Notre Dame held off BYU, 17-14. (AP Photo)
We’re caught in a trap … (thank you Elvis)
In a game that many feared would be a “trap” game for Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish came out and proved yet again that they are worthy of being a potential national championship contender.
This was definitely a must-win game for the Irish. Brigham Young University was a dangerous opponent, and the Irish were coming off an emotional win over Stanford. In addition, nationally ranked Oklahoma is looming on the not-to-distant horizon. But Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly found a way to keep his squad focused on the task at hand, and the Irish squeaked out a 17-14 win over BYU in South Bend, Ind.
The Fighting Irish (7-0) faced more adversity against BYU than they may have expected, but responded with great determination.
Notre Dame found the end zone with 1 minute, 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter on a Tommy Rees pass to Tyler Eifert. BYU responded with back-to-back scoring drives in the second quarter, the second one set up by an interception thrown by Rees.
Brigham Young quarterback Riley Nelson completed 23-of-36 passes for 177 yards and two interception. Nelson orchestrated two second-quarter scoring drives with a balanced offense. Both drives ended in TD passes as BYU grabbed a 14-7 lead.
The Notre Dame defense came out inspired for the second half and shut out the Cougars the rest of the way, setting up the Irish offense for a chance to win the game.
Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said the Irish didn’t let BYU’s two early touchdowns affect their play throughout the second half.
“You’ve got to move on to the next play and make the necessary adjustments, and I think that’s what we did. We played the second half pretty clean,” he told reporters.
Rees, who completed 7-of-16 passes for 117 yards and one TD with one interception, started the second half slowly. A Kyle Brindza field goal brought the Irish to within four points of the Cougars.
Notre Dame began its game-winning drive late in the third quarter. Rees methodically took his team down the field on a 72-yard drive that comprised mainly of running by Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III. Notre Dame grabbed the lead with 12 minutes, 52 seconds remaining on a 2-yard TD run by Atkinson.
Riddick finished with 143 yards rushing and Wood accounted for 114.
BYU then had a 30-play drive that ate six minutes off the clock, but kicker Riley Stephenson missed a 34-yard field goal and the Irish breathed a sigh of relief.
Notre Dame ran out the clock with a drive lasting more than five minutes. BYU finally got the ball back on its own 20-yard line with 22 seconds remaining. But a desperation pass by Nelson was intercepted by Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond and the Irish held on.
“That’s a bracket buster team in basketball parlance, that’s a darned good football team,” Kelly told reporters. “Our kids hung in there and won the football game, so we’re really pleased to be 7-0.”
“As a team, this was special,” Riddick told the media. “We showed that we can run the ball.”
Kelly appreciated Riddick’s hard-driving running style.
“(He) just ran really hard, north and south, physical,” Kelly said. “That gives energy for everybody. The O-line sees a guy who’s really pounding it in there. He got us that energy we needed.”
Notre Dame faces maybe its toughest opponent of the season to date next week at Oklahoma. A win there will silence more doubters and elevate the Irish even higher on the national stage.