PASS OFFENSE: C-
The Tommy-to-Tyler magic Notre Dame fans hoped to see all game faded quickly after the first quarter. Tommy Rees abruptly dropped from 6-7 to 6-14. Tyler Eifert, who grabbed four catches for 73 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter, didn’t touch the ball the rest of the game. The only pass anyone caught from Rees for nearly two full quarters was an interception tipped off the hands of receiver DaVaris Daniels (more Daniels’s fault than Rees’s). Rees finally hit a receiver when it mattered, finding TJ Jones 31 yards down the field to set up Notre Dame’s go-ahead touchdown. Here’s hoping Everett Golson is fully recovered by next weekend; Oklahoma looks very, very good.
RUN OFFENSE: A+
Theo Riddick played like a man possessed with a personal best 15 carries for 149 yards, topped by a jaw-dropping 55 yard run on a 3rd-and-1 dogpile. Riddick didn’t score, but he was the clear MVP of the game. Cierre Wood also contributed 114 yards, making it the second time this season Notre Dame has had two 100-yard tailbacks. Combined with a pair of big scrambles from Andrew Hendrix and George Atkinson III, the Irish put up 270 yards on a third-ranked BYU run defense accustomed to giving up 68 yards a game. Atkinson struggled early in the game to get positive yards, but his goal line juke and subsequent score proves why head coach Brian Kelly wants to give the young tailback more touches.
PASS DEFENSE: b-
Allowing an offensive touchdown seemed inevitable sometime in the next six games, but back-to-back scores within 2 minutes and 18 seconds was downright unsettling. Granted, BYU grabbed an interception that set them up in excellent field position, but this is a Notre Dame defense that had stood strong on 11 consecutive trips to the red zone. A sloppy personal foul against Louis Nix on 3rd-and-16 in the fourth quarter kept BYU in the game a hair longer than anyone was comfortable with. On the plus side, Manti Te’o and Danny Spond grabbed an interception apiece. Te’o gets the well-deserved) accolades, but Spond is quietly putting together an aggressive season for the Irish. The Irish knocked down quarterback Riley Nelson four times and hurried him another six. The Irish owned the trenches, it just took them a few quarters to remember that.
RUN DEFENSE: A
BYU tailback Jamaal Williams had a few flashy gains (notably a 21-yard burst that was capped by a Matthias Farley personal foul), but Notre Dame held the freshman to a modest 4.6 yards per carry for 64 total yards. The Cougars average 174 yards on the ground per game but only managed 66 against the Irish. BYU actually gained 106 yards, but Notre Dame sacked quarterback Riley Nelson five times and tackled the Cougars behind the line of scrimmage seven times to push BYU back a total of 40 yards. Though the defense’s no-touchdown streak ended in the second quarter, the Irish still haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Luckily for the Irish, Kyle Brindza’s two missed field goals from 28 and 40 yards didn’t come back to haunt them. Brindza has been fairly accurate all season (10-12 heading into the game), but he can’t afford misses like that against Oklahoma and USC. Brindza did nail a 24-yarder as the third quarter closed, helping close the gap for the ten-trailing Irish. The Irish attempted to block a BYU punt early in the third quarter that left returner Davonte Neal completely unguarded. Neal got flattened for a 2-yard loss on the return. Punter Ben Turk was the strong point of the Irish special teams unit, booting 52- and 50-yard punts and averaging 43.8 yards per punt on four kicks.
Kelly could have started Everett Golson so Notre Dame could have a mobile quarterback to buffer a relentless BYU pass rush, but Kelly wasn’t satisfied with Golson’s concussion recovery even though the young quarterback had passed all necessary tests. Kelly said the decision to bench Golson came from a health and safety issue rather than a performance issue. With an undefeated record on the line, Kelly put the health of a starter first. That says something, even if going with Rees wasn’t exactly a risk. Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco were able to corral a shell-shocked Irish defense at halftime, prompting Notre Dame to keep BYU off the boards the rest of the game. Still not sure why Kelly wanted to run the ball on 3rd-and-6 in the red zone, but that may speak to his confidence levels in Rees at that point in the game. Regardless, Notre Dame head to Norman, Okla., undefeated and on track for a BCS bowl game.