It took a while for the Irish defense to settle into the game. The Cougars came out firing in the first quarter, scoring a touchdown, amassing 136 total yards of offense, and 110 passing yards. But, the Irish defense held the Cougars without a first down for the entire third quarter, and most of the second quarter.
The Irish were led by their seniors on defense with linebacker Courtney Watson grabbing the first of three interceptions on the day. The Cougars took the opening drive to the Irish 39-yard line before Watson picked off the pass.
The Irish defense controlled the game forcing four Cougar turnovers and many three-and-out situations allowing the Irish offense to control the clock. Notre Dame ended up with a 36:56-to-23:04 advantage in time of possession—the real story of the game.
On offense, the Irish continued to put the ball in the hands of the their best playmaker—Julius Jones—and he responded with 161 rushing yards on 35 carries and three touchdowns. It's fitting that his last carry in Notre Dame Stadium went for a hard-fought 13-yard touchdown.
The Irish offense sputtered at times, but made the plays necessary to win the game, and made enough plays to give the Irish the largest margin of victory since beating Rutgers 42-0 in 2002.
The Irish moved the ball well, but couldn't covert opportunities into touchdowns. They had to call on last week's hero, kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick, to finish drives and Fitzpatrick delivered converting 4-of-4 field goal tries.
In the end, the Irish looked improved on both offense and the defense, just not as much as some would like.
Coach Tyrone Willingham said he was proud of the way his seniors played their final game in Notre Dame Stadium. "It was not just any old game for them, it was important for them to go out of this stadium winners," said Willingham. "The thing I've said about our senior group is they've been very consistent all year. I think they've given this team great leadership."
Willingham was excited about the win on Saturday, but he wasn't pleased that they didn't take advantage of some of the opportunities they had on offense. "I still believe we left some things on the table. In the first half, I think we had a series of field goals that would've been very nice to put some touchdowns up at that point. I think that would've dramatically changed the football game at that time."
The play of Julius Jones also impressed Willingham, but he said the offensive line played a large part in his, and the team's success. "Julius has been running very well and making things happen in the running game. It's not just Julius. I thought our offense line did some very good things today to open some holes for him and give him some opportunities. I thought Julius took advantage of it."
Willingham said his defense played well at most times. He said he was concerned with how his defense would adjust from playing the option last week. "The concern of our defense was to get adjusted to a different style of play, now having to adjust to a wide open passing attack. I think early, we were still kind of feeling our way and I think as the game progressed, we got better and better. Once we got that kind of communication, we started to settle in and play a lot better. With their effort, it really kept us positioned to win the football game."
The Irish are now 4-6 on the season. With two more wins, they could become bowl-eligible. "We still believe there is something out there for us if we continue to win," said Willingham when asked what this team still has to play for.
Defensive coordinator, Kent Baer, said it took his defense a while to adjust to the BYU passing scheme. "It just seemed like we weren't very sharp at the beginning," said Baer. "I was disappointed by that part of it. I was excited about how we played in the second and third quarter. I thought, for the most part, it was pretty decent for us."
Once they did settle in, the defense resembled the attacking defense of 2002. "We seemed that way the first half. It seemed like we were playing pretty much like we did a year ago. Making things happen, flying around, getting the football back to the offense—that was exciting to see. Hopefully we can continue to do that."
Baer was asked if this was the best game played by his unit this year. "Not even close. I thought our Purdue game was one of the better games we played. I thought Pittsburgh was certainly one of the better games we've played. I would put it fourth or fifth. There's some things I was disappointed in. We did some good things, the turnovers obviously helped us, some of the sacks, and the big plays we got."
Offensive coordinator, Bill Diedrick, said he was pleased with the effort from the offense. "I was pleased. I thought we did a very effective job of running the ball. The balance I thought was O.K. We'd like to convert a couple more of our shorter throws."
Julius Jones continues to show that he is NFL material. Diedrick said his toughness has been one of his biggest assets this year. "We always knew that he had the ability to break that long play, be the guy we were looking for to hit that home run ball. I think that he's gotten a lot stronger, he's gotten a lot more consistent, I think he's done a great job of being a powerful back breaking a number of tackles."
The Irish offense has been a work-in-progress all season. Diedrick believes they are starting to put it all together. "We set out to accomplish a number of things about mid-season. I think we're well on our way. We're improving every week, and now we're beginning to see the things we would've liked to seen earlier."
The Irish have the week off with a bye and then travel to Stanford. The Cardinal lost yesterday 48-3 to Oregon State. They will then travel to Syracuse on December 6th to play the Orangemen who also lost yesterday, 17-10 to Miami. The schedule is set up for the Irish to finish their season strong.