Notre Dame takes the field tonight after an early season bye week against #16 BYU in the Shamrock Series from Las Vegas. The unranked Irish are a 3.5-point favorite over the Cougars heading into the contest after showing signs of life on offense that weren’t present during their 0-2 start. Optimism is high on the BYU side, but I feel a little too confident about Notre Dame’s chances.
What Worries Me
First Bye Week for Marcus Freeman
Veteran head coaches can screw up a bye week – see Brian Keely and the 2019 Michigan debacle. This is Freeman’s first bye week as a head coach, so there is some concern about how he’ll handle the first bye week prep. With a veteran coach like Al Golden on staff, Freeman has someone to lean on – in addition to his own experience as a coordinator, but as far as things to be concerned about this week, this is one of them.
What could possibly go wrong with sending a bunch of 18-22 years to Vegas? So far, nothing, but it’s Vegas. Anything can happen. Marcus Freeman said earlier this week that he was handling bed checks for the team last night, so hopefully, the team took a business trip-oriented approach to Vegas. With all the glitz and glamor, though, intangibles, in general, are a concern this week.
Big plays for BYU
BYU isn’t going to run the ball on Notre Dame, but they have a good quarterback and some skill position players who can burn a defense. We saw North Carolina hit a few explosive plays in the second half two weeks ago that made that game much closer than it should have been in the end. Hopefully, Golden and Freeman used part of the bye week to address those breakdowns because each one was from poor execution. I’ve already said I am optimistic about Notre Dame’s chances this week, but the one thing that would flip that optimism real quick would be BYU hitting a few explosive plays early.
What Doesn’t Worry Me
Notre Dame’s run game
North Carolina’s defense is bad. Very bad. Still, what Notre Dame has found offensively over the last six quarters of football will carry over tonight. BYU isn’t as bad as North Carolina on defense – few teams are – but they aren’t very good either. Notre Dame’s three-headed monster at running back will be a force again tonight – especially Audric Estime. BYU doesn’t have the kind of defense that will slow down Estime, and much like we saw against North Carolina, the early 4-5 yard gains will turn into 9-10 yard gains in the second half as Estime drags defenders with him. All three backs probably won’t go over 100 yards from scrimmage again (1996 was the last time that happened before the UNC game), but they are going to make plays.
After Pyne’s very shaky start to the Cal game, he’s settled in and started to make plays. Back-to-back wins should have his confidence sky-high right now too. We saw Pyne push the ball more vertically against North Carolina, but I wouldn’t expect an areal assault this weekend from Pyne. BYU plays similar defense to Cal in that they want everything in front of them and want offenses to sustain drives to score. Their defense just isn’t as good as Cal’s. Pyne has shown the ability to take what a defense gives him without forcing things already.
Notre Dame’s pass rush
Notre Dame’s pass rush came alive in the last two games, which will carry over this weekend. I have a feeling that we are going to get a monster game from Isaiah Foskey. He came back to enhance his draft stock, and what better showcase to do that than a primetime game, in Vegas, in an NFL stadium? Also, Rylie Mills came on the last two games as Al Washington has started to figure out his defensive line rotations and groupings. I expect another big game from the Irish defensive line.
Players to Watch
- Marist Luifau – We’ve been waiting for his big breakout game, and I think this is the week it finally happens. Jaylon Smith had his breakthrough performance in 2013 in the Shamrock Series in Dallas against Arizona State. Luifau has his first big performance since 2020 tonight.
- Tobias Merriweather – Going to speak into existence snaps for Merriweather this weekend. I don’t expect him to go from zero to 40 snaps, but I do think we will see him on offense tonight.
- Brandon Joseph – He hasn’t had his hands on a turnover yet this year. This might be the weekend that changes.
- Ramon Henderson – He should be back tonight, and that should help solidify the backend of the Notre Dame secondary.
- Blake Fisher – He had a rough few weeks to start the season, but a switch might have come on for him in the second half of the North Carolina game. If Fisher gets cooking, look out. This offensive line will be a problem for BYU.
- Prince Kollie – With JD Bertrand out, Kollie should see more snaps again this weekend.
I can’t quite place why I am so optimistic about Notre Dame this weekend, but I am. BYU is the higher-ranked team, but Notre Dame is the favorite for a reason. They should win this game. If they don’t, they’ll only have themselves to blame, like against Marshall. We saw Notre Dame show a lot of improvement out of the bye week last year, and even with a lot of new coaches, I think that carries over this year as well – especially on offense.
Notre Dame 38, BYU 23