Two missed field goals, an interception off a facemask, a horribly inaccurate passing attack, and dumb, undisciplined penalties — quite frankly the Irish resembled the 2011 squad instead of this year’s top five version.
However, unlike last year, the Notre Dame prevailed thanks to a career day from Theo Riddick and yet another solid performance by the Irish defense.
With Everett Golson still recovering from a concussion, Tommy Rees had his chance to create a true quarterback controversy for the Irish. The “closer” got off to a solid start, leading the Irish immediately to what should have been a scoring drive, but Kyle Brindza missed a 40 yard field goal. After Manti Te’o strengthened his Heisman campaign with another interception, the Irish promptly went three and out. Rees bounced back and led a TD drive before the end of the first quarter.
Then things quickly went to hell.
First, the Irish defense finally cracked and gave up their first offensive TD since Purdue. The Irish offensive response was cut short by a Tommy Rees interception that was practically identical to one thrown against USF last season: directly off the helmet of an Irish receiver. DaVaris Daniels played the roll of T.J. Jones this time and BYU promptly scored another TD on the Irish defense. The Irish rushing attack then gained some momentum, but again came up short as Brindza missed his second field goal of the day.
In the second half, Kelly decided to lean on running game to bring the Irish back; in fact, the Irish only ran four passing plays in the entire half. The comeback was spurred by an incredible second effort 55 yard rush by Theo Riddick, in a textbook example of what forward progress actually looks like *cough*Stanford*cough*. After Brindza finally connected on a field goal, the Irish comeback was officially under way.
The following drive, one of the few Irish passes connected in a huge way as a 32 yard pass to T.J. Jones started a TD drive that ended with a George Atkinson III TD run. The Irish defense then did what they’ve done all season and stepped up to secure the victory. A few more Irish rushes and a Danny Spond INT later, the Irish walked off the field with a 17-14 victory.
While the game itself was far from a dominating performance, there are still several positives to take away from this game. The biggest perhaps is that the Irish were able to overcome their mistakes and win in spite of them, a feat they couldn’t accomplish last year. The two missed field goals left 6 points on the board and the lone Irish interception turned into 7 points for BYU. That’s a 13 points that the Irish spotted the Cougars, and a potential 20 if you assume the Irish would’ve scored a TD on the drive that ended with an INT. Despite such setbacks, the Irish still came out on top.
While Rees wasn’t hurting the Irish via turnovers (and let’s be honest, the INT wasn’t his fault), his inaccurate passing day certainly wasn’t helping after going zero for the second quarter. However, there was no panic from Kelly. The adjustment at the half was clear: let the rushing attack bring the Irish back and take a run a couple passes only to keep BYU honest. There was no panic to an air raid with a struggling QB like we’ve seen in the past.
The result: 270 rushing yards against the (previously) 6th ranked rushing defense in the nation that was giving up only 67.9 yards/game, 6.3 yards/carry against a defense previously giving up 2.2 yards/carry, and the second game this season in which the Irish had two 100+ yard rushers in the same game. I’d love to tell you the last time the Irish were able to have two games with two 100+ yard rushers, but I couldn’t find enough box scores before the year 2000.
What I can tell you is that the Irish are 7-1 in their last eight games decided by seven points or less. In the eleven games before that, the Irish were only 2-9.
This is a team that has learned how to win the close games, how to win ugly. This is a team that doesn’t panic and fall into “here we go again mode” as we’ve seen so many times before. This is a team that consistently adjusts in the second half and refuses to give up. This is a team that doesn’t fall victim to the trap game.
This is a damned good football team and more than just Irish fans are taking notice:
5. Notre Dame. Ugly as hell in winning a 17-14 victory over BYU, but should have been. BYU plays a nasty, caustic brand of football that is really not dissimilar to Notre Dame: defense first, and let the touchdowns happen where they may. They happened marginally more often for ND than for BYU, but marginal victories are the sort of things good teams make happen on rough nights. Notre Dame — he says, reaching for the bourbon with a terrified, shaking hand — IS A VERY GOOD FOOTBALL TEAM.