OFD Game Day Countdown: Notre Dame vs. BYU

George Frey - Getty Images

One Foot Down researches the BYU Cougars and breaks down the matchup this Saturday with the Fighting Irish.

BYU (+13.5) at Notre Dame

Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana

Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET

Television: NBC

Last Meeting: 49-23 Notre Dame (2005)

BYU will be making their 5th trip to Notre Dame this weekend and will be looking to upset the undefeated Fighting Irish. The Cougars are coming off a deflating loss at home versus Oregon State, but this is likely the biggest trap game on the schedule for Notre Dame.

Here is the One Foot Down preview of this Saturday afternoon's contest between BYU and Notre Dame.

5 Factoids

0

That is the number of times BYU has come into the game with Notre Dame as a ranked opponent in the AP poll. This will be the fifth time in the series' seventh meeting that the Irish will be ranked and the fourth time ranked inside the Top 10.

42.25

The average number of points the Irish have scored in their four wins over BYU. Notre Dame could struggle to get that many points this Saturday with a somewhat struggling offense and a tough Cougar defense.

102

This is the number of catches over the past year and a half by senior wideout Cody Hoffman. He's pretty good.

12

The number of games in a row that BYU held their opponents to less than 300 total yards, a streak that ended this past weekend with Oregon State's 450 yard output. The streak began last season following 365 yards by (again) Oregon State on November 15, 2011. The streak included one BCS team (Washington State) and the Cougars gave up 300 or more yards in 5 of their previous 7 games.

6

This is the number of interceptions thrown by BYU quarterback Riley Nelson over his past 60 attempts. As I mentioned in this week's 5WF, Nelson has not been good at protecting the ball.

4 Players to Watch

QB Riley Nelson

Nelson took over starting duties last year for the Cougars ultimately sending super-recruit Jake Heaps to the bench and eventually to Kansas. Nelson played well in 2011 and there was hope in Provo that he would continue to improve and take BYU's offense to the next level this season. Unfortunately, he enters Saturday with many calling for a quarterback change.

151024725

Nelson will need his A-game this weekend. George Frey/Getty Images

Nelson missed the two games prior to last week's Oregon State loss with a back injury and has 1,059 yards on 57.5% accuracy with 6 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in 2012. As a stocky left-handed thrower, he will remind you of Tim Tebow and Nelson will pull the ball down and run 6 or 8 times a game although he's not a huge threat with his wheels. His arm strength is really limited and he's known to make a lot of poor decisions---a bad recipe going against Notre Dame.

RB Jamaal Williams

The true freshman has been thrust into a starting role after Michael Alisa broke his arm against Hawaii 3 weeks ago. Williams has been fairly solid on the season with a team-leading 345 rushing yards at 5.31 yards per carry and 5 touchdowns. He's also chipped in 10 receptions, 130 yards receiving as well with many BYU fans very excited about his potential.

Since taking over as the starter Williams had a big game (15 carries, 155 yards) against Hawaii, but has been held to just 107 yards on 29 carries over his past two games heading into Saturday.

Football Outsiders Advanced Stats for 2012

STAT BYU ND
FEI Overall 39 6
Game Efficiency 43 10
Offense FEI 55 5
Defense FEI 25 15
S&P Overall 15 7
S&P Offense 62 27
S&P Defense 8 6
F/+ Overall 23 6
F/+ Offense 59 10
F/+ Defense 14 9

WR Cody Hoffman

The redshirt senior from California is BYU's best weapon on offense, leading the team with 41 receptions, 534 yards, and 2 touchdowns this season. Through two and a half seasons in Provo, Hoffman has 144 catches, 2,004 yards, and 19 touchdowns in just 33 career games.

He has great size (6'4" 215 pounds) and is one of the best receivers in the country you've likely never heard of. Hoffman will definitely be a major focus of the Irish defense.

LB Kyle Van Noy

The junior linebacker was placed on several award watch lists this season and is coming off an impressive 2011 in which he notched 68 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, and 2 interceptions.

Van Noy's overall tackling numbers are down this season---he was 2nd on the team last year and is currently 9th right now---but he remains as disruptive as ever with 11.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in just 7 games. Van Noy is the leader of a fast and aggressive linebacker corps that likes to blitz often and create a ton of negative plays.

3 Concerns

Mental Let Down

It was addressed immediately during Brian Kelly's Tuesday press conference. The team had 24 hours to celebrate the victory over Stanford but they are now focused on BYU.

Let's hope so because sandwiched in between the Stanford game and trip to Oklahoma is this classic trap game against a team that has some potential to compete at a high level.

Turnovers

BYU has been really poor at creating turnovers this season (just 9 in 7 games, tied 83rd nationally) but the Irish coughing up the football 2 or 3 times is one of the biggest ways the Cougars can stay in this game.

If the Irish protect the football it will be very difficult for BYU to score enough points to win.

Negative Plays

Getting rid of the negative plays was a big offseason effort from the Notre Dame coaching staff. Last week the Irish allowed 4 sacks, but just one rush went for negative yardage.

Against BYU the Irish will want to protect the quarterback a little better and get the same type of positive yardage on the ground that we saw against Stanford. The Cougars are tied for 7th nationally with 54 tackles for loss and you can guarantee they will try to disrupt the Irish offense in the backfield.

2 Sides of the Line

BYU's offensive line does not lack for size measuring in at just under 6'6" and 304 pounds across the average of their 5 starters. However, the line isn't getting great production in the running game and is struggling to protect the quarterback.

BYU has only played 2 BCS teams this year, neither with strong defenses, yet they've given up 18 sacks over 7 games. That's tied for 96th nationally in sacks allowed per game.

Further, the line is paving the way for just 4.18 yards per carry (76th nationally) and that is with injured quarterback Taysom Hill providing a very productive 336 yards on 55 carries. Absent that production, which the Cougars will be this weekend, BYU's top four rushers are averaging a mere 3.96 yards per carry.

BYU runs a 3-4 defense that is anchored inside by nose guard Romney Fuga. He has great size for the position (6'2" 318 pounds) and has a solid 25 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks on the season. Due to injuries, Fuga is the only returning starter on the line and he is flanked by under-sized ends in Ezekiel Ansah (6'6" 270) and Russell Tailavea (6'3" 265). However, Ansah is having a breakout season (30 tackles, 9 for loss, 3 sacks) while Tailavea is holding his own on the edge.

154077965

ND's defense will be licking their chops Saturday. Johnathan Daniel/Getty Images

It's tempting to think that this front is going to get pushed around by Notre Dame, especially when the Cougar linebackers are all under-sized for a 3-4 defense. On the outside, Spencer Hadley is just 6'1" 227 pounds and Kyle Van Noy is a solid 6'3" 235 pounds. On the inside, Uona Kaveinga is 5'11" 233 and Brandon Ogletree is 5'11" 228 pounds.

Yet, BYU has been so productive this season that they play much bigger than their size and use their speed to their advantage. Coming into Saturday they are in the top 10 nationally in 5 defensive rankings: 67.86 rushing yards allowed per game (3rd), 2.23 yards per carry allowed (2nd), 4 rushing touchdowns allowed (10th), 54 tackles for loss (7th), and 22 sacks (6th).

Yes, the Cougars haven't played a tough schedule but their numbers are still elite right now on defense. They did give up over 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing to Oregon State last week, but they still got 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss. Similar to Stanford, they have an active front that makes a lot of plays.

I'll look for the BYU offensive line to have a good deal of struggles this weekend against Notre Dame's elite front seven, but I do think BYU can do a pretty good job containing the Irish offense with their front seven. Some might think the Irish will run right over the smaller Cougar defense but I bet most of the success comes through the air.

1 Prediction

I'm still trying to figure out just how good this BYU defense is but I know their offense is not very good. Even SB Nation's BYU blog Vanquish the Foe will admit their offense is terrible. Maybe terrible is a bit much but Notre Dame hasn't surrendered a touchdown while on defense in over 4 games and over 16 quarters, so it's hard to imagine that the Cougars will break that streak on Saturday.

BYU has played 7 BCS teams since the start of 2011 and they have given up an average of 323.1 yards in those games. That's a really solid number but they've only won 3 of those games. The three teams they've beaten (Washington State '12, Oregon State '11, and Ole Miss '11) have a combined 7-24 record with only 3 wins over BCS teams---all coming from last year's Oregon State team.

Those seven BCS teams were not strong offensively either. This year's Oregon State team has the highest S&P offense at 22nd nationally and they just dropped 42 points and 450 yards on BYU last week. The other six teams come in at with S&P ranked offenses of 58, 74, 95, 96, 99, and 106---not a single strong offense.

However, BYU's defense is getting a lot of respect from the advanced stats. Not only are they 7th in scoring defense, 3rd in rush defense, and 5th in total defense stats by the raw numbers, but 25th in FEI defense, 8th in S&P defense, and 14th in F/+ defense.

You're probably looking at those numbers and thinking BYU's defense can't be that good. Likewise, if you notice Football Outsiders' three offensive rankings the Irish come in at an average of 14th in the nation, and I know most Notre Dame fans think the offense isn't that good.

The truth is likely that both BYU's defense and Notre Dame offense are a little bit overrated using the advanced stats, but the Irish do have a lot of talent to work with more so than the Cougars.

The Irish have a big size advantage while on offense but I expect BYU's solid coaching and veteran players (7 returning starters) to put up a good fight. Mix in Notre Dame's conservative offense that's been fully in Do Not Put the Defense in a Bad Position mode and there likely won't be fireworks from Golson & Co.

The difference in this game will be a BYU offense that will be severely challenged this Saturday. As a result, the Cougars are going to have a hard time consistently moving the ball or gaining 200 yards. With their turnover issues they are bound to give Notre Dame a couple short field and easy points.

The fear of a let down game this weekend is warranted, but BYU's offense is not good enough to beat this Irish team at home while undefeated. I predict a handful of frustrating series' against a tough Cougar defense but as long as their aren't major turnover problems this should be a somewhat comfortable win.

Notre Dame 32

BYU 12

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