Examining Notre Dames opponent: Five questions about BYU
Posted: 10/19/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Rachel Terlep
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Brigham Young quarterback Riley Nelson throws a pass during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Oregon State on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Provo, Utah. Oregon State defeated BYU 42-24. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Brigham Young quarterback Riley Nelson, center, is sacked by Oregon State defensive ends Scott Crichton (95) and Devon Kell (94) during the second half of an Oct. 13 game in Provo, Utah. Oregon State defeated BYU 42-24.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Brigham Young defensive back Jordan Johnson (6) breaks up a pass to Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Brigham Young quarterback Riley Nelson (13) carries the ball while Oregon State players pursue during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
At least not within earshot of any Brigham Young University players.
With Notre Dame’s next opponent around the corner, Jay Drew, a BYU sportswriter for The Salt Lake Tribune, answered questions about BYU’s defense and quarterback and how being labeled a “trap game” isn’t sitting right with the Cougars.
Q: After seven weeks, BYU’s 4-3 record almost seems deceiving. Make a few plays in a few fourth quarters, and they’re 6-1 or maybe even 7-0. Is that the feel of the team this year? Are the players and coaches frustrated by this?
Jay Drew: BYU players and coaches definitely feel like they are better than their 4-3 record suggests, and frustration has set in because this was supposed to be the school’s best team in a decade, with 29 seniors on the roster and a senior starting at quarterback, Riley Nelson.
However, Nelson hurt his back in the second game, against Weber State, and BYU’s offense has been a major disappointment since then.
To make matters worse, freshman quarterback Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending knee injury on a needless running play in the 6-3 win over Utah State when he should have been taking a knee.
Hill may or may not have started against Oregon State, and Nelson actually played reasonably well in that game, but his injury is emblematic of some poor decisions made by the coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball.
Q: BYU’s strength lies in its run defense, but the Notre Dame running game put up 150 yards on Stanford last week. How do you see this match up playing out? Who should Notre Dame fans be looking out for on the defense?
JD: BYU’s defense was ranked No. 1 against the run in the country, and No. 5 overall, before giving up 450 total yards, including 118 rushing yards, to Oregon State.
Defensive players say their confidence has been nicked, so it will be interesting to see if they can revert back to their form in the first five games of the season, or if OSU’s success was a harbinger of things to come.
Certainly, OSU was the best offense the Cougars have faced, and Cody Vaz, although a backup, was the best throwing quarterback.
Traditionally, BYU defenses have struggled against mobile quarterbacks such as Everett Golson, so containing him will obviously be a big part of the defensive game plan.
BYU’s best defensive player is outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who has 7.5 sacks this season and is a pretty good playmaker. USC transfer Uona Kaveinga is BYU’s version of Manti Te’o. He’s a tackling machine inside, but doesn’t cover the pass nearly as well as Te’o.
Then there’s Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, a defensive end from Ghana who came to BYU on a track scholarship and began playing football only two years ago. He will make a big play once in a while, but often disappears for several plays at a time.
Q:BYU quarterback Riley Nelson has thrown more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (6) this season. I know he’s coming off a back injury, but how does he fare against Notre Dame’s defense after a three-interception performance against Oregon State?
JD: Two of Nelson’s interceptions against OSU came in the fourth quarter when the Cougars were desperate, and one wasn’t his fault, but the assertion is correct: the senior makes a lot of bad decisions with the football.
Nelson is a big risk-taker, which can result in some big plays, but also some colossal mistakes.
He will have to play mistake-free for the Cougars to have a chance; Many Cougar fans believe that his mistakes against Utah and Boise State that allowed the Utes and Broncos to score defensive touchdowns are the reason BYU is 4-3 and not 6-1.
Nelson’s biggest strength is that he’s an excellent runner, quite fast, and quite likely will be BYU’s leading ball-carrier against the Irish. He just hasn’t learned how to slide yet, which is what got him hurt in the Weber State game.
Q:After an exhausting loss to then-No. 10 Oregon State last week, BYU is facing another Top 10 team on the road in Notre Dame. Are the Cougars revved up for this game? Are they looking to maybe reverse some of that fourth-quarter bad luck?
JD: With more than 70 players on the roster having gone on two-year LDS Church missions, BYU is easily the “oldest” team in college football. Also, more than 20 players are married.
So it is a mature team, by college standards, that generally doesn’t fold easily. Notre Dame is usually the biggest game on every team’s schedule, and the way BYU is looking at the contest is probably no different.
Oddly, BYU was usually the biggest game on its opponents’ schedule before the Cougars went independent two years ago and longtime rival Utah bolted for the Pac-12. The Cougars have gone from the hunted to the hunters, almost overnight.
Certainly, playing better in the fourth quarter is on their minds, and the way they played the first three quarters against Oregon State (which might be a tad overrated, in my opinion) probably gives them some hope.
Q: Notre Dame is a 14-point favorite over a BYU team that doesn’t give up many points. How can the Cougars pull off the upset?
JD:The Cougars are a confident, senior-laden team that is proud of their football tradition, so hearing all the questions being posed to Notre Dame about this being a “trap” game for the Irish has been seen as a sign of disrespect to BYU (who cares if it is the media, and not the players and coaches, talking about the trap game, right?).
The Cougars’ best chance to pull off the upset is for this to be a low-scoring, defensive struggle that is decided at the end by a field goal, missed PAT, or the like.
BYU simply doesn’t have the offensive firepower to win a shootout with the Irish, although that sort of game is highly unlikely against Notre Dame’s defense.
So turnovers and field position are going to be huge factors for BYU; If they can play turnover-free and get a few breaks on special teams, they might have a shot.
History shows, however, that BYU generally wins the games it is supposed to win, and rarely wins the games it is supposed to lose. Upsets are rare, in either direction. I call it Barometer U.