It was a monumental night for the Fighting Irish out in Las Vegas as they took down No. 16 BYU 28-20 in front of a 62,742 crowd at the NFL’s Allegiant Stadium. The Irish have never lost a Shamrock Series game, and they continued this perfect streak in last night’s 11th matchup. Referring to the night as a “great win for the program,” Dick Corbett head coach Marcus Freeman was proud his team was able to be part of such a special Notre Dame tradition in an electric Allegiant Stadium atmosphere.
“The amount of fans, the noise, you know, this truly felt like a home game,” Freeman said. “It was a great environment. It's credit to what this university, what this network, what this football program, what the brand of Notre Dame is about. This win was special.”
A competitive first half from Notre Dame’s offense and defense led to an easy 18-6 lead going into the second half. However, the Irish allowed the Cougars to get back into the game due to some lapses on defense. In what seemed to be the luck of the Irish, though, everything was able to click for Notre Dame when it mattered most. The defense made crucial stops in the last moments of the game, and the team was able to finish strong and “find a way to execute,” as Freeman said.
Irish dominate first half
The competition got off to an exciting start after Notre Dame’s graduate student CB TaRiq Bracy intercepted a severely underthrown pass from Cougar QB Jaren Hall off the first play of the game. Off this turnover, the Irish were able to get on the board first with a successful field goal. They would continue to hold the lead the entire game against the Cougars.
Another highlight from the first half included the absolute dominance showcased by Michael Mayer. The senior tight end amassed 118 yards throughout the game and was responsible for two out of three Irish touchdowns. Mayer also made Irish history, as he surpassed Tyler Eifert’s record for most receptions by a tight end in program history. One of Mayer's touchdown grabs marked his record-setting 141st. It was clear there was some serious chemistry between junior quarterback Drew Pyne and Mayer, as the duo ran the offense through the night.
“Having such a great ally and being able to find Mike a couple of times today was unbelievable and it adds so much to our offense,” Pyne said. “He's an unbelievable player and my best friend and now it's really cool to be out there with Mike.”
Pyne himself also brought plenty to the table for the Irish, throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He leaned on Mayer and was able to avoid turnovers, except for one interception on a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Focusing on the game play-by-play instead of big picture, Pyne prioritizes accuracy as his defining factor.
“I can't even tell you a ballpark of how many yards I threw for,” Pyne said. “I don't really think about that. It's just play-by-play. I think accuracy has always been a part of my game that kind of separates me. That's something that I really have focused on since I was a little kid.”
Pyne was able to spread the ball around the offense, most notably sophomore wide receiver Jayden Thomas. Thomas’ 30 yard reception from Pyne granted the Irish a touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter. This was Thomas’ first career touchdown, and Freeman was pleased to see this play out.
“We need guys to make the quarterback look good,” Freeman said. “To see Jayden make some of those big catches that he made today was huge for the confidence of our wideouts' room, but also the confidence of our quarterback to be able to spread the ball around.”
Notre Dame went for two, but Pyne’s pass to Mayer was high and incomplete. Nevertheless, ending 18-6 in the first half and dominating statistically showed what the Irish could do on both sides of the ball. The offense finally felt cohesive on all ends, and Pyne certainly demonstrated he was comfortable in the pocket.
Irish execute in second half despite mistakes
The Cougars came out with a vengeance in the second half of play, whereas the Irish defense appeared to lose momentum. Halfway through the third, Hall was able to throw a 53 yard touchdown to Kody Epps after a failed deep safety blitz by the Irish. Not only that, but another Irish mistake allowed a 28-yard BYU touchdown resulting from a 10 play drive. This made things tight in the fourth quarter, but Freeman emphasized the importance of not panicking.
“I was telling them, calm down, calm down,” Freeman said. “We got to go back and just do our jobs.”
And do their jobs they did. A fourth down stop by Jayson Ademilola toward the end of the game was the difference-maker for the Irish. Couple that with a consistent run game by Diggs and Estime to run the clock down, and the Irish’s 28-20 victory was secured.
“We had to get the stop fourth and one,” Freeman said. “We challenged them on the sidelines, and it was a timeout right before that fourth and one. That was a huge play.”
Ending on a high note was extremely satisfying for the Notre Dame defense. Nevertheless, they still must regroup and analyze the mistakes that were made. The offense showed what they could do with some big plays, but had other plays that could have been executed for a more fruitful outcome. Still, a victory is a victory and Notre Dame brings back to South Bend yet another Shamrock Series win.
Contact Maddie Ladd at email@example.com.