The Notre Dame Fighting Irish head to unique surroundings for the 11th edition of the Shamrock Series when they face the BYU Cougars at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. The Irish have yet to end up on the losing end of a Shamrock clash and will be coming off a bye week, a scheduling position in which they’ve thrived.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake is beginning his seventh year at the school this season and has compiled a 48-29 record during his career with the Cougars. Last year’s 10-3 record marked the second straight year and fifth winning season during his tenure, though the year ended on a down note with a loss in the Independence Bowl.
BYU Offense: Skill Positions Offer Weapons on Ground and Through the Air
The Cougars have multiple weapons on offense, beginning with returning quarterback Jaren Hall. BYU’s long reputation of developing signal callers continues with Hall, who last season threw for 2,583 yards and connected on 20 touchdown passes, throwing just five interceptions. That was during his first season in a starting capacity, which means he could be even more dangerous in 2022.
Adding to that firepower will be Christopher Brooks, who’s transferring from Cal and is a player the Irish had reportedly pursued. He’s an effective runner who’s also a threat as a receiver. Behind him is some modest depth, while the fullback position will be filled by either Masen Wake or Stanford transfer Houston Heimuli.
Hall’s chief targets in the BYU power spread offense are all back after combining for 95 receptions last season. The top numbers for this group were by Puka Nacua, who snagged 43 passes and scored six touchdowns. Right behind him is Gunner Romney, who added 34 catches and three scores. Keanu Hill will likely be the third starting wideout, while Isaac Rex serves as a big target at tight end.
The left side of the Cougars’ offensive line will be a challenge for the Irish to get past, with tackle Blake Freeland and guard Clark Barrington a formidable duo. Connor Pay appears set for the center spot, with the right side having Oregon transfer Kingsley Suamataia at tackle, where he’s likely to be paired with either Campbell Barrington or Joe Tuuafu.
BYU Defense: More Heat and Healthy Bodies a Key
The need for more sacks by the Cougars was painfully evident after just 20 opposing signal-callers were brought down last season. Tyler Batty will start at one end after leading in sacks and also stopping seven runners behind the line. On the other end, Earl Tuloti-Mariner is back after his best season. Among the inside linemen, Caden Haws and Gabe Summers will look to try and limit opposition running games.
If the BYU linebackers can avoid the injuries that they dealt with last year, this is likely the team’s top defensive group. Having Keenan Pili in the middle and Payton Wilgar at the Rover slot is something that was missed last year. Ben Bywater on the weak side and Max Tooley at the Flash position will try to match last year’s numbers as the top two tacklers on the squad.
On the corners, D’Angelo Mandell and Kaleb Hayes will get some support and possibly a challenge from Vanderbilt transfer Gabe Jeudy-Lally. At strong safety, Micah Harper or Hayden Livingston will battle for the starting role, while Malik More will be back at free safety. In nickel situations, Jakob Robinson will be a presence in the Cougar secondary.
BYU Special Teams: Consistency Offers Peace of Mind
Placekicker Jake Oldroyd is set for his fourth season handling those duties, where he’s been virtually automatic on extra points and connected on 75 percent of his field goal attempts. Punter Ryan Rehkow offers a strong leg as the Cougars’ punter, averaging 47.2 yards per kick over his first two seasons. For returners, Lopini Katoa and Caleb Christensen are ticketed for kickoffs, while Hobbs Nyberg is again the choice on punt returns.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played BYU
Closing out the home portion of their 2013 season after a bye week, the Irish defeated the Cougars 23-13 under blustery conditions. Current Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and DaVaris Daniels got things going on the first series with a 61-yard scoring toss. Despite the weather, Notre Dame collected 470 yards of offense that was split right down the middle. Among the 235 rushing yards for the Irish were Cam McDaniel’s game-high 135 and Tarean Folston’s 78, with Kyle Brindza managing to kick three field goals for the Irish.