Notre Dame learned a lot about itself in its hard-fought, gut-it-out, come-from-behind 17-14 victory over Brigham Young. Not all of the things were good, but all of the lessons were necessary going into their crucial contest against the Oklahoma Sooners.
First, by sitting Everett Golson (and still winning, if barely), Coach Brian Kelly accomplished a couple of things. By giving Golson an extra week to recover from his concussion, he did both the safe and politically correct thing, endearing him to head doctors and BCS pollsters alike. But at the same time, he showed all the college football talking heads who were calling for Tommy Rees to start, why they were wrong.
Mesmerized by Rees’ relief success, these experts showed they had short memories by forgetting all of his shortcomings from last season. Sure, Rees came out like gangbusters, completing six of his first seven passes, including four in the first quarter to Tyler Eifert alone.
But then BYU made adjustments, including double and triple teaming Eifert, and not only did the talented tight end not catch another pass, but Rees hit on only one of his remaining nine passes, and it was the running backs who had to bail him out.
Speaking of the running game, performance by Theo Riddick also answered Kelly’s critics as to why he doesn’t feature one back. Last year’s starter (and probably the best ND pro running back prospect), Cierre Wood, had been averaging close to six yards a carry to Riddick’s four and most experts agreed that meant Wood should carry the rock the most.
Of course, Wood did gain 114 yards on 18 carries against the Cougars’ third-ranked rushing defense, and his 6.3 YPC was slightly better than his season average.
But Riddick gained 143 yards on only 15 carries, for an average gain of 9.5, and his dogged determination on a 55-yard dash on which everyone in the stadium but No. 6 counted him down (“Just run and run until you can’t no more,” he summarized) showed it will be a long time before Kelly says “good riddance” to Riddick.
Meanwhile, the man with the best yards-per-carry for the season, speed-demon George Atkinson III, gained only 11 yards on five carries against BYU, but the juke he made on his short touchdown run not only faked the BYU tackler out of his jock, but out of his special Mormon underwear as well.
As for the Irish defense, they proved they were human against BYU, especially when the Notre Dame offense is going three-and-out and giving the opponent a short field after its second-quarter turnover.
After going 17 quarters without giving up an offensive touchdown, Notre Dame gave up two in a span of 2:18 as Riley Nelson threw a six-yard scoring pass to a wide-open Cody Hoffman in the end zone and a two-yard pass to Kaneakua Friel after an interception of Rees by BYU standout Kyle Van Noy.
The first touchdown “made me mad,” stated Heisman-hopeful linebacker Manti Te’o, “and when they scored again, it really made us mad.”
And Te’o’s fury spread, for not only did BYU not score again, but the defense also kept its season-long string of no rushing touchdowns intact.
So BYU not only showed that Rees is better in short doses, but that Golson will need to not turn the ball over, but also make a play or two with his feet to defeat the looming Sooners.
Meanwhile, my advice to Te’o, the leader of the most interesting defense in the world, is simply “stay mad, my friend,” while at the same time assuring our backfield trio of Wood, Atkinson, and Riddick that they are not only all needed, but necessary.
For although it won’t be cold enough in Norman Saturday to call it a “three dog night,” as an eight-and-a-half-point dog, Notre Dame will definitely need a “three back night” to pull the upset.