South Bend, Ind. • It became apparent on Notre Dame's opening possession Saturday that this wasn't the BYU secondary the Irish had prepared two weeks to play against.
Starting boundary corner Mike Hague was on the sidelines with a groin injury. Starting field corner Robertson Daniel wasn't out there, either. He was so sick before the game that coach Bronco Mendenhall seriously doubted Daniel would be able to play.
"Rob was very, very ill," Mendenhall said. "All kinds of IVs were pumped into him. â¦ He received not only medical care, but ecclesiastical care before the game."
Daniel's entrance into the game was a blessing to the Cougars later in the quarter, but by then the Irish had a 14-7 lead they eventually turned into a 23-13 decision in front of 80,795 fans at Notre Dame Stadium.
On ND's first possession, starting safety Daniel Sorensen lined up at one corner, freshman Dallin Leavitt at the other, with Skye PoVey and Craig Bills playing the safety positions. With that unfamiliar arrangement on the field for the Cougars, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open DaVaris Daniels to give the Irish a quick 7-0 lead.
"We were just playing man coverage, and he just ran a streak, and it was a good ball and a good catch," Bills said. "We could have been in better position. We could have read our keys better, but it was just a good play by them."
The touchdown came the play after BYU All-American linebacker Kyle Van Noy missed a tackle in the backfield on Tarean Folston on third-and-1 that would have got the defense off the field. Van Noy wasn't a factor in the game, missing several other tackles and recording just two overall.
"I think it wasn't necessarily what Kyle wasn't doing, it was what Notre Dame was doing, running really hard, running really physical," Mendenhall said. "We were playing maybe the next caliber up of a football team."
The Cougars were so depleted in the secondary that freshman Michael Davis, who started fall camp as a wide receiver before moving to the defense, played one of the corner spots in relief of Leavitt, and opposite Daniel when he recovered enough to play.
"We did the best [secondary] adjustments we could through the first two or three series, and then finally found one that worked," Mendenhall said. "But Craig [Bills] and Daniel [Sorensen] were a consistent part of that."
A closer look
BYU's defensive leaders against Notre Dame:
Uani Unga • 19 tackles (five solo, 14 assisted)
Craig Bills • 15 tackles (four solo, 11 assisted), one interception