The contests can be coupled as such because Navy and Miami share a key commonality: they can't defend anyone. Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, and (especially) Stanford? They came to hit Notre Dame, especially the three visitors to South Bend, each of whom took the Irish to the final minutes and in the Cardinal case, beyond, before victory was secured by their host.
Brigham Young is next. Sandwiched between Stanford and Oklahoma, its in any estimation, a trap-game scenario. But these Irish don't appear the type to let down, not when the going is this good. And especially not Bob Diaco's defense, one that hasn't allowed a touchdown since September was still technically part of summer, and a unit that hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown since before Thanksgiving 2011.
(On a related note, do you know the last time Notre Dame's defense surrendered a rushing touchdown of relative consequence in South Bend? October 8, 2011, when Air Force's Tim Jefferson scored in the second quarter with the Irish leading 21-3. And the last time an opposing running back did the same? September 25, 2010! An Owen Marecic one-yard plunge for Stanford as the final blow a Cardinal blowout win. Notre Dame's defense allowed just two TD that day in a 37-14 defeat.)
My point: its going to be tough sledding for BYU's offense Saturday. I don't expect a touchdown, at least not against the first-team Irish defense.
But the underlying issue alluded to early in the column is the dearth of six-pointers scored by the Irish offense this fall. Six vs. Navy; five vs. Miami -- seven total in the four games played vs. defense's ready, willing, and able.
Subtract Miami (#93rd ranked scoring defense), Maryland 2011 (102nd), and non-academy teams (Navy twice and Air Force), and these are the following touchdown totals scored by Notre Dame's offense over the last 1.5 seasons dating back to the 2011 season opener vs. South Florida: 2, 4 (Michigan), 2, 5 (at Purdue), 2, 3, 1, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 2 (overtime vs. Stanford).
Can the Irish put three touchdowns on the board Saturday? The Cougars defense ranks #3 vs. the rush; #26 vs. the pass; #5 overall in yards allowed; and #7 in scoring defense. They're 13th nationally in sacks and tackles-for-loss.
Eight-year Brigham Young head coach Bronco Mendenhall knows his defensive football. His front creates havoc, overloads to stop the run, and attacks the quarterback. Irish senior runner Theo Riddick called the Cougars front four, "The best we've faced so far," upon film review.
But BYU is 4-3 for a reason. Their offense is sub-par, and though its technically ranked near the Irish in most relevant statistical categories, Notre Dame hasn't had the luxury of facing Weber State, Hawaii (1-5), and Washington State (2-5).
BYU scored just six points vs. both Boise State and Utah State. It's unlikely the Cougars will put together more than three quality drives Saturday afternoon.
What about Brian Kelly, his pair (or trio?) of quarterbacks, and the Irish running game? Can the offensive line operate at peak efficiency for four quarters rather than only in crunch time? Can the Irish avoid another five (Purdue, Stanford) or eight (Michigan State) punt afternoon?
Can Notre Dame consistently move the football vs. a quality defense for the first time since early 2011?
It might not matter this week, but it will the next in Norman and a month thereafter in the Coliseum. (Something to watch for Saturday: can the Irish sustain multiple drives in both halves and convert three of four red zone trips into touchdowns?)
The offense remains, in Kelly's words, "a work in progress."
Luckily, the defense never rests. And in this case, and for one more week, Irish fans can live happily with more of the same.