As much as head coach Charlie Weis preached this week about BYU and the danger this team can present on Saturday, one has to wonder if the Notre Dame football team is over the hangover from the USC loss. It has been clear this week that Irish fans are not.
I don't have any doubt that Notre Dame can beat BYU, and probably rather handily. However, they'll only beat the Cougars if their hearts are in the game. Some might suggest that it's simply too hard to get up emotionally after such a passionate game last weekend. This game scares me.
Why does it scare me? Because BYU beat Notre Dame last season and they'll believe they can do it again this season. If the Irish come out flat, this could be a very long day for Notre Dame fans. Also troubling is the BYU defense. The Cougar defense is designed to confuse an offense. If the Irish struggle early offensively, BYU will certainly gain confidence.
The Cougars have an offense that can be frustrating as well. They'll nickel and dime you in the passing game and mix in some run. They'll move the ball up and down the field, but the key will be, will they kick field goals or score touchdowns? If it's field goals, the Irish should win rather handily. If it's touchdowns, Notre Dame could be in a dogfight.
Cougar quarterback John Beck impressed me last season in limited action and appears to be having a very efficient year in a new system. But three players scare me in this game: Wide receiver Todd Watkins and running backs Curtis Brown and Fahu Tahi.
Irish fans will remember Watkins from last season as he caught five passes for 115 yards. Brown and Tahi aren't LenDale White and Reggie Bush, but they're used a lot in the passing game and the Irish will have to account for both at all times. Accounting for the backs will likely cause problems in the passing game. Tight end Jonny Harline could also have a big day in the middle of the field.
The good news for Irish fans is that Brady Quinn is a much improved player from the BYU game last season. The Cougars did a good job of disguising blitzes last year and confusing Quinn. However, the Irish appear to have solved their blitz pickup problems from last year, and Quinn has made many teams pay for blitzing this season.
Purdue appeared to blitz on almost every down and we all know what Quinn did to Purdue. I also don't see their corners matching up with Notre Dame's taller receivers in Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija either. If the Irish weather the initial storm of blitzes, I expect Quinn and Stovall and Samardzija to have a big day.
I expect the defense to give up a lot of yards on Saturday, but I just can't see the Cougar offense scoring as many points as Notre Dame will.
Mike Frank Prediction
The Irish have Charlie Weis, which I think is a big plus in this game. There are certain weaknesses in the 3-3-5, and if there is anyone who can exploit those weaknesses, it's Charlie Weis. The Irish might struggle for a bit offensively, but I fully expect a strong offensive showing on Saturday.
Notre Dame: 45 BYU: 21