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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Fans file into the stadium as BYU and Notre Dame play Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The BYU football team performed above most everyone's expectations, but came up just short against No. 5-ranked Notre Dame. After building an early lead, Notre Dame's superior talent on both sides of the ball caught up with the Cougars in securing a hard-fought 17-14 win Saturday.

Offense: The offensive game plan was well-designed and executed effectively in the first half. It's simply amazing how smart an offensive coordinator can look when the offense can run the football and that's what BYU did for much of the first half with true freshman Jamaal Williams leading the way.

The Cougar rushing attack bogged down in the second half, however, and so did the overall effectiveness of the BYU attack. Riley Nelson was OK, but he did throw a early harmless interception. He missed on too many easy passes, including a throw to a wide-open Cody Hoffman in the fourth quarter that would have gone for an easy touchdown.

The offensive line improved in its pass protection as the game went on, but did not provide an adequate run-blocking throughout much of the second half. Overall, the offense gained just 243 yards of total offense with Nelson completing 23 of 36 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns against a very tough Irish defense. Grade: C+

Defense: The Cougar defense definitely stepped up its play after a sub-par outing against nationally ranked Oregon State. The defense yielded just seven points in the first half, despite giving up quite a bit of yardage early on.

The defensive front wore down a bit in the second half and it wasn't helped out by quite a few missed tackles from the linebackers and defensive backs. Overall, the pass rush was more effective than last week as were down-field coverages. Notre Dame unable to throw for big yards down the field with Jordan Johnson and Preston Hadley providing solid coverage throughout.

The defense gets credit for solid overall play, but it allowed the Irish offense to stay on the field too long in the second half — preventing the comeback bid. Overall, the Irish gained 392 yards of total offense, but only put up 17 points. Grade: B+

Special teams: Riley Stephenson had a great day punting the football and gave the team some good advantages in the field position with his 46.8 yards per punt average. The kick and punt coverage was solid throughout, but the kick and punt return game was largely ineffective.

Kicker Justin Sorensen's missed badly on his 46-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. Grade: B

Overall: Despite the loss the team performed much better than most everyone predicted. The team came in sharp and with a good game plan that allowed for an early lead.

BYU was unable to sustain that lead, however. Notre Dame made some good adjustments at the half that left BYU largely punchless on the offensive end. The defense showed some wear as the game went on and were unable to achieve a stop on a critical third and goal play from the 5-yard line late. Grade: B-

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney