If nothing else, BYU fancied itself a defensive football team. After allowing just 53 points through their first six games of the season, the Cougars gave up 450 yards (332 passing) to then-No. 10 Oregon State last weekend in a 42-24 loss. Though the Cougars slipped to 4-3 overall and had its defensive confidence thoroughly shaken, head coach Bronco Mendenhall looks forward to a do-over this Saturday against another top-10 opponent at No. 5 Notre Dame.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenall brings his 4-3 squad to South Bend Saturday to play the No. 5 Fighting Irish
“I’m excited about it,” he said Monday. “I think Notre Dame is very good on defense. I’m anxious to have our defense perform as they did the first six weeks, not as they performed last week. That’s my main focus right now, to get them to perform like I know they’re capable of.”
Oregon State backup quarterback Cody Vaz, who started his first career game, connected with receivers Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton for a combined 13 passes for 239 yards. Heading into the contest, BYU was ranked 12th nationally in passing defense, surrendering only 169.8 yards per game. The program plummeted to No. 24 after the aerial bombing from the Beavers’ bombardment.
The Fighting Irish, equally reliant on their defense through an undefeated first half of the season, doesn’t pose such a passing threat as they continue to develop sophomore quarterback Everett Golson, who was concussed late in last week’s thrilling overtime victory over Stanford. He’s expected to start this weekend in South Bend, but has watched from the sideline three times this year as backup and former starter Tommy Rees (junior) led Notre Dame to victory (Purdue, Michigan and Stanford).
The Notre Dame offense is averaging a hair over 181 rushing yards and 206 passing yards per game. All seven of the team’s turnovers have come from Golson, who has thrown three interceptions and fumbled four times.
Mendenhall diagnosed his team’s defensive problems as a lack of attention to detail and perhaps overconfidence.
“In reviewing the film, it was all about our execution, our precision, our concentration,” he said. “The plays were defendable. They executed their plays at a higher level, but we were not sharp in the secondary. Concentration. Precision. And really execution. There was maybe a little overconfidence, defensively, from all the accolades. I think there was a little edge that was missing.
“…I’ve learned a lot about our team. I’ve learned a lot about our program. I think the only way we’ll take the next step in our program is to play teams like this. On the road is great too. I’m anxious to see how we handle it.”
Brigham Young quarterback Riley Nelson (senior), who missed two games earlier this season due to a nagging back injury, was 28-for-51 passing for 305 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions against Oregon State. Backup Taysom Hill was lost for the year on Oct. 5 with a knee injury after leading the Cougars to victories over Utah State and Hawai’i in Nelson’s absence. Third-string QB James Lark, a senior drop-back passer compared to run-first players Nelson and Hill, is believed to have the best arm on the team, but has attempted just six career pass attempts.
Nelson, whom Mendenhall has taken off the injury report and says is “self-reliant at this point” in managing the back issue, is anxious to right the ship.
“No doubt. Again, just like our game was last week, it’s a great team in a great venue,” Nelson said. “Hopefully we can put a whole game together, offense, defense, special teams, take care of the football, control field positions and do all those things. We’ve done those in spurts but it hasn’t been good eno