Notre Dame football heads into its week 8 match-up against the Brigham Young Cougars after a much-celebrated (and highly controversial) victory over the Stanford Cardinal last week. That victory propelled Notre Dame to a #5 ranking in both the AP and Coach’s polls as well as the initial BCS standings. That’s the Irish’s highest ranking since achieving the #2 rank in week 2 of the 2006 season.
The Fighting Irish need to avoid a let down this week against the 4-3 Cougars. After this, Notre Dame travels toNorman,Oklahomato play #9Oklahoma. Making this an even bigger potential let-down is the fact that BYU is coming off of a 42-24 beat down courtesy ofOregonState. Notre Dame has had in the past a penchant for “playing down” to its competition, so it’s going to be interesting to see how well head coach Brian Kelly can motivate his team and keep them from looking ahead to next weeks game against the Sooners.
Ironically enough, the best Mormon football player on the field this Saturday won’t be playing for BYU. Irish senior linebacker Manti Te’o is the hands down favorite for every major defensive player of the year award to this point, and currently ranks 4th in ESPN’s Heisman Watch (http://espn.go.com/college-football/heisman12/). The only other defensive player listed is Texas A&M defensive lineman Damontre Moore, who according to the poll has only 1 5th place vote to this point. Te’o is averaging nearly ten tackles per game and has recorded the first three interceptions of his career this season. The argument easily be made that Te’o has had a lot of help from his defensive lineman, which is true, but you still have to make the plays.
Another highly touted player the Irish need to get more involved is senior tight end Tyler Eifert. Through the first six weeks, Eifert has only caught fifteen passes for 246 yards. That is on pace for 33 catches and 533 yards. Last year, Eifert caught sixty-three passes for 803 yards. The change in quarterbacks from Tommy Rees to Everett Golson has almost certainly played a part in that, as well as the loss of wide-receiver Michael Floyd to the NFL. The combination of an inexperienced quarterback with the ability of opposing defenses to focus more on Eifert has led to the downward spiral in production.
Speaking of Golson, it is still not certain that the redshirt quarterback will play due to a concussion suffered late in the Stanford game following a helmet-to-helmet hit. If Golson does indeed sit out, that will mean back-up quarterback Tommy Rees will play his most extensive amount of football for this season. If Rees winds up starting and plays well, it could lead to a bonafide quarterback controversy for Notre Dame.
3 Things to Watch
The Defenses – If you thought the Stanford game was painstakingly low-scoring, wait until you get a load of this game. The defensive potential here is astounding. Both units rank in the top twenty-five in all the major yardage statistical categories, and both are in the top-10 for scoring defense (Notre Dame is ranked #2 with 8.7 points per game, BYU is 7th with 13.6 points per game). Pepper in some fairly mediocre offenses and you have a recipe for a good old fashioned slobber-knocker. Don’t be surprised if one of these teams fails to score.
The Irish quarterback(s) – We touched on this earlier regarding Everett Golson’s status, and my gut tells me that Brian Kelly will have Golson sit this one out. I’ve been wrong before (no shock there), but it would make more sense to have Rees under center than to take further concussion risk to Golson so soon in his recovery against a unit that has been able to hit the quarterback twenty-two times in 7 games. The Irish offensive unit could very well use the kind of experience that Tommy Rees brings against at stingy Cougar defense that only gives up 193 pass yards per game.
Cierre Wood and George Atkinson- The Notre Dame running game is going to need to manufacture some success against BYU if they want to win the game. The fact that the Irish use a three tailback system could play well for them. Last week againstOregonState, the Beavers were able to tally 118 yards on the ground. The lion’s share of that came from tailbacks Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew, but it shows that it is possible to run on the Cougars. Wood has averaged 5.9 yards on 47 carries while Atkinson has proven to be the home run hitter, going for 9.1 yards on 32 carries. If these two can get going, it should open things up for Rees (or Golson if he plays).
My 5 Predictions
Tommy Rees – Taking the start with Golson still recovering from a concussion, Rees makes a decent impression, throwing for 210 yards with a 57% completion percentage, but is unable to connect in the end zone.
Tyler Eifert – BYU will likely focus on Eifert, but if the Notre Dame Run game gets going, things should loosen up in the second half. Eifert catches 6 balls for 75 yards.
The Irish run game – Cierre Wood, George Atkinson, and Theo Riddick combine to run for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Notre Dame’s secondary – I’ve been down on them for nearly the entire season, but the young guys in the defensive backfield have been able to hold their own (in part due to the Irish’s front seven). The trend stays alive and the Irish defensive backs intercept two Riley Nelson passes and keep the receivers out of the end zone.
Final Score - Though I feel BYU’s defense may be somewhat overstated and the potential for a Notre Dame point explosion is a real possibility, I’m going to play it safe. Notre Dame wins and ugly game 17-3.
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