At First Glance…

O'Malley's game notebook presents a handful of game balls, reviews the game's decisive moments, and offers numbers of note in Saturday's 17-14 win over Brigham Young

Offensive MVP: Theo Riddick

Steady throughout the season's first six games, Riddick was a difference-maker Saturday, posting a career-high 143 yards on just 15 carries. Included was a career-best 55-yard burst as well as runs of 27 and 19 yards.

The 5'11" 200-pound senior has evolved into the team's short-yardage 'back, a remarkable development after two seasons spent as a slot receiver in head coach Brian Kelly's shotgun spread scheme.

Offensive Game Balls: Cierre Wood joined his classmate and roommate Riddick in the 100-yard club for the afternoon, amassing 114 yards on 18 carries with a long of 22. Wood posted 57 rushing yards in both halves, adding the following post-game quote regarding the team's newfound rushing prowess, "If we had to play the whole game without throwing a pass we would still win. That's what I think, that's what we all think as a unit."

The veteran left side of the offensive line was dominant in the second half, with 5th-year senior center Braxston Cave executing throughout after an uneven first half, and seniors Zack Martin (LT) and Chris Watt (LG) blowing holes for the North-South hammer Riddick and patient Wood as part of a 24-rush, three-pass play second half.

Senior tight end Tyler Eifert caught four passes for 73 yards and a touchdown, all in the first half. Three of Eifert's four grabs were the result of leaping stabs over the top of a solo defender, the first gaining 33 yards on a fade down the left side; the second 29 more on a corner route to the right; the third a 4-yard skinny post for the score and a 7-0 lead. Eifert was targeted a team-high six times for his four receptions.

Defensive MVPs: Louis Nix

With due respect to a season-best outing from 5th-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore, and the continued excellence of Stephon Tuitt and Manti Te'o, Nix was, and has been the difference this season for a top tier Irish defense.

The junior nose guard finished with four tackles including one for lost yardage and one official quarterback hurry, but it was the agile 330-pounder's consistent push into the center of the Brigham Young pocket that helped limit the Cougars rushing attack to 66 net yards on 25 carries, and bother senior quarterback Riley Nelson throughout the afternoon. I credited Nix for three pressures vs. the pass and two more in which he collapsed the Cougars blocking scheme, allowing teammates clean tackles in the backfield.

Defensive Game Balls: Though he missed a dead-to-rights backfield tackle that led to a 13-yard gain on Brigham Young's first touchdown drive, sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt was dominant at times, recording five tackles including 1.5 sacks (to give him 8.5 on the season), along with one official quarterback pressure (I had him with 2). Tuitt's 16-yard sack on BYU's first series took the Cougars out of field goal range; senior Manti Te'o intercepted Nelson on the ensuing pass -- a 2nd and 26 situation.

Te'o finished with 10 tackles, his fifth game this season with 10 or more stops.

5th-year senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore continued his ascent since a Game Two calf injury forced him out of action. Lewis-Moore tallied five tackles, a sack, and two official quarterback hurries, also drawing a holding call, and sniffing out two shuffle passes inside to force a pair of incompletions at scrimmage. Lewis-Moore's sack occurred on third down, forcing a Cougars punt thereafter.

Junior outside linebacker Danny Spond played the best game of his Irish career, recording five tacked including one for lost yardage, breaking up two passes downfield and intercepting another -- the latter feat sealing the contest with under 10 seconds remaining.

Said Kelly of Spond, "He's been so consistent. We don't even take him off in nickel -- he plays corner(back). Here is a guy that's playing corner in our nickel package and running with the No. 2 (receiver) in bracket (coverage)…He's been physical at the point of attack…I could go on and on. Kid has been tremendous. He''s been an unsung player on our defense and we appreciate him."

Special Teams MVP: P Ben Turk

Though he booted his last offering into the end zone for a touchback (his first of the season), Turk was consistent throughout, punting for 52, 41, and 50 yards previously.

The Irish don't often attempt to block for punt returner Davonte' Neal, instead choosing a "punt safe" method with the defense on the field to protect against a fake. The result is Neal facing between four and seven oncoming, unblocked tacklers following most fielded punts. Through seven games in 2012, Notre Dame ranks 111th nationally in punt return yards and 93rd in kick return yards per game as a team.

Sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza missed two of three field goal attempts including a 27-yard chip shot in the second quarter. He's now 11 of 15 for the season though with misses in three of his last six.

The Numbers Game -- Defense

Manti Te'o's fifth interception of his career was also his fifth this season, tying 1995 star Lyron Cobbins and 1966 standout John Bergine for the most in a single-season by a Notre Dame linebacker…

- The Irish defense's streak of 11-straight red zone appearances without a touchdown was broken Saturday by the Cougars, who scored on consecutive red zone drives midway through the second quarter. The defense had not yielded a touchdown since the fourth quarter of the season's second game against Purdue -- that score and Saturday's occurring in the south end zone on pass plays that confused the coverage of a trio of Irish defenders (CB, Will LB, and Safety) in both instances…

The Irish defense has allowed touchdowns in five of 19 opposing marches inside its 20-yard line

- Notre Dame is the only team among 124 FBS schools not to allow a rushing touchdown this season. The Irish haven't allowed a rushing since a 45-21 win over Maryland in mid-November 2011…

- Notre Dame's defense has allowed the following touchdown totals since Game 10 of 2011: 1, 4, 1, 1, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, and 2…

- Notre Dame's has held each of its last six opponents below 300 total yards. Only Navy (341) topped the 300-yard mark vs. the Irish this season…

- Over its last 20 games, the Irish defense has yielded a total of 23 third quarter points. 17 of the last 20 foes have failed to score in the third quarter vs. Notre Dame. Brigham Young

- Notre Dame's defense has yet to allow a point this season in the first quarter…

- The Irish defense has yielded two touchdowns or fewer in 19 of its last 24 contests; surrendering just one or zero in 11 of the 19…

- Brigham Young managed just 115 total yards in the second half vs. the Irish...

- Notre Dame's defense has allowed a total of 59 points this season, second nationally behind defending national champion Alabama (51). Both the Irish (fumble) and Crimson Tide (kick return) have allowed a non-offensive score this season.

The Numbers Game -- Offense

- The Irish improved to 13-0 when throwing less than 30 passes in the 33-game Brian Kelly era. Five of the 13 wins have occurred this season including each of the last four contests...

- Notre Dame's 270 team rushing yards was far and away the most allowed by the Cougars defense this season, the previous best just 118 by #10 Oregon State last week. BYU entered the contest ranked fourth nationally vs. the run...

- The Irish have enjoyed 100-plus yard contributions from two running backs twice this season: Saturday vs. BYU and two weeks prior vs. Miami. The program had not seen one game with a pair of 100-yard rushers since 2002...

- The Irish have scored 21 points or fewer in eight of their last 10 contests dating back to mid-November 2011...

- Quarterback Tommy Rees' first quarter touchdown pass Saturday to Tyler Eifert was the 34th of the junior triggerman's career, tying him for fifth all-time with 1999 team captain and dual-threat Jarious Jackson. Rees did not complete a pass from the 2:34 mark of the first quarter (the touchdown) until 1:26 remained in the third -- a 31-yard fade to T.J. Jones. Saturday marked Rees' 18th career start at the school.

- Eifert's touchdown reception was the 10th of his career, ranking him second among program tight ends behind the immortal Ken MacAfee with 15...

- Notre Dame is 7-0 for the first time since 2002 and just the 9th time since Ara Parseghian took the helm in 1964…

- Notre Dame improved to 3-7 during the Kelly era when trailing at the half. The Irish have won back-to-back weeks facing a halftime deficit...

- Notre Dame is 38-2 since the beginning of the 2005 season when it out-rushes its opponent.


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