SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame’s game plan to play smash mouth football against the Cougars paid off in a 17-14 comeback victory for the nation’s No. 5 ranked team.
With a clear advantage on both sides of the line, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly bet the farm his big guys could push the Cougars around.
But Saturday, it got queasy.
There was some nail-biting going on among 80,785 faithful in Notre Dame Stadium and the NBC-TV crew that Notre Dame rides nearly every week were on the edge of its press box stools when BYU held a lead over the Fighting Irish for 24 minutes in the middle of the game.
But in the end, the law of physics turned out to a correct science.
BYU finessed its way to leads of 14-7 and 14-10. But when the game was on the line, just like a week ago when BYU and nationally ranked Oregon State were tied at 21 in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame ripped off key runs with Theo Riddick (15 carries for 143 yards) and Cierre Wood (18 for 114) to establish order in the Kingdom of College Football, avoiding a home loss and upset.
Now the Cougars (4-4) travel to Atlanta next week to face Georgia Tech. The 7-0 Irish can set sights on Oklahoma and a run at a BCS championship.
BYU will not accept a moral victory that they could have, and probably should have defeated Notre Dame on Saturday.
Riley Nelson missed a wide-open Cody Hoffman for what would have been a possible game-clinching touchdown late in the fourth quarter: “It’s a play that will haunt me for a long, long time,” said Nelson.
This game was that close.
But closeness only matters in atomic energy. It gets you a loss in college football.
As it turns out, BYU will have to settle for the discomfort it caused Notre Dame Nation on national TV Saturday. And it was real.
For the first time since Sept. 8, the Notre Dame defense had somebody score a touchdown on it. BYU did it twice in the first half.
“It made me mad, it made us all mad to see somebody running in our endzone,” said Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker Manti Teo.
It also forced Te’o to calm his top-ranked defensive teammates down at halftime. The Irish came in rattled, upset and a little confused, leaving the field behind BYU with Cougar freshman running back Jamaal Williams and receiver Cody Hoffman celebrating with a high-low hand hit combination.
The Cougars never scored again. A missed 46-yard field goal by Daniel Sorensen, a first-quarter errant tipped pass interception off the hands of Kaneakua Friel by Te’o, and that huge misfire from Nelson to Hoffman were all the difference in the world.
BYU almost went against physics and science and won.
But the Cougars did not have the exactness to pull off what it needed. Again.
“One of these days, those plays are going to bounce our way,” said BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. “They will come our way and that will make all the difference in the world.”
The Cougars left South Bend Saturday night a .500 team, a break-even club.
Talent-wise, they are better than that.
Doman had a great game plan for the Irish and pulled it off for most the game.
Nelson, playing smarter, taking fewer chances and throwing the ball out of trouble when plays were not there, had BYU in scoring position.
But it wasn’t good enough.
Junior defensive captain, linebacker Brandon Ogletree said he thought scoring 14 points on Notre Dame, a team that nobody’s been scoring on and only Purdue (17) had more this season, was enough.
“I thought 14 was enough, yes,” Ogletree told reporters afterward.
“Our goal is to hold teams to under 24 and for our offense to score 24. When that happens, we usually win. But, yes, 14 should have been enough," he said.
It’s tough to find a goat in BYU’s loss. The Cougars were two-touchdown underdogs to Notre Dame. Few, if any so-called experts, picked an BYU upset.
Yet , Hoffman , wide open , a stadium filled with Notre Dame fans groaning , and the pass bounced harmlessly away.
“Nothing to do but get back and work harder,” said Ogletree.
“We don’t like losing, none of us do,” said Nelson.
Indeed. It can be haunting.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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