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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024
The Observer

Head-to-head: Notre Dame vs. BYU


BYU brings an experienced senior quarterback in Riley Nelson to South Bend against a young Irish secondary. Nelson has thrown for 1,059 yards and six touchdowns this season. But the BYU signal-caller, who transferred in from Utah State, has also thrown eight interceptions. Nelson set a career high for a half with 244 passing yards in the Cougars' 45-13 win over Weber State on Sept. 8. Last week against No. 10 Oregon State, Nelson threw for 305 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in a 42-24 loss. Against the Beavers, Nelson set a career high in completions with 28 and attempts with 51. Meanwhile, the Cougar offensive line has given up 18 sacks this season for a total of 110 yards lost, which does not bode well going up against a formidable Irish front seven led by sophomore defensive end StephonTuitt and his 6.5 sacks.

Nelson's main target is junior receiver Cody Hoffman, who leads the team in receiving with 534 yards to go with two touchdowns. Hoffman has caught at least one pass in the last 26 straight games, including 32 of his 33 career games. Against Oregon State, Hoffman set a career high with 10 receptions and finished with 102 yards. 6-foot 5 junior tight end KaneakuaFriel serves as Nelson's main red zone target with a team-leading four touchdowns. Cougar receivers also pose a deep threat, especially down the middle of the field. This season, the BYU offense has totaled 104 plays of 10 yards or more as well as 31 plays of 20 yards or more.

Junior cornerback Bennett Jackson leads the Irish with four interceptions, good enough for fourth best in the nation. Senior linebacker MantiTe'o also has three interceptions, including two against senior Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. In last week's 20-13 overtime win over No. 17 Stanford, the Irish defense held senior quarterback Josh Nunes to only 125 yards passing with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. The Irish defense has not given up a touchdown in its last four games, three against ranked teams.



Freshman running back Jamaal Williams leads the Cougars with 345 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns this season. The freshman back averages 5.3 yards per carry while BYU as a whole averages 4.2 yards per carry, mostly behind a veteran right side of the offensive line. Williams set a career high with 155 rushing yards against Hawaii on Sept. 28 in a 47-0 blowout win. Nelson has also shown the ability to run the ball, with 113 rushing yards on the season.

The Notre Dame defense still remain the only one in college football to have not yet given up a rushing touchdown this season. Te'o leads the team with 59 tackles and the defense has forced 15 turnovers this season.



Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has relayed the importance of not falling into a trap game mentality against the Cougars, and his defense is coming off yet another strong performance against Stanford, its fourth consecutive without allowing a touchdown.



The Cougars average a solid 24.1 yards per kickoff return along with 11.3 yards per punt return.  Junior kicker Riley Stephenson has made four of six field goals, and has yet to attempt a field goal of over 40 yards.



Before leaving the game due to a concussion, sophomore quarterback Everett Golson threw for 141 yards and a touchdown in Notre Dame's 20-13 overtime win over Stanford on Saturday. Golson looked more comfortable scrambling out of the pocket for yards or time rather than throwing the ball into tight coverage. Junior quarterback Tommy Rees came in after Golson's injury and threw for 43 yards and a touchdown. Rees led the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter and eventual game-winning drive capped off by a seven-yard touchdown pass to TJ Jones. Senior tight end Tyler Eifert caught a touchdown pass as well and led the Irish with 57 receiving yards against the Cardinal. Eifert also leads the Irish with 246 receiving yards this season. Ten of Eifert's 15 receptions have resulted in a first down or touchdown. Notre Dame averages 206.5 passing yards  per game, which puts the team at 86th in the nation.

BYU's defense comes into the weekend ranked as the seventh best scoring defense in the nation, giving up 13.6 points per game. Last week, Oregon State junior quarterback Cody Vaz picked apart the BYU secondary for 332 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-24 Beavers win. Junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy recorded another sack last week, to put his total at 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. Against the Beavers, the BYU defensive line batted down three passes. The BYU defense is also third in the nation in 3rd down conversions, giving up a first down only 25.74 percent of the time on third downs.



Notre Dame's rushing attack found its way in the second half against Stanford. Senior running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick led the way once again with 66 and 45 rushing yards, respectively. The Irish average 181.2 rushing yards per game. Sophomore running back George Atkinson finishes out the Irish rushing attack and averages 9.1 yards per carry to go along with his three touchdowns on the season. Golson's fumbling problems still continue to limit the offensive potential of  Brian Kelly's squad.

The Cougars enter the game with the third best rushing defense in the nation, giving up only 67.9 rushing yards per game. The Cougars also limit opposing offenses to only 15.4 first downs per game, 1oth best in the nation. Senior inside linebacker Brandon Ogletree leads the Cougars in tackles with 57, six of those for a loss. Until the Beavers first touchdown, the Cougars defense had held opposing teams without an offensive touchdown for 13 straight quarters.



The Irish are still struggling to find their offensive rhythm and take advantage of good field position and scoring opportunities. Meanwhile, BYU boasts one of the nation's top defenses statistically despite giving up 42 points to Oregon State last week. The Cougars still rank fifth in the nation in total defense, giving up 260.9 yards per game.



Sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza made a clutch field goal to send the game to overtime last week, but the Irish also botched a snap on a short field goal. Notre Dame ranks 105th in the nation in punt returns (3.7 yards per return) abd90th in kickoff returns (19.38 yards per return).