BYU defense

And in that corner… The BYU Cougars


If you hadn’t noticed, Notre Dame is in for a dog fight. With BYU coming to town with a score to settle, oddsmakers aren’t quite sure what to make of Saturday’s game, with the line swinging each way, a veritable toss up between two 7-3 teams.

Part of that is courtesy of Notre Dame’s big miss last week against Pittsburgh and the other part is the rather impressive football that BYU has played this season. After a rough start to the season against Virginia, the Cougars have gotten things on track, slowed only by in-state rival Utah and Wisconsin two weeks ago.

To get us up to speed for the game, I reached out to the Deseret News’ Jeff Call. The newspaper’s BYU beat reporter, Jeff has been covering the Cougars since 1993.

He was kind enough to answer my handful of questions before Saturday’s game between the Irish and the Cougars.

I asked, Jeff answered. Let’s enjoy.

Outside of a really disappointing loss to Virginia to open the season, it’s been another solid season for Bronco Mendenhall’s squad. How good is this team compared to the groups that won at least 10 games in five out of six seasons?

At times, this BYU team has looked as good as many of those that won at least 10 games. The Virginia loss was an anomaly of sorts because it was the season-opener, on the road, beset by prolonged weather delay, and it was the Cougars’ first game under an entirely new offensive coaching staff.

Bottom line is, BYU lost that game. But there have been times when the Cougars have looked very good, particularly in wins over Texas, Utah State, Georgia Tech and Boise State. Then BYU’s biggest test to this point, on Nov. 9 at Wisconsin, the Cougar offense struggled. The Cougars are hoping to redeem themselves against Notre Dame.

Taysom Hill has been a weapon in the running game, teaming with Jamaal Williams to become one of the best duos in college football. But he seems to struggle with decision making in the passing game, as his 12 interceptions indicate. How has he developed in his second season in Provo? How important is an error-free performance by Hill?

Hill is a phenomenal athlete and is one of the nation’s top running quarterbacks. He has made huge strides this season in the passing game, evidenced by his performance against Utah State, Houston and Boise State. But yes, he has struggled at times with accuracy and making good decisions. He threw three interceptions against Idaho State, which he attributed to trying to do too much.

Hill has shown glimpses of being an outstanding quarterback, but he is still developing. Against a team like Notre Dame, he will have to avoid turnovers and be accurate if the Cougars want to knock off the Fighting Irish.

Defensively, Kyle Van Noy was rightfully an All-Everything player this preseason. Having watched Stephon Tuitt deal with the challenges that come with a national spotlight, how has Van Noy played this season?

Van Noy has made a lot of big plays this season, including a pick-six on the first play of scrimmage at Utah State. He has known for filling up the stat sheet, as he has recorded a stat in every statistical category except for blocked kick and forced fumble.

He has four sacks, 15 tackles-for-loss, two interceptions, 11 quarterback hurries, and two interceptions. He is a semifinalist for the Butkus, Bednarik and Lombardi Awards. Van Noy is projected to be a high draft pick in next April’s NFL draft.

Cody Hoffman is a guy who put up some big numbers earlier in his career. His season got off to a shaky start with an injury and suspension. Are his numbers being down a bit a product of missed time or some struggles in the passing game?

Hoffman missed the season-opener due to injury and he was sidelined for the Middle Tennessee game due to a suspension, which means he’s only played in eight games. Since the Georgia Tech game, Hoffman has been outstanding.

A big part of BYU’s improved passing game can be attributed to Hoffman being healthy, in rhythm and on the field. He now owns every career receiving record at BYU, passing former greats like Austin Collie and Dennis Pitta.

BYU has already accepted a bowl bid for this season. It looks like they’ve already agreed to play in the Poinsettia bowl next year as well. Is this a product of conference independence? Is there a benefit in committing to a second-tier bowl early, or is it a necessity with conference tie-ins and an ever-changing postseason landscape?

Committing to bowl games years in advance is a necessity for BYU in this era of independence. Of course, the Cougars would love to play in a higher-tier bowl game, but the reality is, the only way that will happen is by going undefeated, and even that doesn’t guarantee anything.

Athletic director Tom Holmoe is working hard to enhance BYU’s postseason opportunities, but there aren’t a lot of bowl games that aren’t tied to specific conferences. Holmoe has said recently that he has some big bowl plans for the future. BYU is hoping that its partnership with ESPN will open doors of opportunity.

Last season, the Cougars gave Notre Dame all they could handle with Tommy Rees starting in place of an injured Everett Golson. What are the keys to BYU visiting Notre Dame and leaving South Bend with a victory?

Keys to victory for BYU: offensively, the Cougars must avoid turnovers, and be efficient on first down and in the red zone. BYU needs Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams to be at their best. Defensively, the Cougars must slow down Notre Dame’s rushing attack and make Rees beat them with his arm.


For more from Jeff heading into Saturday’s game (including a great feature on former Irish safety and current BYU Cougar Chris Badger), check out Jeff’s work at the Deseret News, or follow him on Twitter @ajeffreycall

Go for two or not? Both sides of the highly-debated topic

during their game at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina.

Notre Dame’s two failed two-point conversion tries against Clemson have been the source of much debate in the aftermath of the Irish’s 24-22 loss to the Tigers. Brian Kelly’s decision to go for two with just over 14 minutes left in the game forced the Irish into another two-point conversion attempt with just seconds left in regulation, with DeShone Kizer falling short as he attempted to push the game into overtime.

Was Kelly’s decision to go for two the right one at the beginning of the fourth quarter? That depends.

Take away the result—a pass that flew through the fingers of a wide open Corey Robinson. Had the Irish kicked their extra point, Justin Yoon would’ve trotted onto the field with a chance to send the game into overtime. (Then again, had Robinson caught the pass, Notre Dame would’ve been kicking for the win in the final seconds…)

This is the second time a two-point conversion decision has opened Kelly up to second guessing in the past eight games. Last last season, Kelly’s decision to go for two in the fourth-quarter with an 11-point lead against Northwestern, came back to bite the Irish and helped the Wildcats stun Notre Dame in overtime.

That choice was likely fueled by struggles in the kicking game, heightened by Kyle Brindza’s blocked extra-point attempt in the first half, a kick returned by Northwestern that turned a 14-7 game into a 13-9 lead. With a fourth-quarter, 11-point lead, the Irish failed to convert their two-point attempt that would’ve stretched their lead to 13 points. After Northwestern converted their own two-point play, they made a game-tying field goal after Cam McDaniel fumbled the ball as the Irish were running out the clock. Had the Irish gone for (and converted) a PAT, the Wildcats would’ve needed to score a touchdown.

Moving back to Saturday night, Kelly’s decision needs to be put into context. After being held to just three points for the first 45 minutes of the game, C.J. Prosise broke a long catch and run for a touchdown in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Clemson would be doing their best to kill the clock. Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game brought the score within 12 points when Kelly decided to try and push the score within 10—likely remembering the very way Northwestern forced overtime.

After the game, Kelly said it was the right decision, citing his two-point conversion card and the time left in the game. On his Sunday afternoon teleconference, he said the same, giving a bit more rationale for his decision.

“We were down and we got the chance to put that game into a two-score with a field goal. I don’t chase the points until the fourth quarter, and our mathematical chart, which I have on the sideline with me and we have a senior adviser who concurred with me, and we said go for two. It says on our chart to go for two.

“We usually don’t use the chart until the fourth quarter because, again, we don’t chase the points. We went for two to make it a 10-point game. So we felt we had the wind with us so we would have to score a touchdown and a field goal because we felt like we probably only had three more possessions.

“The way they were running the clock, we’d probably get three possessions maximum and we’re going to have to score in two out of the three. So it was the smart decision to make, it was the right one to make. Obviously, you know, if we catch the two-point conversion, which was wide open, then we just kick the extra point and we’ve got a different outcome.”

That logic and rationale is why I had no problem with the decision when it happened in real time. But not everybody agrees.

Perhaps the strongest rebuke of the decision came from Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister, who had this to say about the decision in his (somewhat appropriately-titled) weekly Point After column:

Hire another analyst or at least assign someone to the task of deciphering the Beautiful Mind-level math problem that seems to be vexing the Notre Dame brain-trust when a dweeb with half-inch thick glasses and a pocket protector full of pens could tell you that in the game of football, you can’t chase points before it is time… (moving ahead)

…The more astonishing thing is that no one in the ever-growing football organization that now adds analysts and advisors on a regular basis will offer the much-needed advice. Making such decisions in the heat of battle is not easy. What one thinks of in front of the TV or in a press box does not come as clearly when you’re the one pulling the trigger for millions to digest.

And yet with this ever-expanding entourage, Notre Dame still does not have anyone who can scream through the headphones to the head coach, “Coach, don’t go for two!”

If someone, anyone within the organization had the common sense and then the courage to do so, the Irish wouldn’t have lost every game in November of 2014 and would have had a chance to win in overtime against Clemson Saturday night.

My biggest gripe about the decision was the indecision that came along with the choice. Scoring on a big-play tends to stress your team as special teams players shuffle onto the field and the offense comes off. But Notre Dame’s use of a timeout was a painful one, and certainly should’ve been spared considering the replay review that gave Notre Dame’s coaching staff more time to make a decision.

For what it’s worth, Kelly’s decision was probably similar to the one many head coaches would make. And it stems from the original two-point conversion chart that Dick Vermeil developed back in the 1970s.

The original chart didn’t account for success rate or time left in the game. As Kelly mentioned before, Notre Dame uses one once it’s the fourth quarter.

It’s a debate that won’t end any time soon. And certainly one that will have hindsight on the side of the “kick the football” argument.



Navy, Notre Dame will display mutual respect with uniforms

Keenan Reynolds, Isaac Rochell

The storied and important history of Notre Dame and Navy’s long-running rivalry will be on display this weekend, with the undefeated Midshipmen coming to South Bend this weekend.

On NBCSN, a half-hour documentary presentation will take a closer look, with “Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect” talking about everything from Notre Dame’s 43-year winning streak, to Navy’s revival, triggered by their victory in 2007. The episode will also talk about the rivalries ties to World War II, and how the Navy helped keep Notre Dame alive during wartime.

You can catch it on tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or online in the same viewing window.

On the field, perhaps an even more unique gesture of respect is planned. With Under Armour the apparel partner for both Notre Dame and Navy, both teams will take the field wearing the same cleats, gloves and baselayers. Each team’s coaching staff will also be outfitted in the same sideline gear.

More from Monday’s press release:

For the first time in college football, two opponents take the field with the exact same Under Armour baselayer, gloves and cleats to pay homage to the storied history and brotherhood between their two schools. The baselayer features both Universities’ alma maters on the sleeves and glove palms with the words “respect, honor, tradition” as a reminder of their connection to each other. Both sidelines and coaches also will wear the same sideline gear as a sign of mutual admiration.​

Navy and Notre Dame will meet for the 89th time on Saturday, a rivalry that dates back to 1927. After the Midshipmen won three of four games starting in 2007, Notre Dame hopes to extend their current winning streak to five games on Saturday.

Here’s an early look at some of the gear: