PROVO — Neither Robertson Daniel nor Michael Davis were supposed to play in BYU's 23-13 loss to Notre Dame last Saturday. Both ultimately took the field, however, and proved a lot to coaches and teammates with their respective performances.
Regarding Daniel, he was just plain sick.
Defensive coordinator Nick Howell found out about his starting field corner's flu-like conditions Friday night and scrambled to adjust. Complicating matters was the fact that BYU's starting cornerback on the opposite side of the field, Mike Hague, was out injured.
“You have to shuffle, and we’re not very deep (at cornerback), so it makes it tough,” Howell said. “We tried (Daniel Sorensen) at corner, thinking that would be our best option. But it didn’t start so well and we had to make more adjustments. Fortunately Rob came back and gutted it out. He played hard and played well — especially considering his condition.”
Notre Dame's first two possessions saw two long passes turn into scores — giving the Irish an early lead in frigid conditions and putting BYU's backs squarely against the wall.
“Those long passes were completely unnecessary and that was pretty much the difference in the game,” Howell said. “One was a blown assignment and one was a technique thing and you simply can’t do that against a team that is your equal talent-wise or better than you talent-wise.”
Enter Daniel, who literally had trouble standing up just before kickoff.
“I put his pads on for him and he was just sick. ... I didn’t think he’d be able to go,” Hague related.
However, Daniel entered the game at the end of the first quarter with no opportunity to warm up and with players and coaches completely unsure of how he'd fare.
“I was scared, honestly,” Hague said. “I mean, I was helping him up and putting his pads on and then just watching him go out and play well. That was cool for me. I was nervous though.”
Daniel struggled in some spots, but largely provided the same level of play he has all season.
"I know he's tough and a great player for us, but that was something special what he did on Saturday," Howell said. "I mean, there was no way I thought he could play, but he saw that we needed him and yeah, that showed me a lot. It definitely inspired me personally and inspired his teammates."
As for Davis, he entered the game soon after Daniel and provided the same inspiring play.
The true freshman from Glendale, Calif., started out as a receiver prospect — practicing there until just two weeks before the season before switching over to cornerback. Prior to Saturday's game he'd seen only mop-up duty in games against Idaho State and Utah State.
Davis played at field corner against the Irish and proved remarkably capable at manning the position considering his scant experience.
According to Hague, who himself switched from offense to defense early in his career, going to the other side of the ball is harder than most realize.
“It’s way hard,” Hague explained. “It’s not just learning the defense, but learning the technique, the assignment, the pre-snap checks, post-snap checks — I mean, it’s just incredibly complex. But Mike has done a really good job doing it.”
Davis looks to have a bright future at cornerback considering his overall athleticism, superior 6-foot-1 frame and flat-out speed.
“He has everything that I want as far as being gifted,” Hague said. “He’s fast as all get-out; he has really good feet; he’s tall; and he has everything a corner needs and wants. I think he’s done a good job with the transition and I’m incredibly proud of him.”
No one knows if Davis will switch back to receiver or remain on defense following the season, but defensive players are doing their best to encourage him to remain on their side of the ball.
“If he doesn’t already feel like he’s a defensive player then we haven’t done our job and I need to talk to him,” Hague said. “We have a lot of fun with what we do and I think he’s starting to realize that.”
Regardless of what the future holds for both Davis and Daniel, coaches and players can readily see their respective potential, and their resolve to do whatever's necessary to help the team.
"I was really proud of Rob on Saturday and really excited with what I saw from Mike," Howell said. "We didn't play well enough to win, but I liked how we competed and I really liked how both of them competed. I like their effort and I certainly like their potential."
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