SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame beat a solid BYU squad 23-23 in front of 80,795 fans at Notre Dame Stadium to close its home regular season schedule on Saturday.
Here are the five keys to the Fighting Irish victory:
1. Balanced offense
Notre Dame had as balanced of an offensive attack as you could possibly plan for. The Irish ran for 235 yards, as well as passed for 235 yards.
“I would say their running backs are very physical, tough to tackle,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the Irish. “We knew that going into the game. We also thought their offensive line was physical and tough, and that played out really the way we thought. And so I think that gave Notre Dame the ability to control the game.”
Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees completed 15 of his 28 pass attempts with one score and one interception. The Irish were paced in rushing by Cam McDaniel (1117 yards), while Tarean Folston added 78 yards on the ground.
2. Red Zone defense
Notre Dame only allowed the Cougars (7-4) to score one touchdown in its four trips inside the Red Zone, which included the Irish blocking a short field goal attempt in the final minutes.
“We made some plays,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “And if you look back on some of them, tackling, some individual plays on the quarterback, in particular we paid a great deal of attention on stopping the quarterback.”
3. Kyle Brindza
Notre Dame led by just one score (20-13) when Kelly asked junior Kyle Brindza to boot a 51-yard field goal to stretch the advantage to 10 with less than seven minutes remaining in the game.
Brindza's attempt was good and it swung the momentum of the game down the stretch, as well as altered BYU's offensive strategy.
“I think that last field goal was huge,” Kelly said. “Obviously puts us up by ten points, the wind swirling on the field and I don't know how it felt up there but that winds is swirling. It's a bit of a gamble at 51 yards and we are going to give them pretty good field position if we don't make it.”
4. Next man in
The Fighting Irish have been decimated by injuries through this season, and that plagued the team again on Saturday, as it lost its starting center (Nick Martin) to a knee injury). Sophomore Matt Hegarty stepped in on no notice and Kelly praised him for his play.
“Nick Martin went down with a hyperextended knee (and) Matt Hegarty played almost three quarters of the game at center,” Kelly said. “You had, again, a lot of young players in there. As I told our guys, a lot of guys out there with very thin resumes and they built them up today. It was really good to see.”
5. Going out on a good note
Notre Dame fifth-year linebacker Dan Fox made his final home game a memorable one. The middle linebacker paced his team with nine total tackles, one sack, a pair of tackles for a loss and a pass break up.
“I thought (Fox) was really locked in,” Kelly said. “We asked our guys to do something with this game. We asked a single minded focus that they had not shown against Pittsburgh and an attention to detail.
“We felt like we didn't have that against Pittsburgh, and I think all of our players, in particular our seniors, really rallied to those things and I think we saw that with Fox. He was on point in coverage and he played the kind of football that he knows he's capable of.”