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Stiff BYU defense to test Irish offense

Allan Joseph | Thursday, October 18, 2012

At every media session this week, two words have come up over and over again: “trap game.” Sandwiched between an emotional overtime win over Stanford and a trip to Norman, Okla., for a night game against the No. 9 Sooners, the contest against BYU seems tailored to trip up the No. 5 Irish. The Cougars (4-3) come in with a low profile, and more importantly, with a suffocating defense that has every intention of stopping Notre Dame’s inconsistent offense.

“It’s a big opportunity for us,” Cougars cornerback Preston Hadley told the BYU media this week. “We can really come out and make a statement.”

If Irish coach Brian Kelly has had one mission this week, however, it’s to make sure his players focus on the task at hand. Kelly and his staff have drilled one message into their players.

“It’s a trap game each week if you think that you can take a breather,” Kelly said. “But if you just stay on the course [and] continue to do what you’re doing, we’ll be fine.”

The Cougars boast a defense ranked No. 5 in the country in total defense, allowing their opponents just 261 yards per game. The BYU defense also ranks No. 3 in the country in rushing defense (68 yards/game), third-down conversion rate (26 percent) and red zone conversion rate (53 percent).

“It’s another physical football team that plays great defense,” Kelly said. “They have won a couple of close games this year on the backs of their defense.”

Outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy leads the Cougars on defense. Named to a midseason All-America second team and tied for the fourth-most sacks in the nation this year, Van Noy is BYU’s defensive playmaker. When asked, Kelly said Van Noy reminded him in some ways of senior Irish linebacker Manti Te’o, though the two play different positions in similar 3-4 schemes.

“I think the way they ask him to play, he gets the opportunity to get after the quarterback much more than Manti,” Kelly said. “But you know, he’s a guy that is relentless like Manti. Look, the great players have the same traits. It’s just they are played at different positions, but they certainly could be interchangeable.”

Senior BYU linebacker and captain Brandon Ogletree also plays a key role in the Cougars’ defense. Playing a similar middle linebacker position to Te’o, Ogletree leads BYU in tackling just like his Irish counterpart.

“They put [Ogletree] in a position where he can play downhill [and] physical,” Kelly said.

With all of the talk from coaches about avoiding the prototypical trap game, Te’o said the Irish have taken the message to heart.

“Our team has done a great job of just focusing on the next opponent,” he said. “We don’t have Oklahoma this week. We don’t have Stanford. We already played Stanford. Right now it’s BYU, and that’s all we’re focused on. Until Sunday comes, you know, we’ll stop focusing on BYU. Until then, it’s all BYU.”

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu