The Notre Dame Fighting Irish now have a winning record for the 2022 season after holding off a furious rally by the BYU Cougars to win 28-20 on Saturday night. Getting the victory in this Shamrock Series matchup didn’t come without some angst for the Irish or their fans after they nearly unraveled during the second half.
Some recurring issues once again surfaced to make that near-collapse happen. In addition, Notre Dame’s defense also had fits trying to cover BYU wideout Kody Epps for most of the evening. Epps finished the night with four catches for 100 yards and a pair of touchdown receptions. However, the Irish were able to get out of Las Vegas with the win.
Below are some of the key aspects of the contest:
In Mayer We Trust
Michael Mayer entered the BYU contest as Notre Dame’s leading receiver and was targeted early and often against the Cougars. One minute into the second quarter, he had six catches for 73 yards. The last of those receptions was a leaping 24-yard scoring grab that gave the Irish the lead for good.
By the half, Mayer had eight receptions for 83 yards and started off the second half with two key grabs to boost the Notre Dame advantage to 25-6. The first came on a 15-yard catch on third-and-13 when the Irish were on the verge of giving up the ball. Then, he grabbed his second score of the night on a 19-yard toss from Pyne, finishing his busy evening with 11 catches for 118 yards and the pair of scores.
Early Defensive Promise
Being able to defeat a team like BYU required the Notre Dame defense to step up after their lapses against North Carolina. On the game’s first play from scrimmage, TaRiq Bracy picked off Jalen Hall’s pass, which led to a field goal. Two quick points then came during the second quarter, when Jack Kiser’s sack of Hall resulted in a safety.
During that first half, the Irish dominated the time of possession, eating up over 21 minutes of clock. That meant that the Cougars only had 21 plays during their six drives and gained only 67 total yards of offense, BYU’s only score of the first half came on a short fourth down scoring toss after the Irish looked to be in a position to hold them to a field goal.
Second Half Drama
Sustaining that level of success proved to be too much to ask for as the Irish watched their comfortable 19-point lead drop to five early in the final period. In their first two drives after the break, the Cougars took advantage of another blown coverage by the Irish to score one touchdown. The next time they had the ball, BYU managed to convert a third-and-18 from their own five yard-line into a first down and capped their 10-play drive with a 28-yard scoring run.
Those two drives accounted for 172 yards of offense, helping to erase the first-half shutdown that the Irish had accomplished. BYU then gained possession on a tipped pass but a three-and-out gave Notre Dame the ball back, which led to a field goal, One final series for the Cougars reached the Irish 27 before the Irish took over on downs and ran out the remaining clock.
A Star Might Be Born
Notre Dame has been in need of additional receiving weapons besides Mayer and Lorenzo Styles and could have the makings of one in Jayden Thomas. Prior to facing BYU, Thomas had three career receptions for the Irish and matched that amount with three grabs for 74 yards and one score.
The first of those receptions came on an impressive grab on third down in the closing moments of the first half and gave the Irish some momentum at intermission. Catch number two came on the first play after BYU had sliced their deficit to five points and his final reception was for 12 yards on the same drive. Two of the grabs came on third down, which could make him a valuable option over the remainder of the campaign.
The tension that resulted from Notre Dame lapses might have been alleviated had three separate drives not sputtered. All three of them had Notre Dame within the BYU 10-yard line but only resulted in a pair of field goals and the safety. Converting in those situations will be vital in the weeks ahead if the Irish have any hopes of seeing serious bowl game action.
The Irish head back home to host the Stanford Cardinal for the first time since 2018 after their scheduled 2020 meeting was another victim of pandemic-related scheduling. Last year’s meeting at Palo Alto resulted in an easy 45-14 win for Notre Dame and turned out to be Brian Kelly’s swan song as Irish head coach. The Cardinal were 1-3 entering a late-night matchup against Oregon State. That record is the direct result of a woeful defense that allowed an average of 42 points in their three losses prior to Saturday.