Blue Blood: Cougars, Irish tilt will be won in the trenches

COMMENTARY – It’s a battle of the independents – BYU and Notre Dame – and it will be will be won or lost on the line of scrimmage. More on that in a minute.

BYU obviously had no problem steamrolling Idaho State University at home last Saturday with the final score of 59-13. This game might have been better played week one or two, but regardless, the Cougars chalked up another win. It was Senior Day (the last home game for the seniors) and most ended up watching the majority of the game from the sidelines while cheering on their backups and younger teammates.

BYU’s offense racked up 578 yards of total offense and much of this total was in the first half. The Cougars rushed for 421 yards, but did not do so with the intent to run the score up. Jamaal Williams tied a career high with three touchdowns and had 13 carries for 131 yards. Snow Canyon grad Adam Hine hit a career high of 10 carries for 141 yards and a touchdown. Taysom Hill was 11 for 19 for 153 yards and two touchdowns before being pulled out of the game in the second quarter.

On defense, many younger players and backups got playing time and held their own while holding the Bengals to 13 points. Defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi returned an interception 12 yards for a touchdown.

BYU was able to accomplish more than just a win this week. The Cougars got some more experience for younger players as well as some well deserved rest while anticipating next week’s game. This is key for BYU, which is heading to South Bend to play Notre Dame, which had a bye last Saturday.

byu logo2ND_logoNotre Dame and BYU have both faced several Top 25-caliber programs and are now set to meet once again Saturday at 1:30 p.m. I know one thing about this week’s game: BYU coach Bronco Mendehall and his team have wanted this rematch since last year’s close loss. The Cougars went to South Bend and played well, only to fall a little short, losing 17-14 to the then No. 1-ranked Irish. BYU had the lead at halftime and if it wasn’t for a missed pass to Cody Hoffman, most believe that Notre Dame would have fallen at home to BYU. This did say a lot about the direction of BYU’s program and where they are headed, knowing that Notre Dame did go undefeated all the way until the National Championship game.

Mendenhall and his team have been looking forward to this rematch.

I don’t remember many games, but I remember that one,” Mendenhall said. “I am looking forward to going back.”

This, to me, speaks loud and clear of BYU’s intentions. Even though the Cougars are playing UND on the road for the second straight year, it is still a chance for redemption for last year’s heartbreaker. I like to see that BYU’s program has enough grit to know they can compete with any other team and has the silent confidence to keep humble about it.

The Fighting Irish are currently sitting at 7-3 after their bye week. They are 4-1 at home this season with their heavily-stacked and competitive schedule. Notre Dame lost close games to Michigan, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma this season, but had no trouble beating a couple of ranked opponents in Arizona State and USC this season. Although the Irish have three losses, it will be very tough to go into South Bend in front of their 80,795 fans and leave victorious.

BYU is facing a team that is similar, though not nearly as impressive as they were in 2012 with their National Championship game run.  Both teams are independents and have faced several Top 25-caliber programs and are now set to face off once again.  BYU and Notre Dame are pretty evenly matched offensively as well as defensively. That talent is backed by great coaches like Mendenhall and Brian Kelley of ND.

On defense, the Cougars will be faced with the task of stopping several standout key players on the Irish offensive side of the ball. First, BYU must control the line of scrimmage and penetrate the Irish up front on passing and stand their ground vs. the run. Notre Dame averages 28.2 points per game. They do have a couple of players who get great pressure on opposing QB’s. Stephon Tuitt, with his 10 QB hurries and five sacks, and Prince Shembo with his 15 hurries and four sacks both need to be accounted for in BYU’s passing game.

Rushing leaders for the Irish are mainly coming from their two solid running backs, George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel. Both are averaging close to 50 yards per game in rushing and have recorded three rushing touchdowns apiece so far this season. This game will be won or lost on the line of scrimmage. I do not see any major mismatches or weaknesses in either team’s personnel.

Passing is Notre Dame’s strength again this season with QB Tommy Rees averaging 250.4 yard per game with 24 TDs on the season. He has a cluster of very talented receivers, but his go-to guy is TJ Jones, who has eight TDs while averaging 89.1 yards per game in receiving. Other notables receivers BYU’s defense will have to match up against include DaVaris Daniels and Tory Niklas, both with five TDs on the year. BYU must put great amounts of pressure on Reese and force him to get rid of the ball quickly and under the coverage. The Cougars’ front seven must play the most sound game of the year to get this victory. Kyle Van Noy and Bronson Kaufusi must get to the passer and shake things up keeping him off his game.

On offense, BYU is going up against a defense that is giving up 23.5 points per game. BYU needs to set up the play action by establishing a running game early. If the Cougars O-line can win the line of scrimmage, the run game will open up fast, causing mismatches in coverage. I see BYU having a solid game as long as the big guys show up and play with the nasty and aggressive mentality of getting off the ball and attacking the Irish.

Vegas oddsmakers have this game a split with most staying in the middle. I would say with confidence that BYU is the better team this season, but it is very tough to go into South Bend and pull out a win. I think BYU will win by three points in a great match-up of the two independents.


Scott Young is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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