As the Notre Dame Irish enter the ranks of the BCS Top 5, they have to avoid a let down at home for voters to recognize them as a true national championship contender.
At No. 5 in the country, there's still room towards the top of the BCS rankings, but there's more room to stumble, and you can bet that's what coach Bronco Mendenhall and the rest of the BYU Cougars coaching staff have been preaching as the team travels to South Bend to take on the Irish.
Notre Dame (6-0) has a chance to take the BCS by storm with a string of good wins. Beating BYU (4-3) wouldn't be a major talking point on their schedule, but it would give the team some huge momentum heading into a road showdown with No. 9 Oklahoma in Week 9.
To avoid that kind of letdown to the Cougars, head coach Brian Kelly and the Irish must make a statement now that all eyes are pointed towards Indiana. Here's a look at the keys for Notre Dame to avoid seeing their national title hopes gashed on Saturday, as well as everything you need to know to have the game on your TV screen come kickoff.
Keys to Avoiding Letdown
No Bad Turnovers
In the win against No. 17 Stanford, "escaped" is the word that most comes to mind when you look at the box score. Yes, the total offense was there and before he was knocked out via concussion, Everett Golson had the Irish moving down the field.
But he also fumbled three times in the first half, losing all three.
It's those kind of plays that force Kelly to use Tommy Rees towards the end of games. Granted, Rees is a more accomplished passer and has bailed the Irish out in at least three of their six wins.
But if Kelly is forced to start flip-flopping QBs because one can't hold on to the football, and not because of a specific game plan, that doesn't bode well for the Irish on offense. It also puts more pressure on the defense, and against a BYU team capable of putting up points, the Irish can't afford to give them short fields on which to work.
Control the Ground Game
Both teams rush for more than 170 yards per game, and each will use their QBs in the running game. BYU has a stingy defense and has already proven itself by going on the road and holding Boise State to seven points in an earlier loss.
Should Notre Dame find itself punting and being unable to finish drives like they did in the first half against Stanford, BYU is a team that will make them pay.
They can combat some of that by using Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III in tandem with Golson in this Irish running attack. Although coach Kelly and the staff might be careful with Golson in the running game after his concussion, Golson's best asset right now is his legs.
Containing QB Riley Nelson
Although he threw three interceptions in the Cougars' 42-24 loss to No. 10 Oregon State, Nelson still managed 305 yards through the air.
As late as the 8:55 mark in the fourth quarter, BYU was only down by four. Nelson gave them a chance to win, but he also took four sacks and threw a crucial interception-turned-touchdown to seal the deal for the Beavers.
There's no doubt Nelson makes BYU somewhat different than a three-loss team. It's a dynamic Notre Dame won't have much film on, and they didn't see Nelson run against the Beavers they way he did before sustaining an early season injury.
This Irish defense will have its hands full. Expect them to create at least two turnovers to win this game they way they want. If not, BYU is fully capable, battled tested (third game against ranked opponents this season) and really have nothing to lose on the road.
Trap game is certainly cliche these days, but this game has the feel to it. The Irish are riding high after six consecutive wins, but now have something they haven't had to deal with—expectations.
There's a very real possibility that Florida, the current No. 2 team in the country, could fall to No. 7 South Carolina this week. No. 4 Kansas State must travel to No. 13 West Virginia, while No. 1 Alabama goes on the road to Tennessee. No. 2 Oregon defeated Arizona State on Thursday night.
Since nothing is for certain in college football, we could see the Irish climb all the way to No. 2, depending on the turn of events. As they prepare for the two biggest games of the season, at Oklahoma next week and USC to close out the regular season slate, they can't afford a letdown at home to the Cougars.
The level of focus and intensity will directly fall on coach Kelly's preparation this week, so look for the Irish to play like the No. 5 team in the country if they want to have an eventual shot at the national championship.
BYU vs. Notre Dame
When: Saturday, Oct. 20 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.
Watch: NBC (check local listings)
Live Stream: NBCSports.com
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