Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In the muted celebration, Cierre Wood stood defiant, convinced that the statistical carnage wreaked on the nation's third-ranked rushing defense wasn't an anomaly, but the start of something.
"There's not anybody on our schedule or in the country who we don't think we can run the ball against," the Notre Dame senior running back said after the fifth-ranked Irish cobbled together a 17-14 comeback victory over BYU Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. "I don't care if they were first (in rushing defense), we're going to run the ball. That's exactly what we did."
Actually, the Irish gouged the BYU defense for 270 rushing yards after it had never given up more than 110 in a game this season, frittered all but 20 seconds of the final 6:10 following an Irish defensive stand, averaged 6.3 yards a carry against a unit whose average yield was 2.2 and did it without even the hint of the element of surprise.
Wood had 114 of those yards on 18 carries. Fellow senior Theo Riddick rushed for a career-high 143 on 15 carries, including a 55-yarder in which he kept his balance when it looked like he would be stopped at the line of scrimmage.
This Irish attempted just three passes in the second half (and 17 for the game) as they moved to 7-0 for the 25th time in school history but the first since the offensively challenged 2002 Tyrone Willingham-coached squad ran off eight wins to start the season.
All this from a rushing offense that stood 80th nationally out of 120 FBS teams entering the month of October, struggled early in the season to knit a new zone-blocking scheme into an offense that featured rotating quarterbacks and green receivers.
For the record, junior Tommy Rees made his 18th career start, with minimal relief from third-stringer Andrew Hendrix, after Kelly decided to err on the side of caution with No. 1 quarterback Everett Golson. Golson suffered a concussion late in the fourth quarter of last Saturday's 20-13 overtime win over Stanford, and Kelly decided Friday after a team walk-through to sit him out.
"He wanted to play," Kelly said of the sophomore, first-year starter. "He made his case. I just felt like this was the best thing to do.
"He was supportive. He was great on the sideline. But he clearly — he wanted to get in there as well. We feel like we've got a kid now that's 100 percent ready to go for Oklahoma."
The Sooners (5-1) have been surging back into the national title discussion after a 24-19 loss at home to Kansas State four weeks ago. They brushed aside former ND head coach Charlie Weis and his Kansas Jayhawks Saturday night in Norman, Okla.
Even with Golson having to shake the cobwebs next Saturday for the biggest road start of his fledgling career, Kelly feels at least another missing piece in an offense with still plenty of room to grow fell into place against the Cougars (4-4) on Saturday.
The running game.
"We are becoming that kind of football team on offense," Kelly said. "You talk about finding an identity. Even when we were down, we kept running the football."
And ND did get down early, falling behind 14-7 midway through the first half on a pair of touchdown passes from rugged BYU senior quarterback Riley Nelson, who was a freshman at Utah State in 2006, the last time Notre Dame was on a BCS trajectory this late in the season.
The first came with 8:25 left in the second quarter, when BYU leading receiver Cody Hoffman got loose in the back of the end zone for a six-yard strike on third down. That broke a string of 17 consecutive quarters by the Irish defense without allowing a touchdown.
The second Cougars score followed a Rees interception that glanced off Irish sophomore DaVaris Daniels' hands and into the arms of BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
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