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‘A sense of community in Las Vegas’: Students return from Shamrock Series game

The annual Shamrock Series game took place this past weekend in Las Vegas, and students and fans traveled to Allegiant Stadium to watch the Fighting Irish take on BYU. 

“The energy at the game was super electrifying,” first-year Bella Vasquez, who attended the game with her family, said. “Everyone was so excited to be there.” 

Elizabeth Rhee, a first-year engineering student in Pasquerilla East Hall, echoed her sentiments.

“The energy was wild,” she said.

Both Rhee and Vasquez remarked on the strength of the Notre Dame presence, saying the fans were pretty evenly split between the teams.

Benjamin Nelson, a senior science business major from Keough Hall added, “It was kind of more like a bowl game than like a normal game.”

Junior biology major Heather Roland discussed the experience of being in an NFL stadium, as Allegiant is home to the Las Vegas Raiders.

“My dad’s a huge Raiders fan, so playing in the new stadium was … incredible,” Roland said. 

Students said that although it wasn’t quite the same as being at home in Notre Dame Stadium, the distance couldn’t derail some classic Irish traditions. Fans kept the spirit alive by doing touchdown push ups to celebrate the team’s success.

“I was glad we did the Alma Mater, because we don’t always do that at away games,” Roland said. 

As a member of the marching band, Rhee helped maintain this beloved tradition and spoke about how the group’s routine compared to normal.

“Times are mostly the same,” she said. “We have to wake up at a certain time, we have to rehearse.” 

However, she noted several key differences as well.

“We didn’t have any march outs,” she remarked, referencing the band’s tradition of marching from the Golden Dome to rehearsal on Fridays before game days.

“We just took a bus to travel to the place we needed to rehearse at,” she said.

Fan Fest, which took place in the parking lot, also replaced the classic Concert on the Steps, though Rhee said that the fans still brought excitement.

“It was mostly the same energy, same steps,” she summarized. 

Roland attended as a student manager for the football team.

“I work for defense, and they played very well, so I was very happy with that,” she said, continuing, “I was really glad that I got to go, very thankful for the opportunities I’ve gotten through my job as a student manager.”

Students who spoke with The Observer also discussed the environment throughout Las Vegas, seeing fellow students and fans throughout the city.

“You would see people out and about in Notre Dame shirts,” Nelson said.

“I would be walking around and [fans] would just be like, ‘Go Irish!’” Rhee added.

Vasquez spoke to this sense of community even so far from campus, emphasizing “how cool it was to see such a big turnout for our team and the support and the love for our school.” Nelson seemed to agree, saying that despite the travel, it was “100% worth it.”

Contact Keira Stenson at kstenson@nd.edu

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Sports

Ladd: Offense rewrites their narrative in the Bible Brawl

The Irish played their cards right as they kept their perfect Shamrock Series streak alive with a 28-20 victory against No. 16 BYU out in Sin City. Though the Irish were favored by four, this was no walk in the park against a ranked team. Just getting this was huge for the Irish. But more importantly, the execution during the game demonstrated that the Irish offense CAN close. The early loss of sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner at Marshall only added fuel to that fire in a game – to put it bluntly – that was chaotic and quite abysmal. 

A mediocre Cal performance did not help the Irish offense’s case much. And their inability to carry out the run game became a point of worry for Irish fans. It was unclear earlier in the season if junior Drew Pyne would perform as expected as a starter.. This weekend’s performance though ended that concern.

Before this weekend, a UNC victory showed signs that the Irish offense could gain momentum and put it all together. I was not sold though, as UNC’s defense is one of the weakest of all Power 5 teams. To me, the matchup versus BYU was a real test of what the offense can do. Pyne looked comfortable in the pocket yesterday, despite playing in front of a very vocal crowd of 62,742 in one of the NFL’s sleekest stadiums.

We’ve come a long way from Tommy Rees shouting expletives to a befuddled Drew Pyne on the phone at the Cal game. I felt proud of the offense last night as they did what they had to do and showed us the potential they were hiding. 

The offense started well early by controlling the line of scrimmage and despite struggles in the second half, they were able to pull off a win. An obvious point of notice was the Vegas quality show junior tight end Michael Mayer put on. Though I will not exhaust the topic, I thought the early use of Mayer was a smart game plan. He was able to make big plays early on in the game and is now the leading tight end in receptions for the Irish.

It goes without saying that the Pyne-Mayer duo certainly stole the show, and I was continually impressed by Mayer’s ability to “be there” and make some serious plays. A role model and leader for the team, Mayer’s hard work shines through on the field. I’m excited to see how he continues to be an asset for the Irish as the season progresses.

Another notable point for the offense was the number of other players who were able to step up and make plays. Aside from Mayer, Pyne connected with seven other receivers, including Jayden Thomas who was able to get his shining moment. The stellar 30-yard touchdown catch from Thomas was a difference-maker in the game and the first of his career. 

Freshman tight end Holden Staes also contributed, making his first career catch on a critical third-down conversion. Sophomore running backs Audric Estime and Logan Diggs were also active on the field. Estime finished with 110 total yards, 97 on the ground and 13 through the air, good enough for his third straight game with 100+ yards from scrimmage. Diggs finished with a team-high 17 carries, which he turned into 93 yards.

All in all, everyone really showed up last night, which is what is most important. I saw an Irish offense ready for action and looking to help their leader, a poised and decisive Drew Pyne. The O-line also contributed substantially, providing time for Pyne to get comfortable. I enjoyed this quote by Freeman via the post-game press conference. 

“It’s too often the quarterback gets too much blame and too much praise, right? We need guys to make the quarterback look good. And to see Jayden (Thomas) make some of those big catches that he made the day was huge for the confidence of our wideouts room, but also the confidence of our quarterback to be able to spread the ball around. And so, it was really good to see that.”

Pyne demonstrated his growth and ability to perform as the leader of the offense. Compared to his performances earlier this season, it was clear he took ownership of the position and knew exactly what job he needed to do. He excelled on third down in this game, which I think was a large part of the team’s success. Pyne showed excellent decisiveness and accuracy in the majority of his looks in the game. 

There is always room for improvement, however. In the second half of the game, BYU’s defense seemingly knew exactly where Pyne would go with the ball. Focusing heavily on Mayer almost began to hurt him, and the fourth quarter interception was especially problematic. Nevertheless, this is a learning experience for him. There is plenty of teaching tape for him to work on with Rees.

Though it is early, Pyne is on track for a historic year. His current completion percentage (72.5%) and passer efficiency rating (167.3) would represent single-season records for the Irish. The former is currently held by Ian Book, while the latter is shared by Jimmy Clausen and Bob Williams.

Will Pyne be able to keep this up? I do not know. But if he continues to play the way he did this weekend while perfecting mistakes, I think it is quite possible.

All in all, I think it was a stellar performance from the Notre Dame offense. At least, compared to what we have seen at the beginning of the season. Pyne’s poise and increasing confidence, paired with the help he received from the wideouts, was key in the victory over the Cougars. It will be interesting to see who continues to rise up and assist in making those plays. It takes everyone engaged and on the same page to create a cohesive and dominant offense. This was definitely the most we have seen of that from the Irish thus far. 

Contact Madeline Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu.

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Sports

Observer on the ground: Las Vegas

It was a memorable weekend in Las Vegas with the Irish beating No. 16 BYU in a thrilling game at Allegiant Stadium. Aside from the exhilarating game, I had a blast seeing everything that Vegas had to offer.

We departed from South Bend at 4:30 p.m. Friday and then had about a two-hour layover in Dallas. After paying $15 for arguably the most disgusting burger of my life, we boarded our flight to Las Vegas.

We touched down in Sin City around 9 p.m. local time, and from the moment we left the plane, the hustle and bustle of Vegas was apparent. After walking through the Vegas airport, we called an Uber and headed to our Renaissance hotel, which was just off the strip.

A lot of the senior class had made their way down to Vegas for the weekend, including some of my friends, so I quickly changed and headed to the Venetian Hotel to meet up with them.

After walking through the lobby and the main casino floor, I went upstairs to the TAO Nightclub to find my friends. I paid my cover and found some of my friends hanging out at the bar. I got a drink that was way too expensive, and then we headed to the dance floor.

It was a surreal experience to be dancing at a fancy nightclub in Vegas with all my friends. It was definitely a different experience from a normal night in South Bend. But it was a great time. The club had some fun special effects and smoke to enhance the experience too. There were a group of probably 20 or so of us, and it was a night I will always remember.

I left the club around 2 a.m., and by that point, I was hungry, so I got myself a pizza and Ubered back to the hotel for the night.

We woke up around 10 a.m. the next day and took an Uber over to the strip to get some breakfast to start the day. We found out very quickly that getting breakfast in Vegas is a whole ordeal, as most of the buffets and restaurants had crazy lines. In the end, we just walked to an Einstein’s to get some food quickly.

Walking around the strip, we noticed plenty of Irish and BYU fans having a good time before the game on Saturday. I was wearing my long sleeve button-down and khakis for the game, which was unfortunate, considering the 90-degree weather. But I toughed it out as we walked the strip. We walked through The Cosmopolitan, New York, the Luxor, Mandalay Bay, and MGM Grand as we took in all the sights of Vegas.

We were about to call an Uber to the stadium, but we noticed that the Nissan Heisman House had a tent up near New York, so we stopped check it out. We managed to get a picture of ourselves with the Heisman trophy, which was unexpected but very cool. Then, we called our Uber to Allegiant stadium.

Upon arrival at Allegiant Stadium, I was kind of surprised by how empty most of the tailgating lots were. We stopped by the Shamrock Series Fan Fest for a little bit, but it wasn’t anything too special. We decided to grab our credentials and make our way into Allegiant Stadium to get out of the heat.

I was immediately impressed with Allegiant when we entered. The facilities were top-class, and the design of the stadium was spectacular. The glass windows and multiple scoreboards throughout the stadium somewhat reminded me of U.S. Bank Stadium back home in Minneapolis.

We made our way to the press box to drop off our stuff, which was top-tier as well. We had great seats in the front row of the box, which had a truly spectacular view. There was still some time before the game, so we went down to the concourse to walk around the stadium. It was apparent to me when we were walking around the stadium that the atmosphere would be world-class on Saturday.

We headed back up to the press box to get some food. I was surprised to see that the kitchen staff had gone full out with an Irish-themed dinner. We had some traditional Irish staples like mashed potatoes, cabbage and shepherd’s pie. The staff even went as far as having green hot dog buns to embrace the Shamrock Series.

With about five minutes left in the game, we got the opportunity to head down to the field to watch the end of the game and prepare for the postgame press conference. After watching the Irish close the game out, we stood by the team and student section as the players sang the Alma Mater. We then went to the press conference, wrote our stories and Ubered back to the hotel.

I laid down for about 30 minutes. Then, I headed back to the strip to meet up with my friends. Eventually, I ended up at Planet Hollywood’s casino, and I watched one of my friends play Craps. I think I started to kind of understand the rules, but it was a little complicated for me. After hanging out there for about an hour, we walked to New York to go the Irish pub there.

It was a more chill night. But the five of us talked for a while, listened to some live music and just soaked in the last moments of our time in Vegas.

I got back to the hotel around 2:30 a.m. and slept for around five hours. Then, we headed to the airport to catch our morning flight.

All in all, the Las Vegas weekend was one of the most memorable weekends of my life. To go on such a special trip my senior year and see a fantastic Notre Dame victory was all I could ask for.

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Sports

Notre Dame-BYU: Postgame

Marcus Freeman celebrates his third win as the team’s head coach in Notre Dame’s 28-20 victory over the BYU Cougars.

Cashing out in Vegas: Irish topple No. 16 BYU

Jayden Thomas steps up Irish when it matters

Michael Mayer sets Notre Dame tight end receptions record

Instant Analysis: Five key moments from the Irish’s Shamrock Series win

Gameday Gallery: Notre Dame vs. BYU

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Cashing out in Vegas: Notre Dame brings home a hard-fought win against No. 16 BYU

It was a monumental night for the Fighting Irish out in Las Vegas as they took down No. 16 BYU 28-20 in front of a 62,742 crowd at the NFL’s Allegiant Stadium. The Irish have never lost a Shamrock Series game, and they continued this perfect streak in last night’s 11th matchup. Referring to the night as a “great win for the program,” Dick Corbett head coach Marcus Freeman was proud his team was able to be part of such a special Notre Dame tradition in an electric Allegiant Stadium atmosphere.  

“The amount of fans, the noise, you know, this truly felt like a home game,” Freeman said. “It was a great environment. It’s credit to what this university, what this network, what this football program, what the brand of Notre Dame is about. This win was special.”

A competitive first half from Notre Dame’s offense and defense led to an easy 18-6 lead going into the second half. However, the Irish allowed the Cougars to get back into the game due to some lapses on defense. In what seemed to be the luck of the Irish, though, everything was able to click for Notre Dame when it mattered most. The defense made crucial stops in the last moments of the game, and the team was able to finish strong and “find a way to execute,” as Freeman said. 

Irish dominate first half 

The competition got off to an exciting start after Notre Dame’s graduate student CB TaRiq Bracy intercepted a severely underthrown pass from Cougar QB Jaren Hall off the first play of the game. Off this turnover, the Irish were able to get on the board first with a successful field goal. They would continue to hold the lead the entire game against the Cougars. 

Another highlight from the first half included the absolute dominance showcased by Michael Mayer. The senior tight end amassed 118 yards throughout the game and was responsible for two out of three Irish touchdowns. Mayer also made Irish history, as he surpassed Tyler Eifert’s record for most receptions by a tight end in program history. One of Mayer’s touchdown grabs marked his record-setting 141st. It was clear there was some serious chemistry between junior quarterback Drew Pyne and Mayer, as the duo ran the offense through the night. 

“Having such a great ally and being able to find Mike a couple of times today was unbelievable and it adds so much to our offense,” Pyne said. “He’s an unbelievable player and my best friend and now it’s really cool to be out there with Mike.” 

Pyne himself also brought plenty to the table for the Irish, throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He leaned on Mayer and was able to avoid turnovers, except for one interception on a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Focusing on the game play-by-play instead of big picture, Pyne prioritizes accuracy as his defining factor. 

“I can’t even tell you a ballpark of how many yards I threw for,” Pyne said. “I don’t really think about that. It’s just play-by-play. I think accuracy has always been a part of my game that kind of separates me. That’s something that I really have focused on since I was a little kid.”

Pyne was able to spread the ball around the offense, most notably sophomore wide receiver Jayden Thomas. Thomas’ 30 yard reception from Pyne granted the Irish a touchdown in the final minute of the second quarter. This was Thomas’ first career touchdown, and Freeman was pleased to see this play out. 

“We need guys to make the quarterback look good,” Freeman said. “To see Jayden make some of those big catches that he made today was huge for the confidence of our wideouts’ room, but also the confidence of our quarterback to be able to spread the ball around.”

Notre Dame went for two, but Pyne’s pass to Mayer was high and incomplete. Nevertheless, ending 18-6 in the first half and dominating statistically showed what the Irish could do on both sides of the ball. The offense finally felt cohesive on all ends, and Pyne certainly demonstrated he was comfortable in the pocket. 

Irish execute in second half despite mistakes

The Cougars came out with a vengeance in the second half of play, whereas the Irish defense appeared to lose momentum. Halfway through the third, Hall was able to throw a 53 yard touchdown to Kody Epps after a failed deep safety blitz by the Irish. Not only that, but another Irish mistake allowed a 28-yard BYU touchdown resulting from a 10 play drive. This made things tight in the fourth quarter, but Freeman emphasized the importance of not panicking. 

“I was telling them, calm down, calm down,” Freeman said. “We got to go back and just do our jobs.”

And do their jobs they did. A fourth down stop by Jayson Ademilola toward the end of the game was the difference-maker for the Irish. Couple that with a consistent run game by Diggs and Estime to run the clock down, and the Irish’s 28-20 victory was secured. 

“We had to get the stop fourth and one,” Freeman said. “We challenged them on the sidelines, and it was a timeout right before that fourth and one. That was a huge play.”

Ending on a high note was extremely satisfying for the Notre Dame defense. Nevertheless, they still must regroup and analyze the mistakes that were made. The offense showed what they could do with some big plays, but had other plays that could have been executed for a more fruitful outcome. Still, a victory is a victory and Notre Dame brings back to South Bend yet another Shamrock Series win.

Contact Maddie Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu.

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Sports

Notre Dame topples BYU in Bible Brawl: 5 key moments

Allegiant Stadium was electric and energy-filled tonight from both BYU and Notre Dame as 62,742 fans witnessed a close match of college football in the 2022 Shamrock Series. Ultimately, the Irish saw victory over the Cougars, 28-20. They never lost the lead, but the win was not always certain. It would not be a Notre Dame game without a borderline heart attack in the second half, and this game certainly fit the bill. The Irish offense did their job consistently well, except in the red zone where Tommy Rees’ questionable play-calling left points off the board. The defense fell short in the second half and cost the team a substantial lead, but the Irish were able to pull it together and perform when it mattered most. Notre Dame showed what they could do on offense — something Irish fans have been waiting to see. The defense was frustratingly inconsistent but created the 4th down stop when needed.

A TaRiq Bracy interception starts things off right for the Irish

Notre Dame won the toss and deferred to the second half, but BYU certainly did not have the ball long. Right out of the gate on first-and-10, Irish graduate student cornerback TaRiq Bracy picked off a massively underthrown ball by Cougar’s quarterback Jaren Hall. BYU has seemingly owned the turnover battle this season, but Bracy humbled them early in the game. 

Bracy’s turnover marks the Irish’s first interception of the season and a big moment for the Irish defense. This allowed the Irish to gain possession and make it 3-0 with a field goal. Bracy apparently injured his hamstring at the end of the game and his status for next week is unknown at this point, but he significantly contributed tonight.

Michael Mayer leads Irish offense in record-breaking performance 

“Drew Pyne’s pass complete to Michael Mayer” echoed repeatedly this Saturday night in Allegiant Stadium. Consistently present to receive junior quarterback Pyne’s passes,  Mayer helped the Irish rack up big yardage throughout the entire game and stole the show in Vegas.  

In the second quarter, Mayer’s sixth catch of the game — a touchdown and the 141st reception of his career — allowed him to surpass former Irish All-American Tyler Eifert atop Notre Dame’s career reception list for tight ends. This momentous moment for Mayer was certainly well deserved Saturday night as he racked up 118 yards and amassed two touchdowns. Mayer was a key component of the Irish’s successful performance tonight.

Jayden Thomas’ stellar 30 yd touchdown catch grants Irish steady lead

Cheers erupted at the end of the second quarter as sophomore wide receiver Jayden Thomas received a 30-yard pass from Pyne and ran for an Irish touchdown. This was the first touchdown of the Georgia native’s career and helped the Irish gain a steady lead against the Cougars. The spiral by Pyne and stellar catch by Thomas in the final minute of the quarter certainly made this one of the top plays of the game. With the score at 18-6, the Irish were sitting in a comfortable spot heading into the second half. That is, until the Cougars had something to say about it.

A sheer struggle from the Notre Dame defense in the second half allows BYU back in the game 

Though Notre Dame’s offense has typically been characterized as the weaker link this season, the defense almost cost the Irish their lead. The Cougars came out of the gate hot in the second half, and the Irish defense lacked the momentum to deal with this. The defense performed decently in the first half, only letting in one touchdown for the Cougars in an otherwise solid performance. An interception by Bracy had things looking bright, but this quickly shifted around in the second half. 

Notre Dame’s poor tackling performance and lack of communication by the secondary allowed BYU to get back into the game after trailing by double digits. Giving up chunk plays in the second half, a trend that has consistently repeated itself this season, allowed BYU to rally.  What should have been a 3-and-out for the Notre Dame defense turned into an 87-yard, 10-play scoring drive for BYU. As the momentum shifted,  BYU fans got louder, and the Irish defense sank lower. Luckily, the Notre Dame defense had a huge 4th-down stop to save the day and secure the Irish victory. 

Pynes’s play continues to develop consistency and effectiveness

Tommy Rees will surely be more content this week after quarterback Drew Pyne continued to build upon the consistency he began showing during his first start against Cal and expanded upon in the Irish’s matchup against UNC. Pyne threw for 262 yards with three touchdowns and was an efficient 22-28 with only one interception, which was tipped at the line.  He spread the ball around to seven different Irish receivers and remained cool and confident under pressure.

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‘Creating chaos’: Kiser ready to lead Irish over BYU

The linebacker room will be one man short for the first half of this week’s game as J.D. Bertrand got called for targeting again against the Tar Heels two weeks ago. The rest of the squad has practiced filling in for the senior captain, shifting over and running different packages but a lot of those adjustments have fallen on graduate student Jack Kiser. 

The Indiana native has been prepared for a moment like this though. Since high school, he’s played a wide range of positions. Then, he played anywhere from quarterback to defensive back. Now, he trains in every linebacker position and even sometimes in the vyper role on the line. 

Having played all over the field, Kiser has a clear perspective on the defense as a whole, their goals and what the Irish need to work on to strengthen their defensive presence through the rest of the season. The main focus, he says, is turnovers.

“If you want to be a great defense, you’ve got to create chaos,” Kiser said. “We haven’t created as much as we want but we certainly do believe when we get the thing rolling, they’re going to come in bunches. Every day we’re reminding people ‘Punch at the ball, rip.’ Anytime you’re around that ball it has to be some type of attempt to create that turnover. That’s something that’s always on our mind. Certainly going into this week it’s going to be just as big as any other week.”

Over the course of his career, the linebacker forced two fumbles and snagged three interceptions. All but one of those turnovers came last season. In both of his 2021 interceptions, Kiser ran the pick for six points, once against Wisconsin and again over Georgia Tech. 

Kiser has also been dominant in his tackling. With 26 on the season, 10 of them solo and one of them a sack, he’s had more than half of last year’s total only four games in. He doesn’t miss them either — Kiser has only three missed tackles in his career, all coming back in 2020.

“When I grab on, I’m not going to let go,” he said. “But it’s three too many [missed tackles]. Hopefully this year we can get that down to zero and be perfect in tackling because you have to be.” 

Even so, the Irish — Kiser included — have been focused on making sure they don’t lose anyone else to targeting calls and are tackling well.

“It’s super tough. They’re on scholarship, you’re on scholarship. You’re trying to win the game. At times, they’re 230 pounds and you’re trying to get them down, right? At the same time you have to keep in your head there’s a strike zone. When it’s a bang-bang play it’s tough but you gotta know to keep your head up and you’ve gotta avoid their upper shoulder, neck, head area. That’s something that we’ve been emphasizing the last couple weeks,” Kiser said.

While he says honing the technique has been important, Kiser also said they can’t falter worrying about that call being made though. 

“You can’t be scared to make a tackle because you have something in the back of your head that tells you not to,” he said. “But you have to be smart and you have to think about it so it’s a tough balance. We’re getting a scholarship to play football and as a defensive player, you’ve got to be able to find that balance… you’ve just got to trust yourself and be confident in your teaching and your ability and your technique to just go out there and play and make the best tackle you can.” 

In terms of what else he’s been working on, Kiser said in an interview earlier this season that he’s focused on “using [his] hands, being physical and block destruction.” He’s still working on those pieces while preparing for BYU this week. 

Despite not having Bertrand, Kiser trusts the group that will be out there to get the job done this weekend. They had a test run without Bertrand against the Tar Heels as this is his second game in a row with a targeting call. 

“I have complete confidence in whoever is out on the field that’s on this defense, they put in the preparation, they put in the work and they’re good enough to be out there and compete. If that’s me, if that’s Marist, if it’s Bo, whoever it is, we’re gonna get the job done and we’re gonna fill in and we’re gonna pick up right where J.D. left off,” Kiser said. 

The defense has their work cut out for them this weekend. A scrambling quarterback with receiving weapons has tripped up the Irish defense before this season. Heading into Las Vegas, Kiser said communication will be key. 

“The whole back seven, we’re going to have to be on top of our game, communication-wise you know, we can’t have any breakdowns,” he said. “North Carolina week unfortunately we had some breakdowns and we can’t let that happen this week.”

He added though that the need to play perfectly extends to the whole defense, especially this weekend. He feels like the defense knows what to expect from BYU though and they’re prepared to answer it.

“If we can get a rush upfront, that significantly helps the back seven. If we can cover in the back seven, if we can get home up front, it all comes hand in hand. Having that preparation, knowing what they like, what our answers are and creating that chaos. We certainly do believe we can create chaos and we just got to get there. If everyone is playing disciplined football, I think we can do that.” 

Contact Mannion McGinley at mmcginl3@nd.edu.

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Sports

Keys to victory: BYU

The Irish return to action after their bye week in a Shamrock Series showdown against No. 16 BYU in Las Vegas. The Irish looked impressive in their road victory over UNC, but they will need to be on top of their game this weekend against a very talented Cougars team. Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for the Irish this weekend.

1. Find the end zone in the first quarter

The Irish have only scored three points in the first quarter throughout their first four games of the season, and that came in week one against Ohio State. Fortunately for the Irish, their defense has been stellar in the first quarter as well, allowing the Irish to remain within striking range, but some first-quarter offense would be useful.

Against a BYU offense that is averaging nearly 35 points per game this season, the Irish will have to come ready to play out of the gates. BYU quarterback Jaren Hall has been spectacular this season, completing 70.2% of his passes for 1,438 yards and 12 touchdowns. Even if the Irish defense plays well in this one, the Cougars are going to put up some points. For that reason, falling behind early against an experienced, disciplined BYU team will be difficult to overcome later in the game.

In past years, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has been very successful at scripting successful first quarter drives, but that has been non-existent this year. The Irish must go after the Cougars from the start in this one and take some early shots down field. An early Irish touchdown is exactly what the Irish will need to shake off any lingering rust from the bye week. If the Irish start the game with a couple of three-and-outs, frustration might settle in among the Irish offense and disrupt the offensive chemistry of the team going forward.

2. Win the turnover battle (or at least don’t lose it)

The Irish have been horrendous at generating turnovers this season. In fact, their only turnover of the year came in the Irish’s last game against UNC when graduate student defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola recovered a fumble by UNC quarterback Drake Maye. BYU, on the other hand, boasts a plus four turnover battle and they have scored two defensive touchdowns this season. 

The Cougars have only turned the ball over once so far this season, so the Irish will have their work cut out for them if they are going to win the battle. That one turnover, an interception by Jaren Hall, came in the first game of the season against South Florida. Since then, Hall has attempted an impressive 144 passes without throwing an interception. While forcing a mistake from Hall seems unlikely, the Irish should strive to not lose the turnover battle. Although the Irish offense looked significantly better last week, the Irish simply are not an explosive enough team to give up defensive touchdowns to BYU and allow their potent offense to get good field position.

3. Continue to run the football

A notable downfall of the Irish offense this season has been the run game. Aside from the UNC game where the Irish averaged an impressive 5.6 yards per carry, the Irish averaged a disappointing 2.5, 3.5 and 3.6 yards per carry in their first three games. In the impressive performance against UNC, the Irish effectively used a three-back system with sophomore Audric Estime, junior Chris Tyree and sophomore Logan Diggs rushing for 134, 80 and 50 yards, respectively. Diggs was also utilized effectively in the passing game, recording 65 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown. 

The Irish should continue to use a three-back system going forward. All three of the running backs are some of the best athletes on the team and all three players have proved their value over the course of their playing careers. With a second-string quarterback under center, the Irish need to prioritize the run game going forward. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne improved significantly against UNC when the Irish started to open up the run game. 

The Cougars do not possess a stellar run defense either, ranking 93rd in FBS in that category. Just last week, they gave up over 200 rushing yards to a 1-4 Utah State team. A few weeks before that, they gave up 212 rushing yards to Oregon. The Irish offensive line has been somewhat of a disappointment this season, but last week’s performance against UNC was encouraging. They should be able to push around a BYU defensive line that has generated just 24 tackles for loss this season, which is 94th among FBS teams. If the Irish prioritize establishing a run game early, their success on the ground should open more passing lanes and big plays for an Irish offense that desperately needs more explosive plays.