The Notre Dame Fighting Irish get back to business on Saturday with a Shamrock Series matchup against the BYU Cougars. This ninth meeting between the two schools will take place at an unfamiliar locale, Allegiant Stadium in suburban Las Vegas. Despite that surrounding glitz, the Irish are zeroed in on collecting their third consecutive victory.
BYU enters this contest with a 4-1 mark and is currently ranked among the Top 25. However, the Cougar defense has some holes that can potentially be exploited by Notre Dame, given that BYU has allowed at least 20 points in each of their five games. They’re also coming off an uneven performance against heavy underdog Utah State, where they struggled to put away the Aggies in a 38-26 win.
Below are some of the key matchups to watch in this clash:
QB Drew Pyne vs. BYU Defense
Pyne has two games as a starter under his belt this season and has remained conservative when it comes to playcalling. That’s allowed him to throw for over 400 yards and five touchdowns in those games, without tossing an interception. For this game, he might be able to open things up, given BYU’s sketchy defense. However, he does need to expand his receiving options.
The Cougars have managed to win four of their first five contests despite not holding any team under 20 points in a game. Those issues were present last Thursday, when BYU defenders struggled to contain Utah State’s reserve quarterback during the first half and had previously given up a season-high 41 points at Oregon. For the year, the Cougars are averaging just one turnover per game.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Jaren Hall
The Irish defense is coming off a game in which they allowed 301 yards through the air, with nearly half of that amount coming on two forgettable plays. Notre Dame can’t afford to suffer similar lapses or Hall will chew them up. Forcing turnovers is still a problem on this side of the ball and would be a true asset in this matchup.
Hall is following up an impressive 2021 campaign with another big year. In the first five games, he’s thrown for over 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns, with only one pick thus far. He’s not necessarily mobile, but the Irish need to be wary of trick plays, since he has two receptions on the year, including one touchdown. For 2022, he’s already completed passes to 15 different receivers.
RB Audric Estime vs. MLB Keenan Pili
Estime showed hints of potential in the opener at Ohio State, then truly emerged in the win at North Carolina, He was able to move the ball through sheer force, with his only flaw being a goal-line fumble. That minor matter had no bearing on the game and given the weak BYU rushing defense, he can erase any memory of it with a big game on Saturday.
Pili was sidelined last season after three games with an ACL injury. In those games, he brought down 31 ballcarriers and has 21 stops so far this year. He knows how to get into opposing backfields, yet the Cougars have had issues stopping the run this season. In addition, like the Irish, BYU needs to force turnovers and stop the Irish from establishing their running game.
CB Ben Morrison vs. WR Keanu Hill
Morrison has started the past two games, though Clarence Lewis is still seeing plenty of action. However, Lewis was caught flat-footed against North Carolina, leading to an easy score. That could mean that Morrison becomes a more prominent figure, with the freshman bringing a feisty approach to the field. He’s not a finished product but is clearly getting more comfortable at the position.
BYU has multiple receivers who can do damage on the field, with Hill arguably their biggest deep threat. He’s got quick moves, showing those off in his score against Utah State. Plus, he has the size (6-feet-4) to offer a large target to Hall. Hill has already passed his touchdown total of last season and is on the verge of topping his reception high of 18 in 2021.
TE Michael Mayer vs. SS Ammon Hanneman
Regardless of who takes snaps behind center, Michael Mayer remains a favorite target of Notre Dame quarterbacks. That’s because his large frame offers a frequently visible target and his level of production invites more throws in his direction. He’s reached the end zone in each of the last three games, though he needs some other receivers to step up for this game and beyond.
Hanneman is getting a stiff challenge from former starter Micah Harper, who’s struggled to come back from an ACL injury that sidelined him all of last season. Hanneman collected 13 of his 20 tackles in the Cougars’ games against Baylor and Oregon but generally offers consistent performance. Trying to keep Mayer in check will present him with a stiff challenge.