And in that corner… The BYU Cougars

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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.

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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