BYU football: Cougars fall short against Notre Dame, Nelson haunted from missing key pass
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Notre Dame 17, BYU 14
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Midway though the fourth quarter, BYU wide receiver Cody Hoffman was all alone deep in Notre Dame territory with nothing but green grass between himself and the end zone.
At the time, BYU trailed by just three points, and quarterback Riley Nelson was scrambling, looking to make something happen when he spotted Hoffman, who managed to break free from the Irish's defensive coverage.
But Nelson's pass intended for Hoffman missed the target, falling incomplete on the turf at Notre Dame Stadium.
"That throw will probably haunt me until I die," Nelson said, knowing that had he connected with Hoffman, the Cougars likely would have scored, which, perhaps could have led to a huge upset against No. 5 Notre Dame.
"I kind of slowed down," explained Hoffman, who had eight receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown. "He just threw it a little bit behind me."
"I looked up and saw Cody and no one even close to him. For whatever reason, the throw wasn't there," said offensive lineman Braden Brown. "That was a tough one."
From there, Notre Dame forced BYU to punt and ultimately hung on for a 17-14 win Saturday before a sellout crowd of 80,795.
For the Cougars (4-4), it's the latest chapter in a season riddled with disappointing setbacks and missed-it-by-that-much moments. BYU has now lost three road games by a total of seven points.
"Man, it's frustrating," said Brown. "That's four losses now for us where we feel as a team that we could have won all four of those football games. It's tough."
For Nelson, it's been agonizing.
"We come in here believing and 100 percent confident that we can beat them," he said. "When we come up empty-handed and so short in these tough venues against these great teams, it's maddening. It's like when they dangle a carrot in front of a horse. It's always so close but can't quite grab it."
Losing close games is "almost worse than blowouts," Nelson added.
"In my time here, I've been a part of some blowouts against some good teams," he said. "Here we are, playing against top 10 teams and we're with them in the fourth quarter and we just can't seem to close. That's way worse than getting blown out."
Meanwhile, for Notre Dame (7-0), its magical season continued. The Irish rallied from a 14-7 second-half deficit and shut the Cougars out in the third and fourth quarters.
BYU halted Notre Dame's streak of 17 quarters without giving up an offensive touchdown in the second quarter, when the Cougars scored a pair of TDs during a two-minute stretch.
"They scored two touchdowns against us," said Irish linebacker Manti Te'o. "It made us mad."
As it turned out, BYU needed one more TD to spring the upset.
Nelson's errant pass intended for Hoffman was just one of several big miscues by the Cougars.
BYU's defense, which entered the game among the nation's leaders in stopping the run, surrendered 272 yards on the ground to the Irish. Theo Riddick gained 143 yards on 15 carries while Cierre Wood rushed 18 times for 114 yards. Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees, filling in for injured starter Everett Golson, threw only three passes in the second half.
"I don't feel like we wore down. They're good up front," said Cougar linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "We knew they were going to break some runs off. All in all, we have to do a better job tackling. I thought there were way too many times when we had a dude down in the backfield, in a hole, and we let him spring one for 12, 20, 40 yards. It's unacceptable."
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