BYU football: Reeling Cougars' next test, Notre Dame, is their most difficult yet
Provo • Having lost their golden opportunity to gain some precious momentum heading into their most difficult game of the season, the BYU Cougars will learn a lot about themselves this week, coach Bronco Mendenhall said after Saturday's 42-24 loss to Oregon State.
After losing to undefeated Oregon State, which moved up to No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday, the Cougars (4-3) face an even bigger challenge against another undefeated team Saturday. BYU travels to South Bend, Ind., to take on No. 5 Notre Dame (1:30 p.m. MDT, Ch. 5), which improved to 6-0 for the first time since 2002 with a controversial 20-13 overtime win over Stanford.
"It is going to be hard, but we are looking forward to it," Mendenhall said of the Cougars' first trip to Notre Dame since his first season, 2005, a 49-23 loss. "It will be a great test for all of us. ... No one will feel sorry for us."
The Cougars and Mendenhall seemed to take the loss to the Beavers harder than most losses, and several said after the fourth-quarter collapse that they believed going in that they were the better team and were going to win, regardless of whether OSU had starting quarterback Sean Mannion or not. Fill-in Cody Vaz, given lots of time to throw, shredded the Cougars for 332 yards and three touchdowns.
"Very disappointing, how it turned out, to say the least," said BYU cornerback Preston Hadley.
So the Cougars turn their eyes toward a team that has operated virtually the same way as them this season, but with better results. Notre Dame is also outstanding on defense, but inconsistent on offense, mostly due to issues at quarterback.
"They are another quality opponent, similar to this one," BYU quarterback Riley Nelson said. "It is going to be another tooth-and-nail dogfight, on the road, and they are a great team. We respect them. But we are going to prepare harder, and do everything we can to give ourselves a chance to win."
The Irish are ranked No. 11 in the country in total defense while BYU remained at No. 5 despite giving up 450 yards to OSU. It goes without saying that Notre Dame has faced much tougher competition, with wins over No. 22 Michigan and No. 23 Stanford, among others.
"The [Cougars] will have to rally, and focus hard on making improvements," Mendenhall said. "Going into a difficult setting, against another good team. That's part of the reason we play and coach, though, is to respond."
BYU's Nelson said he didn't notice any of the back pain that caused him to miss the wins over Hawaii and Utah State.
Notre Dame, however, has some minor concern over its QB situation because starter Everett Golson suffered a possible concussion after taking a helmet-to-helmet shot in the fourth quarter. Coach Brian Kelley said in a teleconference Sunday that Golson remained "symptomatic" of a concussion, but he doesn't expect the sophomore to miss much preparation time for BYU, let alone Saturday's game.
Tommy Rees took over for Golson and led the Irish to the win that bumped them to their highest ranking since 2006. BYU's last game against a top-five team was in 2010, a 31-3 loss at No. 4 TCU.
"You have to [bounce back]," BYU linebacker Spencer Hadley said. "You don't have a choice, you know? This game is in the books. It is over with. We can learn from it, see the things that we did well, see the things that we didn't do well, make adjustments, hit practice, hit it hard and go to South Bend and try to do the best we can Â wreak some havoc out there."
Notre Dame defense's national rankings
Category Rank Actual*
Total 11 287
Rushing 25 113.5
Passing 14 173.5
Pass efficiency 5 94.26
Scoring 2 8.67
*First three categories are in yards. Scoring is the average pointsallowed per game.
BYU at No. 5 Notre Dame
P Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 5