BYU vs. Notre Dame: 5 Game Observations

With the Brigham Young Cougars game against Notre Dame in the books, it is time to follow up on 5 Things to Watch for. BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL was keeping an eye on defense, turnovers, Ross Apo, 60 minutes, and Riley Stephenson. Here is what we saw.

1. Defense.

The Notre Dame defense did its job. They allowed BYU just 243 yards of total offense. The Fighting Irish limited BYU to just 66 yards rushing largely due to their strong pass rush. Notre Dame had four sacks for -36 yards. Although BYU drove the ball well several times, sacks near the red zone limited BYU to just 14 points.

The BYU defense played well. They allowed a few big pass plays, mostly to All-American TE Tyler Eifert, but back up quarterback Tommy Rees didn't look like a superstar. Through most of three quarters the BYU defense was adequate against the run. It took some athleticism and a little luck for Notre Dame to rip off a 55-yard run. BYU responded, however, by stuffing three run plays to force a field goal. BYU wore down in the fourth quarter as Notre Dame continued to pound the ball. The fatigue led to poor tackling, and it became very difficult to force a punt. Notre Dame finished with 270 yards rushing and 389 total yards.

2. Turnovers.

BYU had two, both interceptions by quarterback Riley Nelson. Although BYU led 14-7 at the end of the first half, the interception Nelson threw early in the first quarter would come back to haunt BYU. A good pass in front of the receiver would have picked up 10 yards, at least, and given BYU the ball at the 25-yard line or closer. A field goal or touchdown seems almost guaranteed without the interception.

The second interception came with just a few seconds left in the game. BYU was 90 yards away from the end zone. It is very hard to imagine it had any bearing on the outcome of the game.

The Cougar D forced a turnover. Kyle Van Noy intercepted a pass in the second quarter that BYU turned into a touchdown. That was Notre Dame's only turnover. It would be nice if the BYU defense would generate more turnovers.

3. Ross Apo.

Apo wasn't MIA this week. He caught three passes for 25 yards. Two of his receptions resulted in a first down. The other catch set up a manageable third and three. His 10-yard catch in the second quarter set up Kaneakua Friel's 2-yard touchdown catch that gave BYU a 14-7 lead.

BYU still needs more from Apo and give it some variety. All three receptions were quick screens at the line of scrimmage. Apo needs to catch passes 10-15 yards down field as well. Cody Hoffman does it, why not Apo?

4. 60 minutes.

Once again, BYU played well for more than 50 minutes, but failed to finish the job. Against Oregon State, the Cougars lasted 54 minutes. This week it was 53. Trailing 17-14, the BYU offense was moving the ball. BYU was 31 yards away from victory when Notre Dame got its final sack of the day. The sack forced BYU to punt.

Following the punt, the defense couldn't stop Notre Dame from running all but 22 seconds off the clock. A sloppy tackle on third and five allowed Notre Dame a first down, instead of forcing a punt with about 2:30 to play.

5. Riley Stephenson.

Stephenson punted really well, especially in the first half. He forced the Notre Dame offense to drive the length of the field. All three of his punts in the first half were 50 yards or longer. Two of his punts were inside the 20 yard line. Stephenson averaged 46.8 yards on six punts. The only thing he could have improved was to make his final punt two yards shorter so the cover guys could have downed it at the one-yard line.

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