Perhaps it was the most elaborate trap ever set. Convinced there was nothing to worry about after discussing a potential trap game all week, the No. 5 Fighting Irish fell into one anyway. Looking sloppy throughout the game’s first 30 minutes before scoring the only 10 points of the second half, Notre Dame escaped against BYU, winning 17-14 on Saturday afternoon.
Before we get to the five things, let’s answer a few pressing questions.
Tommy Rees got the start, and looked strong early, finding Tyler Eifert early and often as he marched the Irish down the field for an opening drive that stalled out after a penalty and a missed Kyle Brindza field goal. Rees capped off the first quarter with a nice touchdown drive that ended with an Eifert touchdown, and the Irish looked to be rolling.
And then the offense stalled out. Notre Dame didn’t complete a pass for the next 30 minutes, when he lofted a pretty deep ball down the sideline to TJ Jones, who made the catch in one-on-one coverage.
The offense showed similar limitations with Rees in the game, likely a product of the junior’s skill set as well as a stingy BYU defense. And Kelly answered the quarterback controversy question quickly, telling NBC’s Alex Flanagan that Everett Golson was starting against Oklahoma.
Tommy Rees played a lot like Tommy Rees. He made some good plays, some bad, and didn’t get much help when Davaris Daniels let a easy catch hit off his face mask and volley into a BYU defender’s arms for an interception.
The Irish controlled the line of scrimmage, but had their share of negative plays. Rees was only sacked once, but the Cougars had six tackles-for-loss this afternoon. The offense looked confused, sluggish, and out of sync until they took control physically in the game’s final quarter.
There was another false start on Mike Golic, though this one had Kelly’s ire directed at Braxston Cave. There were missed blocks, most notably on three shaky runs after Theo Riddick ran the Irish into a first and goal situation.
BYU is the type of defense that makes plays behind the line of scrimmage. While the Irish won the battle up front against an undersized unit, the Cougars made their fair share of plays as well.
Can the Irish offensive line dominate the line of scrimmage? Yes. Yes they can. The Irish ran for 270 yards against the Cougars, with Theo Riddick leading the way. I have been tough on Riddick the past few weeks, who came into the game averaging just 3.8 yards a carry. But Riddick provided the offense a big spark, breaking a 55-yard run after making a great individual effort and breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage.
Cierre Wood also played his best game of the season, running for 114 yards on 18 carries. With the game on the line, the Irish put the game on the running game’s back, and the Irish came through when it counted.
A sloppy win might be just what the doctor ordered. If you didn’t know any better watching the first half, this team might have been reading their press clippings. Uncharacteristic penalties by Troy Niklas and Matthias Farley. A defense that lost the laser focus it possessed the past month. Even production intros that showed a team confident, comedic and loose. You want a recipe for tripping over your own feet? The Irish executed it to a tee this afternoon.
Still, Brian Kelly wanted his team to know after the game how important that victory was and how tough that BYU team was that it beat. If only to let this team feel good about the win today, so they can get humbled tomorrow in film review. No question, the Irish didn’t play their best in the win. But if you’re looking for a good way to keep your head down in practice this week, the Irish delivered it.
As Notre Dame prepares to play probably its most high-profile game since the 2005 USC game, it’ll likely be a focus on the basics this week. Something that has to have Kelly and company very happy.