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What Happens in Vegas…BYU vs. Notre Dame Preview

After coming off the earliest bye week since 2014, Saturday will mark Notre Dame’s 11th Shamrock Series game as the Irish travel to Las Vegas to take on the 16th ranked BYU Cougars.  If we’re being honest, two to three weeks ago I had lost hope for this game – ready to chalk it up as an automatic loss.  With the incremental improvements that Notre Dame has shown on both sides of the ball, I’m no longer feeling that way and view this game as a momentum and perception booster if the Irish are able to come out victorious.  BYU is certainly the best team that Notre Dame will have faced since Ohio State, but I do believe that if the Irish bring their A game, they can come out with a rather convincing win.

We enter game three of the Drew Pyne experience, coming off the bye week and looking to build on the performance shown against North Carolina.  Yes, Pyne and the Irish were able to have great success moving the ball against UNC, but we all know how bad that Carolina defense was.  That doesn’t take away from all the positives that we saw from the Irish, but a similar performance on Saturday against the Cougars would have me feeling a lot better about the overall state of the program.  I expect for Notre Dame to be able to run the ball fairly well against BYU and because of that, it would not be shocking to see the Cougars try to load the box and take away the run game.  The counterpunch to loading the box means that there will be less defenders down the field, opening up the passing game.  If this is the scenario, the Notre Dame wide receivers will need, and I mean need, to step up.  Lorenzo Styles started to gain some momentum against North Carolina, but the Irish wide receivers have been underwhelming thus far.  I was calling for his playing time at the beginning of the year and have been thoroughly disappointed in the lack of snaps given to freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather.  Merriweather, a 6 foot 4 athletic specimen needs to see double digit snaps this week along with a target or three in the passing game.  I am still very confused as to why he hasn’t seen the field more, but game five against BYU seems like as opportune of a time as ever for Merriweather to get involved in the air attack.  The usage of all three running backs – Chris Tyree, Audric Estime, and Logan Diggs – against North Carolina was exceptional and I expect more of the same against the Cougars.  If the Irish are looking for a successful outing on Saturday, the keys for the offense are going to be: have a balanced but schematic attack and get out to a fast start.  The Notre Dame offense in recent first quarters has been brutal to watch and against the 16th ranked team, there is no time for that.

Flipping to the other side of the ball, BYU gives me similar vibes to UNC in the sense that their defense has struggled in recent games, but their offense can put up some numbers.  The Cougars are currently averaging just over 34 points per game and are ranked 14th in the country in yards per play, averaging 6.7.  Led by quarterback Jaren Hall, BYU’s offensive success has mostly come through the passing game where they have racked up 1466 yards through the air on 8.4 yards per pass attempt.  Keanu Hill and Puka Nacua are the Cougars leading receivers although Nacua is coming off an injury but is likely to play against the Irish.  While Hall is not afraid to make plays with his legs as well, Christopher Brooks and Miles Davis are BYU’s leading rushers with 294 and 167 yards on the ground respectively.  Sitting at 4-1, BYU is an older, experienced team that will not be afraid of the spotlight on Saturday’s game.  Where I think the Irish have the advantage is if they can get out to a quick start offensively, like I mentioned earlier, and the Notre Dame defense can help keep points off the board, I don’t think BYU is much of a team to play from behind to mount a large comeback.  Other than the linebackers, the Irish defense has continued to play well and if that trend continues, I expect that Irish fans will leave Las Vegas very happy.  The Cougars special teams unit has been….struggling, to put it lightly and this is where I think we will see the tides turn in the game.  I expect Brian Mason to have Notre Dame’s punt block unit playing aggressively and will come up with a special teams forced turnover.  This, combined with Notre Dame’s ability to use the run game to set up passes and the Irish defense keeping the Cougars points to a minimum will lead to a 31-21 Irish victory.  A win here will be pivotal to Notre Dame’s success, outlook, and momentum going into the remainder of the season.  Viva Las Vegas – Go Irish.  Beat Cougars.

A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:

Ohio State: 5-0 overall, currently ranked #3, beat Rutgers 49-10

Marshall: 3-2 overall, beat Gardner-Webb 28-7

California: 3-2 overall, lost to Washington State 28-9

North Carolina: 4-1 overall, beat Virginia Tech 41-10

BYU: 4-1 overall, currently ranked #16, beat Utah State 38-26

Stanford: 1-3 overall, lost to Oregon 45-27

UNLV: 4-1 overall, beat New Mexico 31-20

Syracuse: 5-0 overall, currently ranked #22, beat Wagner 59-0

Clemson: 5-0 overall, currently ranked #5, beat NC State 30-20

Navy: 1-3 overall, lost to Air Force 13-10

Boston College: 2-3 overall, beat Louisville 34-33

USC: 5-0 overall, currently ranked #6, beat Arizona State 42-25