Week 11: BYU
Samantha Zuba | Saturday, November 23, 2013
The Irish seniors bid Notre Dame Stadium farewell with a 23-13 win over BYU on a cold, snowy Saturday to go out at home as winners.
Irish coach Brian Kelly praised them for picking up the slack and improving after the Pitt loss.
“We asked our guys to do something with this game,” Kelly said. “We asked a single-minded focus that they had not shown against Pittsburgh and an attention to detail. We felt like we didn’t have that against Pittsburgh, and I think all of our players, in particular our seniors, really rallied to those things.”
Notre Dame (8-3) converted its first possession of the game into an 84-yard touchdown drive. BYU (7-4) tied the game at seven, but after the Irish went ahead 14-7, they never surrendered the lead.
With the Irish leading 20-13, Cougars junior defensive back Craig Bills gave BYU hope in the fourth quarter when he intercepted a pass from Irish senior quarterback Tommy Rees intended for junior tight end Troy Niklas in the end zone.
Junior kicker Kyle Brindza’s 51-yard field goal with the wind put Notre Dame up 23-13 several drives later, and the Irish defense ensured that the Cougars could not come back.
Brindza said he insistently told Kelly the 51-yarder was within his range and admitted he is often vocal with his coach.
“He [coach Kelly] has the confidence in me, and I have the confidence in myself, so I’m always in his ear, but he doesn’t mind it, I don’t think. Hopefully not,” Brindza said.
Later in the fourth quarter, a 49-yard run by Cougars junior running back Paul Lasike brought BYU to the goal line, but Irish freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith batted down a pass to force a field-goal attempt, which sophomore defensive lineman Jarron Jones blocked.
Although the day was dedicated to the seniors, Kelly said younger players like freshman running back Tarean Folston and Jones, as well as reserve players like junior center Matt Hegarty also made an impact. Folston, making his first career start, scored once for the Irish and contributed on two touchdown drives. Hegarty stepped in after junior center Nick Martin left the game with a hyperextended knee.
On Sunday, Kelly said Martin is out for the rest of the season with a “significant knee injury.”
“A lot of guys were out there with very thin resumes and they built them up today,” Kelly said. “It was really good to see.”
Folston ran the ball for 18 yards on three carries during Notre Dame’s first touchdown drive before Rees aired it out to junior receiver DaVaris Daniels for a 61-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. Daniels had already blown past the coverage when he caught the ball at the 23-yard line, and he cruised in for the score.
Folston scored his second career touchdown on the second Irish drive of the game. The rookie scampered around the left side from two yards out to put Notre Dame up 14-7.
A 29-yard pass from Rees to senior receiver TJ Jones set up the score that capped a 75-yard drive.
Folston drove the ball again for the Irish in the third quarter when he burst through the middle and broke away for a 43-yard gain that brought the ball to the BYU 18-yard line. Brindza kicked a 26-yard field goal and increased the Irish lead to 20-7.
Folston rushed for 78 yards, and junior running back Cam McDaniel led Notre Dame with 117 yards. Kelly said the winter weather suited McDaniel’s running style.
“The game style fits his – and I don’t want to box him into a particular kind of runner,” Kelly said. “But he’s a physical inside runner, and so him and Tarean got a lot of carries inside out.”
Slick field conditions came into play multiple times in the contest, forcing several players to slip. The weather and slippery conditions provided a dramatic backdrop for the end of the game, Rees said.
“It’s a pretty cool way to close out a game,” Rees said. “I don’t know any of us that have played in a snowy game like this, but it’s pretty special out there, persevere, show the kind of toughness we have as a team through any conditions.”
In the second half, BYU didn’t cut into the Irish lead until Cougars sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill found his stride late in the third quarter and marched BYU down the field with three carries and four passes. The Cougars were forced to kick on fourth down, but Cougars senior kicker Justin Sorensen’s 27-yard kick pulled BYU to within one touchdown at 20-13.
BYU scored its first touchdown on a seven-yard pass from Hill to senior wide receiver JD Falsley with 6:48 left in the first quarter. Hill carried the ball five times in the first quarter and was sacked by Irish senior linebacker Dan Fox once.
“We really didn’t want Pitt to beat us twice, so you know, we move on from that,” Fox said. “We were just really excited to play BYU and show people what we’re made of.”
According to Kelly, this senior class has shown what they’re capable of.
“This now puts us at I think 11-1 in our last 12 [home] games, and that’s something that is so important in developing a consistency in your program, is winning at home, and our seniors are so much a part of that in building that consistency at winning at home,” Kelly said. “And so I thank them for that.”
One of those seniors received an additional thank you during the game. Smith wore No. 13 instead of his customary No. 9 to honor senior outside linebacker Danny Spond, who retired this year because of hemiplegic migraines, but stayed with the team to mentor several young linebackers, including Smith. Smith said he was able to talk to Spond after the game in the locker room.
“I really just thanked him for letting me honor him today, and said it was a pleasure,” Smith said.
Contact Samantha Zuba at [email protected]