SOUTH BEND, Ind. — BYU had its chances, but couldn't make enough plays late in a 23-13 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday. The Cougars dug a hole early and lost the battle in the trenches en route to suffering their second loss to the Irish on the road in as many years.
Grades are in for each position group and the coaching staff for how they performed in the loss.
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BYU prefers to call it the "blue zone" instead of the red zone, but considering the team's offensive performance inside an opponent's 20-yard line another name would seem more appropriate. The "dead zone," maybe?
The Cougars were simply atrocious inside the Notre Dame 20-yard line, which has been a theme throughout the year. Granted, spread offenses often struggle in the red zone, but offensive coordinator Robert Anae and his players need to figure something out to come away with touchdowns instead of field goals.
The Cougars settling for field goals and missed field goals when the offense drove deep was pretty much the story of the game. Opportunities missed. Another quality road win against a name opponent alluded.
The Cougar offense was not without its moments or standout players, however. Running back Paul Lasike deserves mention for his 101 yards on just four carries. Taysom Hill ran it 24 times for 101 yards, while Jamaal Williams was limited to just 43 yards on 18 attempts.
BYU struggled through the air, however — throwing for just 168 yards on a paltry 4.7 yards per attempt. No doubt that the frigid conditions had an impact on the throw game, but not enough plays were made down the field to come away with a win.
Thirteen points scored simply is not enough to warrant a high grade, and certainly not enough to warrant a quality road win.
The defense came out shaky and extremely exploitable down the field — allowing two Irish touchdowns on their first two possessions. Substitutions were made, and the defense settled down, but those 14 early points proved too much to overcome.
The defensive line struggled at the point of attack against the run and couldn't mount an effective pass rush throughout the contest. Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees had all day to pick apart the Cougar secondary, while Irish running backs consistently enjoyed a good and consistent push from their offensive front.
Safeties Craig Bills and Daniel Sorensen were typically solid, but the outside linebackers, including Kyle Van Noy, were unusually quiet and didn't make the impact plays Cougar fans have grown accustomed to.
Bad tackling again reared its ugly head as the defense allowed 235 yards rushing on 5.0 yards per carry and 470 yards overall.
Adam Hine again provided good production returning kickoffs and the coverage units were solid, but all other special team areas were generally lacking.
Scott Arrellano averaged a meager 36.5 yards per punt, which included a 26-yard effort in the fourth quarter that ultimately led to Notre Dame's final score on a 51-yard field goal. Kicker Justin Sorensen clearly needed more lift on the ball in his final chip-shot attempt that was blocked, but otherwise connected on attempts from 27 and 31 yards.
The team looked surprisingly ill-prepared for Notre Dame's power attack from the outset and was immediately put on its heels. Defensive coaches made some good adjustments with personnel — particularly in the secondary — but couldn't figure out how to pressure Rees until late in the game.
Anae unloaded his playbook and was surprisingly creative with his play-calling. The play-calling and overall execution inside the Irish 20 again left much to be desired, however, and was a central factor in the game's final outcome.
The Cougars once again had plenty of opportunities, but came away again with another close loss to a quality opponent on the road. The game had a similar feel to last year's 17-14 loss, albeit this one came to an Irish team that is clearly not as good as last year's squad. Last season saw the Cougars play one of their better games, only to come up short, while this year's team generally underperformed in all areas.
The team gets credit for battling back after falling behind early, but moral victories on the road have become old news, and completely unsatisfying, over the last few seasons.