SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Coming off last week's 42-24 loss at home against nationally ranked Oregon State, the BYU Cougars looked to get off to a fast start and send a message to Notre Dame Saturday afternoon in South Bend, Ind.
The Cougars led in the third quarter before falling, 17-14.
BYU's nationally ranked defense struggled on the first Irish drive however, giving up 56 yards while the Irish took nearly five minutes off the clock.
Fortunately for the Cougars, the defense bent but did not break, holding Notre Dame to a 40-yard field goal attempt. The luck of the Irish was late to the contest however, as the kick sailed wide left.
The Cougars looked as if they were ready to pounce, driving the ball 42 yards deep into Irish territory only to get bit once again on a poorly thrown by ball by Riley Nelson that was tipped off Kaneakua Friel's hand right into the hands of Manti Te'o.
Irish quarterback Tommie Rees went to work toward the end of the first quarter, exploiting the height difference between 6-foot-6 tight end Tyler Eifert and 5-10 cornerback Jordan Johnson. The two connected on a 29-yard completion and a 4-yard touchdown reception to put the first points of the day on the board.
The score seemed to wake the Cougars up and they came out strong in the second quarter as Jamaal Williams put the team on his back, accounting for 43 of 56 yards on BYU's first possession of the quarter that was capped off by a 6-yard pass to Cody Hoffman.
Williams continued to grow into his starting role, racking up 64 yards on the ground and hauling in 42 yards through the air.
On Notre Dame's ensuing possession, the BYU defense put its stamp on the game on the third play of the drive. Ezekial Ansah tipped a pass and it was knocked off target and behind the reciever who wasn't able to make the catch and the ball popped up into the air and into the arms of Kyle Van Noy.
BYU took advantage of the short field and on the fourth play, Nelson found Friel coming across the middle and the two combined to put the Cougars ahead 14-7. BYU's third quarter consisted of two punts with a missed field goal sandwhiched inbetween. The Irish picked up a field goal to pull within four points as the teams headed into the fourth quarter.
What has been BYU's strength this year proved to be the key to Notre Dame picking up the win. The Cougars' top-ranked run defense allowed two 100-yard plus rushers. Theo Riddick led the way with 143 yards on 15 carries and Cierre Woods added 114 yards on 18 carries. The Irish took the lead on a 4-yard reverse to go ahead 17-14.
The Cougars were within striking distance, penetrating into Notre Dame territory once again and were on the verge of being within field goal range, but Nelson took a sack near mid-field. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall opted to punt with six minutes left in hopes of getting another crack at it.
Woods and Riddick made sure that didn't happen, picking up first downs one after another, leaving BYU with :29 seconds and nearly the whole field to go. The drive ended quickly with another Nelson interception.
The stats were nearly identical down the board except rushing yards. Notre Dame outrushed the Cougars by over 200 yards, 270-66. Nelson finished 23-of-36 for 177 yards and two touchdowns to go with his two interceptions.
The Cougars will now travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech at 1 p.m. Saturday.