Gurney: Kyle Van Noy has all the physical traits necessary to be a top player, but what really sets him apart is his high football IQ. Van Noy has learned the game well, while at BYU, and simply has a knack to diagnose whatever blocking scheme is sent his way immediately and adjust on the fly. He takes great angles and is truly one of the best play-making defensive players in the nation, if not the best.
BYU's next best defender is probably safety Daniel Sorensen or middle linebacker Uani Unga. Sorensen is a three-year starter at safety and is a standout on special teams. He works as the gunner on coverage teams and coaches always refer to him as the best gunner in college football.
Unga mans the Mike linebacker position and has received high praise from Coach Bronco Mendenhall regarding his play. Mendenhall has mentioned several times that Unga is playing at a level he hasn't seen since coming to BYU in 2003. On the line it's all about Eathyn Manumaleuna, who has started in each of his four years in the program. All four players are seniors.
2. Notre Dame has faced its fair share of dual-threat quarterbacks this season and had a mixed bag of results. Tell us about Taysom Hill the passer, first, and can he beat the Irish back seven with his arm if Notre Dame handles the Cougars rushing attack on first down?
Gurney: Taysom Hill has improved dramatically in his ability to throw the football after a very rough start to the season. Through three games he wasn't able to hit the broad side of the barn -- consistently overthrowing receivers while showing little, to no, touch on the football. He still struggles with consistency and that was never more apparent than last week when he threw three interceptions in just one half of play against a terrible Idaho State football team.
Wisconsin severely limited Hill's dual-threat ability by stacking the box and playing zero coverage. Hill had his moments against the Badgers, but never proved able to beat them consistently with his arm which ultimately led to just 17 points scored. I don't know if Notre Dame's defense is quite as good as Wisconsin's, but the model is set and I expect the Irish to crowd the box until Hill can prove able to beat a top defense with his arm -- something he hasn't done on a consistent basis.
3. The loss at (chief rival) Utah makes sense. So too does a road game vs. Wisconsin. How in the world did this team lose to Virginia in its opener, and can we "throw it out" as Brian Kelly suggested in his Tuesday press conference? Can BYU play down to that level as currently constructed 10 games into the season?
Gurney: The loss against Virginia was completely baffling, to say the least. The Cougars completely dominated every stat imaginable, but some ultra-conservative play-calling ultimately did them in along with porous offensive line play. The offense has improved dramatically since and found a lot of the identity it lacked during the first week of the season. So yeah, I would definitely agree with coach Kelly that nothing can be learned from the BYU team that lost to Virginia.
BYU is a very well-coached team that has a knack to improve its play throughout the course of the season under Coach Mendenhall. This is a huge game for the program and the Irish can count on getting BYU's best game come Saturday.
4. What's BYU's confidence level entering this matchup? I assume, like Pittsburgh two weeks ago, the players (not to mention fan base) believe they should have upset the Irish last fall?
Gurney: It was apparent when talking to BYU players this week that they take a lot of confidence from last year's game against the Irish. They truly believe they were just 1-2 plays away from pulling the upset while believing they're better equipped on both sides of the ball to win this one. So yeah, the team is very confident it can come away from South Bend with a win.
5. Where can Notre Dame's offense hurt the Cougars defensively? Why has the defense dropped off from the rock-solid unit we saw last fall in South Bend? Are the statistics misleading?
Gurney: I think the statistical drop has to do with strength of opponent more than anything although the strength and depth along the defensive front isn't what it was last season. BYU had an eventual top 5 pick in Ezekiel Ansah playing at end and Romney Fuga manning the middle last season and both players have been missed.
Lack of quality depth along the front hurt against Wisconsin as the Badgers were able to pound the ball up the middle with consistent success. The linebacker group this season is at least the equal of last year's and probably better given Unga's emergence at Mike linebacker.