aren’t as high as expected, both are pass rushing nightmares and hold up well in the run game to seal the edge off during BYU running plays. Talented nose tackle Louis Nix III underwent season ending knee surgery on Thursday, but the Irish should still have a slight advantage.
Edge: Notre Dame
BYU performed as expected against Idaho State in the passing game and held the opposing team to only 128 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception. Overall, the Cougars have a solid pass defense and surrender only around 222 yards per game. The BYU defensive backs will have to capitalize on any and all errant throws by Rees to force turnovers and put the ball back into Hill’s hands.
Notre Dame was burned last week for 243 yards and two touchdowns through the air, but is generally stout against opposing passers. The Irish have held opposing passers to only 209 yards per game and have surrendered 16 passing touchdowns total, identical to BYU. If the BYU offensive line can keep Hill upright and he can escape for a few big run plays, he could have a nice day against the Irish.
Prediction: Notre Dame lost last week at Pittsburgh and has fallen off from the talented National Championship squad from last season, but can never be taken lightly at home. BYU scored at will against Idaho State, but Hill had another streaky game that will doom the Cougars against a team like the Irish. I can’t see the BYU offensive line holding up against the talent of Notre Dame’s defensive front and I think the Irish will force Hill into enough mistakes to take this one 28-17.