Well friends, it was a nice little early-season respite we had last weekend from worrying about the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, but we’re officially back on our bullshit as our Irish travel to Las Vegas to take on the #16 BYU Cougars at the Las Vegas Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium.
The Irish, of course, were sittin’ at home eating cheeseburgers last week, but the Cougars were in action last Thursday as they hosted the Utah State Aggies in Provo and won 38-26 after pulling away in the second half of a game that was tied at 17 at halftime.
The Cougars sit at 4-1 on the season, having won fairly easy games against Utah State, the South Florida Bulls, and the Wyoming Cowboys all by double digits, taking down the then-9th-ranked Baylor Bears in Week 2 (Baylor is now unranked in the AP Poll and #22 in the Coaches Poll), and getting positively blown out in Eugene by the now 12th-ranked Oregon Ducks.
The Irish, as you know, are fresh off a bye week that followed up two wins in a row over the California Golden Bears and North Carolina Tar Heels, getting Marcus Freeman’s first season back to .500 after the rough start with losses to the Ohio State Buckeyes and Marshall Thundering Herd.
So, how does the suddenly-somewhat-surging ND team match up with a BYU squad that’s certainly not a CFP contender, but is still a solid and battle-tested opponent with a potentially very dangerous offense?
We won’t pretend to be the experts there, but instead have reached out to Robby McCombs, Site Manager over at SB Nation’s BYU site, Vanquish The Foe. Robby was gracious enough to answer a big ole list of questions we had for him, ranging from his opinion of head coach Kalani Sitake to QB Jaren Hall to the Cougars defense to the Cougars’ mascot himself (what his true identity is), plus more!
His answers are smart, succinct, fun, and insightful, giving us a great handle on BYU as a team and program as we enter the back two-thirds of the season this Saturday. So, take a quick break from work and/or last-minute-planning your trip to Sin City this weekend, and arm yourselves with all the knowledge you’ll need to be an informed and prepared Irish fan heading into yet another Shamrock Series match-up!
1. You’re now in the 7th season with Kalani Sitake as head coach in Provo, and he’s currently 52-30 with double-digit wins in each of his last two seasons.
How much do BYU fans adore Sitake (he seems awesome), where does he rank in BYU’s history of head coaches, and what do you see as the program’s potential with him at the top, both this year and overall?
Vanquish The Foe: BYU fans love Kalani. He grew up a BYU fan in Provo, attended BYU, and has BYU running through his veins. After a 2017 season which saw BYU finish 4-9, he has steadily built BYU back into a nationally relevant program once again.
LaVell Edwards is indisputably the BYU GOAT, but Kalani is already making a case as the number 2.
2. As expected, QB Jaren Hall has had a really nice start to his year. What all does he do really well, and what, if anything, would you consider a potential weaker spot in his game that Notre Dame could try to exploit?
Vanquish The Foe: Jaren has great speed, but he is a pocket passer that also happens to be very fast. He has exceptional accuracy when throwing to the sideline on both deep and intermediate routes. He routinely makes back shoulder throws and puts the ball exactly where it should be.
If Notre Dame’s corners can play tight coverage on BYU’s outside receivers and force Hall to routinely target the middle of the field, BYU’s passing offense could sputter a bit.
3. It seems like the Cougars have a plethora of good-to-really-good skill position guys on offense — amongst those receivers and backs, what are the most important names for Irish fans to be aware of heading into Saturday?
Vanquish The Foe: BYU is really balanced at the skill positions. Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney were the top wideouts coming into the year, but both have played sparingly due to injury. Other BYU receivers have stepped up, and BYU has 7 pass catchers they are comfortable with if everyone is healthy.
At running back, Cal transfer Chris Brooks was supposed to be the bell cow back, but speedster Miles Davis has given some juice to the BYU backfield. Brooks is a big bruiser and is coming off a nice game versus Utah State, but BYU will rotate three backs. Brooks is the bruiser, Davis is the speedster, and 6th-year senior Lopini Katoa is the steady vet that knows the offense.
4. Which position groups on the BYU defense could give the Irish fits, and which ones would you attack if you were ND offensive coordinator Tommy Rees? How do you expect BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki to try to slow down the Notre Dame rushing attack, as well as tight end Michael Mayer?
Vanquish The Foe: Linebacker Max Tooley is BYU’s best playmaker. He has two pick-sixes and is seemingly in the backfield on every disruptive play. DE Tyler Batty is BYU’s best D-Lineman and pash rusher.
Linebacker was supposed to be the strength of the defense, but up to this point they have largely disappointed and are responsible for many of BYU’s run woes. BYU’s pass defense has been good and limits big plays, but up to this point no passing offense has really challenged them.
5. Which players/position groups on the Notre Dame side scare you in this match-up? Do you think BYU matches up well with the Irish?
Vanquish The Foe: Notre Dame’s O-Line. BYU’s front seven has struggled to stop the run, particularly the last two weeks. They did surprisingly well against a physical Baylor team, but had bad first halves versus both Wyoming and Utah State — BYU did better the second half in both of those games.
BYU’s losses the last couple seasons have largely come against teams that can run the ball consistently and use that to setup the play action. If Notre Dame can establish the run, they should have success versus BYU’s defense.
6. FAN QUESTION:
Is Puka playing also who else is out for BYU?— Cheryl Russo (@CherylR01091480) October 2, 2022
Vanquish The Foe: Honestly, who knows? BYU coaches are very coy when it comes to injuries and won’t give away much.
Puka is BYU’s best skill position player but BYU’s WR room is deep and has fared well without him. #2 WR Gunner Romney made his season debut last week after a lacerated kidney in early August, so the WR room isn’t much of a concern.
Puka is a huge boost, however, if he does play. He is one of the best deep threats out West and tore up Baylor’s NFL-laden secondary in the 2021 game.
7. FAN QUESTION:
Is BYU's struggles tackling this year(especially in first halves) because of their desire to fit in with their future conference?— Brendan (@verypiratey) October 2, 2022
Vanquish The Foe: Haha, it is very Big 12-esque, even if it that is the Big 12 of old.
BYU’s linebacker group was supposed to be the strength of the defense, but outside of Max Tooley they have been very disappointing. Players such as Keenan Pili and Payton Wilgar have been foundational pieces in prior years, and BYU will need them to step things up.
8. FAN QUESTION:
I refuse to believe a BYU student can pull off all the stunts and theatrics the Cougar Mascot performs. Who is the mascot? Tom Cruise?— Connie Salami (@CVilly23) October 2, 2022
Or maybe just ask them how they can prove it isn’t Tom “Caribbean” Cruise? I will assume it’s him until proven otherwise— Connie Salami (@CVilly23) October 2, 2022
Vanquish The Foe: BYU has a couple unidentified students that take the role of Cosmo. And yes, we are very proud of our mascot excellence.
9. FAN QUESTION:
What position would Brigham Young play if he were alive today?— Ryan Kennedy (@RyanKWrites) October 2, 2022
Vanquish The Foe: Left tackle. If he can protect his 50 wives*, he can protect a QB.
*Pat Rick Note: I went to YouTube and searched for “Brigham Young 55 wives” and was NOT disappointed in what came up:
10. FAN QUESTION:
What famous byu alum would you have give a halftime motivational speech?— Isaac Harrington (@isaach10) October 2, 2022
My pick would be Stephenie Meyer who is an expert on dudes who got that dawg in them
Vanquish The Foe: I feel like Ken Jennings could pull out an obscure story from history and use it to motivate the team.
11. BYU has a running back named Miles Davis. Has any reporter on the BYU beat ever asked him to say the quote from Billy Madison about peeing your pants being cool?
Vanquish The Foe: I don’t think so, but this needs to be done.
12. Alright, time to get down to it: what’s your prediction for this game? Who wins, what’s the final score, and give your reasoning why.
Vanquish The Foe: Notre Dame has more talent than BYU. BYU develops as well as anybody in the country and has done well in the transfer portal, but the Irish have more raw talent. However, BYU has beaten plenty of teams the past couple years who have done better in the recruiting rankings.
Under Kalani, BYU typically comes out well in these big stage games. BYU beat Arizona in this same stadium last year and Jaren Hall has beaten teams like Utah, Baylor, Arizona State, and several other P5 teams.
I can see either team winning, but I think with a bye week under their belt Notre Dame figures out how to control the run game and win a close one.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, BYU 28
Alrighty y’all, I wanna give a huge shout-out to Robby for all the great info and analysis and humor he gave us above and all his time and effort he put into providing us yet another great week of Q&A responses.
I encourage you all to head over to Vanquish The Foe for additional insight into BYU’s team and the match-up this weekend in Vegas (including a Q&A with yours truly), and also highly recommend you go follow both the Vanquish The Foe site Twitter as well as Robby himself, as both would be great accounts to keep tabs on for anything regarding late-breaking news and fun facts heading into Saturday evening’s game.
That’s all for this week, folks — per usual, GO IRISH, BEAT COUGARS!!!