SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Trailing by three points late in the game at the Notre Dame 46 yard line, senior quarterback Riley Nelson missed a wide-open streaking Cody Hoffman, and the Cougars fell to No. 5 Notre Dame 17-14 in another close, but not enough, finish
“I was proud of our team,” BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “One or two plays short of being able to come away with the victory. It was most likely the best game collectively on offense, defense and kicking we’ve played … but ultimately didn’t make a critical play here or there right down the stretch to win the game.”
[media-credit name=”Chris Bunker” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]The loss made BYU a .500 team (4-4), and the fact BYU has been frequently “one or two plays short” this season against strong opponents makes the sting of another loss hurt a little more.
“It hurts, but in sports you work through adversity,” defensive back Spencer Hadley said about another tough loss. “It’s not fun, but it’s what you have to do.”
Early in the fourth quarter, BYU fought to hang onto a slim 14-10 margin. Freshman running back Jamaal Williams fueled a couple first half scores for BYU and finished the night with 68 yards rushing and 42 yards receiving.
With 12:52 remaining and third-and-goal from the two yard-line, Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III took the ball on an end-around to the right side.
BYU defensive back Joe Sampson was there to meet him at the line of scrimmage but missed the open-field tackle to surrender what would be the decisive score.
The nationally-ranked BYU defense did not completely resemble the shut-down defense Cougar fans have grown accustomed to this season, giving up 389 total yards of offense, a shocking 270 of which came on the ground where BYU is ranked third nationally against the run, averaging 67.9 yards per contest.
Notre Dame’s Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood did most of the damage as they ran for 149 and 114 yards respectively.
The often expressive and talkative Kyle Van Noy’s demeanor tonight was completely opposite from two weeks prior, when the defense gave up only three points to Utah State.
“(Our rush defense) just wasn’t good,” Van Noy said. “We just weren’t good enough today.”
The defense was sharp early on though, forcing Notre Dame to attempt three field goals after long drives, only one of which was converted, and keeping BYU in the game.
After Nelson missed Hoffman on the deep pass described earlier, the Cougars faced a crucial fourth-and-13 at the 34 yard line with just over six minutes remaining. Down by three points and with only one timeout remaining, Mendenhall elected to punt the ball away.
“Six minutes to go, I thought we had a great chance to make a stop,” Mendenhall said about the decision to punt. “It was fourth and longer than what I was hoping for, and with 6:35 left, I thought we’d have a great shot to get a stop and really believed we would stop them and get the ball back in better field position, but we didn’t.”
Notre Dame converted three first downs following the punt and wouldn’t punt the ball back to BYU until only 22 seconds remained on the clock.
A couple plays later, Nelson’s desperation pass downfield was intercepted to put the upset bid to bed.
Nelson finished 23-36 for 177 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I liked (how Nelson played tonight) and thought he made good decisions,” Mendenhall said. “He played with a lot of heart and gave us a chance to win.”
Notre Dame continues its run at the BCS National Championship and improved to 7-0 on the season.
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s LDS linebacker, led the Irish defense and had a game-high 10 tackles and intercepted Nelson in the first quarter.
BYU’s kicking struggles continued as Justin Sorensen missed an attempt at 46 yards.
The Cougars and Fighting Irish are scheduled to play five more games in the near future. If the outcomes of those games are similar to what was witnessed tonight, this series could very well turn into an interesting rivalry.
Fast start for the Cougars
The Irish struck first, but the Cougars have been dominant in the second quarter this season and put up 14 unanswered points to take the lead heading into the half.
BYU has had the lead at the half of every win this season and was tied in all three losses before tonight.
With a 7-0 lead, a personal foul penalty on Notre Dame swung the early momentum the Cougars obtained, pushing Notre Dame back 15 yards after picking up a first down. BYU would force a punt and answer with its first touchdown shortly thereafter.
On Notre Dame’s next possession, BYU junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy intercepted quarterback Tommy Rees to set up another BYU touchdown.
The BYU defense forced two missed field goals as Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza failed to connect from 40 and 28 yards in the first half, covering for early mistakes by Nelson when he took a 16-yard sack and threw an interception to kill an early potential-scoring drive.
BYU offense does what others could not
The Fighting Irish came into tonight’s game without having given up an offensive touchdown to Michigan State, Michigan, Miami and Stanford in four consecutive games.
BYU ended its streak of 17 consecutive quarters without giving up a touchdown, scoring two second-quarter touchdowns.
The Irish’s streak continues to nine consecutive games without giving up a rushing touchdown.