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Special teams a big factor in loss

Heather VanHoegarden | Monday, September 6, 2004

PROVO, Utah – He bobbled the snap, avoided the Irish defense, kicked a 58-yard punt on the run and watched as it was downed at Notre Dame’s 2-yard line.Brigham Young’s punter/kicker Matt Payne showed the world why he was selected as an honorable mention All-American last year, with six of his nine punts dropping inside the 20-yard-line. BYU’s special teams, led by the senior Payne, made plays all night, keeping the Irish pinned in its own territory. Payne averaged 46.8 yards per punt, with a long of 63 yards.”Our kicking game did such a good job of pinning it back in the second quarter especially, and late in the game with Payne,” BYU head coach Gary Crowton said. “They gave us a chance to win down the stretch.”In the second quarter, the Irish received four BYU punts and started on their own nine-yard line, 11-yard line, four-yard line and 20-yard line. Each possession resulted in a punt, except the last, which resulted in a D.J. Fitzpatrick 21-yard field goal to end the half. For the game, the Irish got the ball in BYU territory just once, when they recovered a fumble on the Cougar 36-yard line.Payne helped pin the Irish back with a combination of precision and accuracy.”I always thought he was one of the better all-around kicker and special teams players in the country,” Crowton said. “I remember two years ago, we were second in the nation in net punt[ing]. We wanted to get back and do that again last year. We changed our punting scheme a little bit and did some things we thought could help in his skills and so we can get guys down there. [Payne] did a great job.”Payne also kicked two field goals for BYU, one in the first quarter of 44 yards and another in the second, good for 53 yards.But on the Notre Dame end, it was more than Payne’s performance that hurt them. Punt returner Rhema McKnight struggled, making questionable punt catches and letting others go. In the second quarter, he caught a kick at the Notre Dame one-yard line that appeared to be carrying into the end zone. He returned it just three yards, pinning the Irish on the four-yard line.”The kicker was kicking the ball to the far right and it was really tough to getto,” McKnight said of Payne’s punts. “That’s no excuse, though, it was really a lot of mental mistakes on my part [in the return game].”When Notre Dame took over at the four-yard line, the offense sputtered, gaining zero yards on three plays and punting the ball back to BYU, who started its drive on the Notre Dame 33-yard line. Payne then hit a 53-yard field goal to give the Cougars a 13-0 lead.”[BYU’s big plays] really made the difference, combined with our inability to make good decisions in our special teams area, and not do anything there and not being able to mount our true offense,” Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said. For the Irish, Fitzpatrick punted 11 times for an average of 42.6 yards per punt, including a long of 56 yards. One punt was partially blocked, going just 21 yards. Fitzpatrick pinned BYU inside the 20-yard line two times.One bright spot for Notre Dame was red-shirt freshman Chase Anastasio, who returned a kick for 40 yards in the third quarter. However, this was not enough, as the Irish failed to score despite the good field position.”What we couldn’t get going was much offense to put us in a good position [to win],” Willingham said. “We also hurt ourselves with our inability to do anything in the special teams area. And I think the inability to be effective in those two areas really hurts.”

Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at hvanhoeg@nd.edu