BYU Review: Running Game Carries Irish to Close Win

Jonathan Daniel

It was a tight game, but Notre Dame held off BYU 17-14 on Saturday.

It wasn't pretty, especially in the first half, but as Mouth said in the post-game recap we don't need to complain too much about wins.

Notre Dame moves to 7-0 with a huge game in Norman coming up this weekend. Before looking ahead to the Sooners let's review Saturday's 17-14 win over BYU.

Defensive Line

Yet another great game for the D-line who generated a ton of pressure and constantly harassed BYU quarterback Riley Nelson. They created opportunities for 4 team sacks (1.5 for Tuitt and 1.0 for Lewis-Moore), and a tie for a season high 7 tackles for loss.

However, there were a couple missed tackles and sack opportunities, which led to nice gains for BYU. The Cougars also took advantage of Notre Dame's unusual aggressiveness by working some draws and screens that extended some drives, especially in the first half.

BYU running back Jamaal Williams had a pretty good day (64 yards at 4.6 per carry) and the line and front seven could have bottled him up a little better. He also chipped in 7 receptions for 42 yards and had one of the more productive days for a running back against this Irish defense.

The starting trio of Lewis-Moore, Nix, and Tuitt continue to play at a very high level, while the backups are holding more than their own. Tuitt and Nix were super disruptive and Kap had the best game of his long career.

Linebackers

Just another 10 tackles, 0.5 for loss, and an interception for Manti Te'o. Ho hum.

Danny Spond had a fine game, probably the best of his career, with two key pass breakups, a great play on a blitz, and the game-sealing interception to go along with 5 tackles. He's still just a step slow on some plays but he's proving to be very solid in coverage.

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Hello? Yes, this is dog. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For the second straight game, Ben Councell got a lot of snaps especially early in the game. However, he's yet to get around the ball and make any plays.

Prince Shembo had what I would consider a quiet yet strong game. He didn't have any sacks but he brought a lot of pressure and made some nice stops among his 6 tackles.

Carlo Calabrese seems faster to me this year, at times he looks downright quick. He's getting better backing up into coverage and he showed great burst picking up half a sack.

Secondary

They had some frustrating moments, but they kept everything in front of them while limiting BYU to just 177 passing yards on 36 attempts with a long of only 20 yards.

It was pointed out in the broadcast that Russell was being picked on but I thought he picked himself up and played well outside of a couple snaps. He remains very physical and stout as a tackler. In fact, before a sack brought BYU out of field goal range late in the game, Russell made a great tackle to prevent an easy first down.

This was easily Farley's worst game of his young career. He took a couple bad angles in support, badly missed one tackle, had a bad penalty (which wasn't THAT bad as it only moved the ball about 2 more yards), and he misread the play on BYU's first touchdown play thus leaving the Cougars biggest weapon wide open in the end zone.

Both Zeke Motta and Bennett Jackson had quiet games, while nickel corner Elijah Shumate barely saw the field.

Offensive Line

A fine game by the boys up front. Just one sack and 270 rushing yards at over 6 yards per carry is usually going to get it done. Only three passes in the second half protected the line from that aggressive BYU pass rush but they held themselves really well in the first half anyway.

Mike Golic continues to be the weak link---getting pushed back and dominated while giving up the only sack, and badly missing a block in the end zone that might have helped a score---but we're used to it.

Tight Ends

Eifert was being Eifert again in the first half with a handful of great grabs, and he even made some great blocks along the way.

The personal foul aside, Troy Niklas did well as a blocker and made a nice catch on a "buddy pass" from Hendrix. Hercules was lucky just to hang on to that one.

Ben Koyack is listed at 253 pounds and I'm just not buying it. With the way he blocks I just don't believe he's that big. I'm pretty sure I saw Koyack go out and run a route though, which hasn't been happening a whole lot this season.

Wide Receivers

Only one receiver caught a pass and that was TJ Jones. His first was a nice grab while the second was a beauty.

DaVaris Daniels gets the blame for the lone interception for Notre Dame, letting the ball slip through his hands and bounce off his facemask. That's a tough break for the young receiver. It has to be tough for that to happen and then not be able to make it up with any targets the rest of the game.

Now he knows how many receivers felt during the Holtz era. You have to take advantage of those balls when they come your way!

Running Back

Theo!

Riddick turned in his best game of his career with 143 yards on just 15 carries. It would have been nice to see him take it to the house on his improbable 55 yard run after emerging from the pile, but it is what it is. Theo showed great burst and ran through a lot of tackles on the day. It was awesome to see him excel as a straight up running back with the ball out of the backfield.

Not to be outdone, Cierre Wood gave ND another 100-yard rusher with 114 yards on 18 carries. He couldn't break the long run like Riddick but Wood had several dazzling runs, and a couple key power runs between the tackles late in the game.

George Atkinson's insane productivity took a hit with just 11 yards on 5 carries, but he did a great job making a move for the game-winning touchdown.

Quarterback

I didn't think Rees played all that bad, but this was another reminder why he's the backup this year. Smart gameplan or not, throwing just three passes in the second half with an experienced junior quarterback isn't a vote of confidence.

After opening 6 for 7 with a touchdown, Rees looked pretty solid. After that touchdown pass Rees finished the game 1 for 9 with an interception.

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Voodoo Child got out this weekend. Matt Cashore/US Presswire

There were a couple really strong throws on the day (the first Jones reception, the flag route to Eifert) but a serious case of inaccuracy on a lot of other throws. Honestly, rewatching the game it looked like Rees might have been purposely throwing some sideline routes out of bounds when the target wasn't wide open, so there's that to chew on.

Special Teams

Two missed field goals by Brindza really hurt the team, but I'm more concerned with the lack of touchdowns and having to settle for field goals anyway. Also, Brindza has a good leg, seems to be kicking a little too hard, and has barely missed some kicks in recent weeks. I'd be more concerned if he was missing badly.

I'm still claiming that the staff has given up on trying to return punts. Prevent a fake, fair catch it, and we'll move on has to be the mantra. I know many want to flip the field and play better here but the smart money is on simply not messing up on punt returns.

Coverage on kickoffs and punts has been solid and that continued against BYU.

George Atkinson has regressed as a return man, and while it seems to be part of the blocking his vision has been terrible lately. Also, for some reason (not sure if it's the blocking) but he loves running toward the boundary side when he gets the ball. Why one of the fastest runners in the nation wants less room to run I do not know, but Atkinson has not shown the ability to make a guy miss and get through holes for some good return yardage this year.

Final Thoughts

  • I tracked a couple things after rewatching the game. A running back motioned out, leaving an empty backfield, on 4 snaps. The Irish also used that wide receiver reverse on 18 snaps. It was mostly George Atkinson (who got the ball on a tap pass and two other times, including his touchdown) but Jones and Daniels also were involved.
  • I'm not against throwing on first down, especially if the defense is weaker defending it as BYU was, but if Notre Dame wants to be a conservative ball control offense they need to run the ball more in these situations. Overall, there were 11 passes called on first down versus 13 rushes. The former includes a scramble off playaction by Rees and the latter a kneel down before half. Pretty good balance yes, but the Irish threw the ball on first down 4 straight times to start the game and 7 out of 9 times until Rees' interception. The offense is probably better off running much more on first down earlier in the game.
  • Dan Fox really should have picked off Riley Nelson on BYU's first drive, but Te'o came up with a pick a couple plays later anyway.
  • Not to take anything away from Theo's big day, but BYU's tackling was atrocious on some of his carries. Credit Riddick for running through the arm tackles, but on a few big runs (especially the one in the 2nd quarter where he dragged guys for an extra 15 yards) the Cougars were tackling way too high.
  • Riddick's best run of the day for my money was the 3rd and five scamper with 3 minutes left in the 4th quarter. He scooted past a defender at the line of scrimmage, brushed off the (high again!) contact and sped past the first down marker with power. Great, great and important run by Theo.
  • There's been a lot of debate about Wood getting more carries and taking some away from Riddick. Even after Riddick's career day I still believe that. There's the belief that Theo is more well-rounded therefore he plays more, but I think Wood needs more carries to keep Theo as fresh as possible, not the other way around. I don't think it's any coincidence that Wood got first carries on Saturday, led the final drive, and got the most carries while Riddick had the best day of his career in more of a backup role.
  • Ishaq Williams got a lot of playing time and is still just a half second late out there. It's probably instinct as much as anything but I don't think he has the quick burst like Shembo.
  • On BYU's first TD drive a handful of bad plays from Irish defenders helped the drive. Calabrese, Motta, and Farley all took horrible angles on separate plays, and that includes the play that brought the ball into the red zone where Farley got beat to the edge.
  • Hendrix showed off his legs on his lone run (and vision too, yes!) but he looked really uncomfortable on the next snap. It seemed that he wanted Eifert on the quick out to the right, but when he noticed the linebacker undercut the route (+1 for decision making) he freaked out in the pocket for some reason and threw a dangerous pass to Niklas. He had great protection---not sure why he panicked like he did.
  • As Mouth pointed out in the post-game recap, GA3 needs to work on his cutting and jump cuts. His style is to get outside, stutter his feet, and make this slow jump cut while shoving the opponent out of the way. It works against poor tacklers (see the MSU kickoff return TD last year and the kicker trying to bring him down) but he's really losing effectiveness as a running back by employing this strategy. He needs to incorporate more head moves, better hip swivel, and learn to plant his foot and get upfield. You'll notice on his touchdown run he does something very similar to what he always has, but he gave the defender a really hard juke to the outside and got him off balance before cutting inside.
  • BYU had a bad kicker, and they nearly pinned the Irish on the 1-yard line, but man I would have been pretty pissed to punt the ball so late in the game so deep in Notre Dame territory if I was a BYU fan. It would have been fourth and long but they essentially moved the ball 15 yards on the punt, and of course didn't get it back until there were 20 seconds left. It seems like the football gods are really beginning to hate this conservative type of football nowadays. You have the ball, you only need a handful more yards late in the game to try and tie it up---don't ever voluntarily give the ball away!
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