Preview: Notre Dame vs. BYU

A preview of the game between the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the BYU Cougars

#9 Notre Dame vs. BYU
Fighting Irish   Cougars
 
Saturday, October 22nd
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN.
1:30 EST
NBC

 
 

BYU On Offense:

BYU Offense '05 Rank Per Game ND Defense '05 Rank Per Game
Rushing Offense #86 115.33 Rushing Defense #46 126.3
Pass Offense #11 317.00 Pass Defense #114 304.83
Pass Eff. #46 134.02 Pass Eff. #56 122.36
Total Offense #26 432.33 Total Defense #101 431.17
Scoring Offense #60 26.50 Scoring Defense #62 25.67

Bronco Mendenhall took over the BYU program this year after the Cougars had a couple disappointing seasons under Gary Crowton. Mendenhall served as Crowton's defensive coordinator for two seasons and he has spent his entire coaching career on the defensive side of the ball. Known as a defensive guru, Mendenhall's priority when he was hired was to find an offensive mind to help him guide the Cougars. If offense is what you're looking for, Texas Tech is the place to start looking. Mendenhall went down to Lubbock, Texas and grabbed Mike Leach's offensive line coach, Robert Anae and named him the Cougar offensive coordinator. Not only could Anae bring Leach's high-octane offense to Provo, but the added bonus was that Anae played his college football for the Cougars ('81-'84).

Over the years, BYU has been known to throw the ball a lot, but this season's offense has made the LaVell Edwards offenses look like three yards and a cloud of dust. Through the first five games of the season BYU threw the ball an average of 49 times. Then Colorado State comes to town last Saturday and the Cougars turn into a Big Ten team by running the ball 52 times for 274 yards (5.3 yards per attempt), and only attempting 18 passes. Which offense will Notre Dame see this weekend? More than likely BYU will revert back to the spread offense and throwing the ball all over the field. Colorado State has been giving up big chucks of yardage on the ground so Anae took advantage for a 24-14 win over CSU.

The BYU offense will utilize unusually wide splits for their offensive lineman in order to spread the defense out. They will run mostly out of the shotgun with one running back, three wide receivers and split the tight end out. Now that they have the defense spread from sideline to sideline, they will find the mismatch and dink and dunk the ball down the field. Most of the patterns will be thrown underneath in the first two zones and they'll mix in some crossing routes.

Leading the Cougar offense at quarterback is returning starter, John Beck. He done a nice job of picking up the new offense early on and he delivers the ball to the right receiver more often than not. Two of his best weapons on offense are running backs Curtis Brown and Naufahu Tahi. Irish fans saw both of these athletes the past two seasons. They are experienced and they can make plays carrying the ball or catching it. They are both big tough runners. When BYU does go under center they will use a fullback and run out of the "I" formation. They will bleed the backs through the line as well as swing them to the outside. The running backs have combined for 50 receptions this season.

The receiving corps isn't deep or blessed with big-time playmakers, but they are probably as steady as the group from Michigan State that gave the Irish fits. Most Irish fans will remember the most dangerous receiver, Todd Watkins. He's a burner and can get behind the defense. Thus far Anae hasn't thrown a lot of deep balls, but with the suspect Irish secondary, you can bet he will be tempted to let it fly. The slot receiver works the underneath zones. The outside receivers will work the middle and deep zones.

BYU dominated the line of scrimmage against Colorado State as evidenced by the rushing totals, but they have had trouble establishing the run in other games. The Cougar line has three returning starers, Jake Kuresa and Eddie Keele are the two best offensive lineman -- they will challenge the Irish defensive ends. Lance Reynolds is the other returning starter at center. Then BYU has a couple true freshmen playing the guard positions, Dallas Reynolds and Terence Brown. Derek Landri and Trevor Laws were in the backfield all day against a very experienced USC offensive line, so the freshmen should be challenged all day long.

Key Match Up: The obvious match-up to look at is between Landri and Laws, and the young BYU offensive guards. I don't think BYU will even try to go right at Notre Dame, instead, I think they'll try to stretch them from sideline to sideline with short passes to the receivers and backs. That makes the key match-up between the Irish linebackers and the running backs and underneath receivers. The linebackers have to get out to the flat and make the tackles and they have to watch for delay routes coming underneath them. If they shut those options down for the offense, BYU will struggle to move the ball.

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.


  QB ATT-COMP-YRD TDs/INTs Comp %
  +John Beck, Jr 169-262-1,902 27/16 64.5
  Matt Berry, Sr. 272-447-2,979 15/24 Career

John Beck (6-2/212) has a live accurate arm. He has completed 64.6 percent of his passes this season and 60.0 percent in his career. He is the leader in the huddle and a gusty player. He's mobile and his physical makeup could be compared to Purdue's Brandon Kirsh. Because of his ability to scramble he tends to tuck the ball too soon when feeling pressure from the pass rush. He can frustrate a defense, but he can also get himself in trouble when he's outside the pocket, as he's suffered from injuries throughout his career. Last season he was knocked out of the game against the Irish. He is prone to making mistakes as he has thrown 16 career interceptions against 27 touchdowns.

Matt Berry (6-5/231) is a very capable backup as he proved coming into last year's game for Beck. He has played a lot of football. Berry is much more the pocket passer and throws a nice catchable ball, but he will struggle to make plays and he will force the ball. Beck has 24 career interceptions against only 15 touchdowns.

  RB Hgt/Wgt Rushes-Yards
  +Curtis Brown, Jr. 6-0/205 106/504, 5TDs
  +Naufahu Tahi Sr. 6-0/240 35/202 2TDs
  Manase Tonga, Fr. 5-11/238 --

Curtis Brown is a nice player and I like the way he plays the game. He has above average speed, and he is somewhat shifty, although he'd just as soon put a shoulder down and run you over. He leads the team in rushing with 531 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and has punched the ball into the end zone 5 times. He's a good blocker in pass protection, and a very good receiver. He's tied for the team lead in receptions with 29 receptions. I think he's a great back for Anae's offense.

You won't confuse Tahi with Reggie Bush, he's more in the mold of Jerome Bettis. He only has 39 carries on the season, but has a hefty 5.8 yards per carry average. He'll do most of his work between the tackles. He has good vision and hits the hole hard. Once he turns up field he has good speed. He won't avoid contact and will look to punish a defender. When BYU goes under center he will play either running back position. Tahi is a very good blocker and he will catch the ball out of the backfield (21 recpetions).

Tonga is primarily a blocking fullback and he rarely touches the ball. He has been a very pleasant surprise for the Cougars as he's done an outstanding job of opening holes for both backs -- very solid player as a true freshman.


  WR Hgt/Wgt Stats
  +Todd Watkins, Jr. 6-3/185  23 rcpt/365 yds/ 5TDs
  Nathan Meikle, Jr. 5-9/175  20 rcpts/147 yds/0 TDs
  Matt Allen, So. 6-5/220  9 rcpts/130 yds/1 TD
  Zac Collie Jr. 5-11/190  8 rcpts/121 yds/2 TD
  Michael Reed RS-Fr. 6-1/201  7 rcpts/57 yds/0 TD
  Luke Ashworth Fr. 6-2/192  3 rcpts/64 yds/0 TD

Todd Watkins is the Cougar deep threat and playmaker on offense. He proved his value to BYU in his first Division I game last season against the Irish where he caught five passes for 115 yards. Last season he totaled 52 receptions for 1,042 yards, six touchdowns and averaged nearly 95 yards per game. This season Watkins doesn't have the gaudy yardage totals, but he already has five touchdown receptions through six games. This year opposing defenses have geared their schemes to stop Watkins, but expect Watkins to challenge the shaky Irish secondary deep as he's still averaging 15.5 yards per reception.

Matt Allen is a solid outside receiver but he's relatively inexperinced. He's dependable and he can get open. He doesn't have the speed that Watkins has, but he can hurt a defense if you let him run free.

Nathan Meikle, a former walk-on, scout team player that has made his way into the starting lineup. He's a smaller guy that generally stays shallow and works the underneath zones. He catches everything that comes his way, and runs precise routs. He'll be the guy Berry looks for if he's under pressure and looking to dump the ball off.

Zac Collie is very similar to Allen --solid, but not spectacular. Luke Ashworth backs up Meikle and is a better prospect, but he's still learning as a true freshman. Michael Reed has decent speed, but he isn't a deep threat.


  TE Hgt/Wgt Stats
  Jonny Harline Jr. 6-4/226 29 rcpts/450 yds/ 0TDs
  +Daniel Coats, Jr. 6-3/256 13 rcpts/111 yds/2 TDs

Jonny Harline is really more of a big wide receiver than a tight end and could be listed with the receivers; he'll get most of the action when BYU runs the spread. He leads the team in receiving years (450) and he's tied with Brown for the team lead in receptions with 29. He works well in the secondary and makes for a big target. Surprisingly he has been held out of the endzone. He catches just about everything and he will come up with the spectacular grab. He's a player that has really emerged in Anae's offense.

After a very strong freshman season, Ben Coats' production really tailed off and he has somewhat been lost in the shuffle. Part of his problem is that he has been very inconsistent catching the ball. After struggling with his blocking early, Coats has become a much more effective blocker, and when BYU brings the tight end into the offensive line, he's the preferred man. He is very athletic and he can create problems for the Irish.


  Offensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +LT Eddie Keele, Jr. 6-5/312 9 Starts/17 Games
  LG Dallas Reynolds, Fr. 6-4/345 6 starts
  +C Lance Reynolds, Sr. 6-2/303 17 Starts
  RG Terence Brown, Fr. 6-4/326 6 Starts
  +RT Jake Kuresa, Jr. 6-6/300 29 Starts

Eddie Keele started six games last year, four at left tackle and two at guard. Now that he's settled in at left guard, Keele might be the teams best pass blocker on the team, but only slightly better than Kuresa. He's sound fundamentally, but lacks the physical attributes and the nasty streak that makes Kuresa such a solid player in both phases on blocking. Nonetheless, he'll be a challenge for Ronald Talley.

Dallas Reynolds is a true freshman. He's been solid, but as one would expect he makes freshman mistakes from time to time. He's a solid run blocker, but average pass blocker. He can miss assignments when the defense gets creative. Derek Landri is a tough assignment for any lineman, let alone a freshman with six starts.

Lance Reynolds is Dallas' brother. He's a former linebacker that switched to center last season and started every game in his first year on the offensive line. He's an effort guy - does more with what he has than most. Solid, not spectacular, but he gets the job done. He'll need a big game, because the guards will need some help handling the Notre Dame defensive tackles.

Terence Brown is another true freshman. He's in a very similar stage of his development as is Dallas Reynolds. He plays well at times, but he'll make freshman mistakes. Solid run blocker, but he'll allow penetration from time to time. He draws Notre Dame's Trevor Laws on Saturday, and he will be tested throughout the game.

Jake Kuresa is probably the best of the uglies. He handled Boston College's Mathias Kiwanuka solo in the first game of the season, which would indicate that he is very solid in pass protection. He's very physical with a mean streak. He'll come off the snap and smack you in the face and then play through the whistle. He finishes his blocks. BYU will run to Kuresa's side first, but that means he'll have to go against Notre Dame's best defensive lineman, Victor Abiamri. This will be the best battle along the line of scrimmage.

Brian Sanders (Jr. 6-3/348) now backs up at RG Sanders started after starting 11 games last year. He's been fighting multiple knee injuries that has prevented him from playing every down. He rarely practices during the week, but he will see some action against the Irish as the freshman guards will need some help against Notre Dame's very active front.

BYU On Defense:
BYU Defense '05 Rank Per Game ND Offense '05 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense #63 144.83 Rushing Offense #34 170.83
Pass Defense #79 241.33 Pass Offense #9 318.83
Pass Eff. #83 130.79 Pass Eff. #17 149.56
Total Defense #71 386.17 Total Offense #12 489.67
Scoring Defense #53 25.0 Scoring Offense #19 36.0

Mendenhall is the architect of the BYU's "3-3-5" defense and he knows what his players can and cannot do. The 3-3-5 is an attacking, aggressive defense and is extremely flexible. The BYU uses a lot of movement in an attempt to disguise coverages and the location of the blitz. The defense will blitz from anywhere and it attempts to confuse the offensive line's blocking schemes. The 3-3-5 relies heavily on the athleticism of the defensive line to cover any gap on his side of the line. The defense also needs an outstanding set of cornerbacks, as it tends to leave them in one-on-one coverage. This is a blitz heavy defense and they will come early and often. It's likely that he'll send six defenders every play in an attempt to rattle Brady Quinn like he did last season.

The defensive line has three natural defensive tackles Vince Feula, Daniel Marquardt, and Manaia Brown. Feula and Marquardt missed much of the Colorado State game and are questionable against the Irish. There is a considerable drop in ability from the first group to the second group. If Feula and Marquardt are limited in any fashion Saturday, it will be very difficult for the Cougars to slow down the potent Irish offense.

The linebackers are the strength of the defense. They won't make a ton of plays in the backfield, but they compete and they'll hit as well as any team on the Irish schedule. They are experienced and understand Mendenhall's scheme very well.

The fifth defensive back is the "Cougar". In the past Mendenhall has moved the Cougar all over the field, but with the inexperience he currently has at the position, the Cougar is used as a center fielder. Instead of moving the Cougar around, BYU now uses their two safeties to blitz and support on the run. BYU will line up all the defensive backs in a line across the field and at the snap of the ball, they will break into their responsibilities. BYU does this to disguise their coverage and confuse the offense.

Key Match-up: Notre Dame's offensive line against Bronco Mendenhall's relentless blitzing. If they can hold the defense off, Brady Quinn will find the open receiver.

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +


  Defensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +WDE Vince Feula Sr. 6-1/302 17 Games/ 0 sacks
  +NT Daniel Marquardt Sr. 6-2/327 34 Games/ 1.5 sacks
  +SDE Manaia Brown,Sr.* 6-2/280 14 Starts/ 11 tckls

Vince Feula has an ankle injury and will likely be somewhat limited. He's a former junior college transfer that played regularly last season and finished with 25 tackles. He's more of a defensive tackle, so he's stout against the run, but he won't make a bunch of plays in the backfield. He won't generate much pressure. He has nine tackles on the season.

If Feula can't go, Justin Maddox (Sr. 6-3/267) will take his spot. He has played in 29 games in his career, so he has experience. He is steady, but he doesn't have the physical tools to battle every down against top-flight competition.

Daniel Marquardt is likely out for Notre Dame, even if he plays, I will assume that he'll be severely limited. That means Notre Dame will see a lot of Hala Paongo (Jr. 6-2/280) Paongo has three career starts but the is a considerable drop-off in production from Marquardt. Paongo has struggled to hold ground inside and can be neutralized by a good offensive line.

Manaia Brown could probably play for most defenses in the country. He's big and he's active along the line. He can penetrate and he's difficult to move off the ball. He had a big game against Notre Dame last year. He's battled injuries, but he's healthy and playing very well.

  Linebackers Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +SAM Paul Walkenhorst 6th 6-6/266 35 starts/ 21 tckls
  +MLB +Cameron Jensen, Jr. 6-2/241 17 starts/ 39 tckls
  +WLB +J. Luettergerodt Sr. 6-3/240 11 Starts/ 29 tckls

Paul Walkenhorst started as a true freshman and sophomore, before suffering through three years of injuries. He's healthy now and manning the strong side of the defense. With his size he's more suited for defensive end, but he has preferred to stay at linebacker. Walkenhorst is solid in run support but suspect in coverage. He won't chase plays sideline to sideline; he plays well in traffic and does a good job of keeping lineman off him.

Cameron Jensen is a returning starter and a very solid, tough player. He's been banged up throughout his career, but he's healthy this season and he is likely the best of the linebacking corp. He's your prototypical Mike backer. He has great instincts and fills the hole on the run with authority. He's steady in coverage and drops well.<.br>
Justin Luettergerodt is another solid player and returning starter. He's stronger in coverage than his linebacker mates. He's a little suspect in run support, but he will throw his body around in run support. Another very tough athlete on defense.

Markell Staffieri (So., 6-3/233) might see some time. He is a former walk-on who has stared two game in his career. He's steady, but he won't make a bunch of plays.

  Defensive Backs Hgt/Wgt Experience
  CB Justin Robinson, Jr. 5-7/154 6 Starts/ 7 PBup
  CB K Buchanon,So. 6-1/197 Limited Exp.
  +S K.C. Bills So. 6-1/218 6 Starts/ 29 tckls
  S Spencer White, Sr. 6-0/189 16 Starts/ 23 tckls
  Cougar D. Gabriel, So. 6-1/210 6 starts/ 33 tckls

Justin Robinson, a junior college transfer, has great technique and he plays the ball well, but he will struggle because of his size. He'll have trouble matching up with Notre Dame's bigger receivers, but he will fight you throughout the game -- leaves it on the field.

Kayle Buchanon took over for the injured Nate Soleberg. He is a solid athlete, but young and inexperienced.

K.C. Bills has limited experience. He's a converted linebacker, so he's physical. He is probably the best blitzer on the team, but he will struggle in coverage - decent, but not great speed. Spencer White is the lone returning starter from last season is the secondary. White is very solid in coverage both in deep coverage and plays in front of him. He isn't really physical, but a he is a solid tackler. He is decent is run support, but he won't put a lot of fear in opposing running backs.

Dustin Gabriel could start, but he was pulled during the Colorado State game, and replaced with David Tafuna (So. 6-1/198). Both players are young and learning. Solid players, but they aren't a force in the secondary. They will try to keep everything in front of them.



Summary: This is not a game Notre Dame can overlook. BYU played Boston College very close until the fourth quarter and they took No. 21 TCU to overtime, before losing on a bobbled snap on an extra point attempt. They use a more high-speed version of the spread offense than Michigan State. BYU will move the ball on the Irish defense, but I expect that Notre Dame will be able to make them a one-dimensional team.

Bronco Mendenhall is an outstanding defensive coach. He gets his players to play at a very high level, and after watching BYU stymie the Irish last season; you have to give him his props. That being said, I'll take Charlie Weis over any defensive coach in the nation. ND has the horses, all they need to do is execute. <.br>






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