BYU vs. Notre Dame: Live Game Grades and Player Analysis for the Fighting Irish
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the BYU Cougars in a close one, 17-14.
Tommy Rees was a non-factor after the first quarter, but Irish running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood carried the load for the offense.
Despite shakiness throughout the first three quarters, the Notre Dame defense buckled down in the fourth quarter and preserved the win for the Irish.
We provided live game grades and updated analysis throughout the game.
Tommy Rees: C+
OVERALL GAME -- C+
Rees came out of the gate extremely hot, going 6-7 for 86 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter.
He built on an already established on-field relationship with Tyler Eifert, finding him four times in the opening quarter.
However, Rees went cold in the second and third quarters, completing only a few passes.
In the fourth quarter, the Irish didn't need Rees to do anything more than hand the ball off to his running backs, making his job today tough to judge.
Q4 -- C
Other than the 32-yard lob pass, Tommy Rees really didn't really do much in the first scoring drive of the fourth quarter.
Throughout the fourth quarter, Brian Kelly hasn't had to use Tommy Rees considering how well the Irish were running the ball.
Rees did his job managing the ball via handing the ball off virtually every play.
At least he didn't mess up any play calls or fumble a snap.
Q3 -- D+
On his first drive of the half, Rees doesn't produce anything as he targeted a covered Tyler Eifert on third down and threw it poorly anyway.
When Notre Dame got the ball back, they continuously pounded the ball with Theo Riddick. Meanwhile, Rees and the passing game was ignored in the redzone, with three straight running plays within the eight yard line.
That just tells you how much Brian Kelly trusts his running game - or doesn't trust Rees.
Using Eifert as a decoy, Rees finally completed his first pass since the first quarter on a 32-yard pitch and catch with TJ Jones. Even though he lobbed it up and Jones did most of the work, Rees read the single coverage and did his job.
Q2 -- D
After a solid first quarter, the second quarter wasn't kind to the junior quarterback.
Following four straight incomplete passes, Rees was pulled for a few plays in favor of dual-threat Andrew Hendrix.
When Rees returned to the game later in the drive, Rees basically handed the ball off the majority of the time.
When the quarterback had the chance to throw, he either overthrew his receivers or chucked it to a double-covered Tyler Eifert.
On the quarter, Rees failed to complete a pass.
Knowing Brian Kelly's short fuse when it comes to his quarterbacks, Rees better get back on track or someone else will come in for him, maybe permanently.
Q1 -- A
While Tommy Rees may be known as Notre Dame's closer, he's had a solid first quarter of play against BYU.
For the quarter, Rees is 6-7 for 86 yards and a touchdown.
While the team's first drive stalled and almost saw him throw an interception, Rees has looked poised under center and directed traffic well.
One thing that Rees proved is that he will be taking advantage of something Everett Golson never seemed to - tight end Tyler Eifert.
The junior has connected with Eifert on four occasions, including 33-yard and 29-yard gainers and a touchdown.
While he hasn't had to thread the needle too much, he's been smart in evaluating single coverage on the 6-foot-6 tight end and simply lobbed it up for him.
Rees will have his hands full for the rest of the day, though, with a BYU defense that ranks 7th nationally in points allowed (13.6) and allows just over 220 passing yards per game.
But so far, he's looked pretty good.
COMPLETE GAME -- B
When you sit back and look at this game, the passing game got off to a hot start in the first quarter and the running game dominated the fourth while the middle quarters were left without much offense.
As previously mentioned, the Rees-Eifert connection was clicking in the first quarter, producing a touchdown.
However, the storyline was Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood's hard running throughout the game.
Riddick, who broke off a huge 55-yard rush, finished the game with 15 carries for 143 yards and a 9.5 rush per game.
Wood also had himself a game, bruising defenders 18 times for 114 yards.
If there's anything we learned about the Irish offense against a nationally ranked BYU defense, it's that the running game should be their go-to from now on.
Q4 -- B+
With Rees unreliable, the running game picked it up in the fourth quarter and proved to be a strength of this Notre Dame offense.
After Theo Riddick continued to carry defenders down to within the BYU 10-yard line, the Irish gave it to George Atkinson III for the first touchdown of the second half.
While the passing game was abandoned and the Irish offense became one dimensional, it didn't matter.
Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood were running with a purpose all second half and really tore it up for the Irish.
Q3 -- C+
In the team's first drive, a quick three-and-out by the offense gave the ball right back to BYU.
After a five-yard hard run by Theo Riddick on second down, Rees threw to a covered Eifert, but the 6-foot-6 tight end could have easily created separation on a smaller defender and given Rees somewhere to throw.
On the second drive, it was all Theo Riddick, all the time.
Riddick, who has forged himself as Notre Dame's featured back, broke off a 55-yard run down to the BYU eight yard line.
However, three straight running plays within the 10-yard line was snuffed out and didn't go anywhere, leading to a field goal.
If Notre Dame wants to win this game, it's going to be via Riddick, not the passing game.
Q2 -- C
As previously mentioned, a big part of their offense was dormant at best throughout the second quarter, making it difficult to move the ball.
With arguably their best target Tyler Eifert double-covered and sometimes triple-covered, he really had no impact in the second quarter.
However, the running game picked up the slack a little bit, with Cierre Woods (57 rush yards) and Theo Riddick (43 yards) leading the way.
Riddick looked particularly good on the ground, dragging defenders with him and refusing to go down.
Despite this, the Irish need to get into the endzone a few more times if they want to win this game.
Q1 -- B+
Before this game, I said that Eifert would be a huge part of this offense.
It's safe to say that's been a smart statement through the first quarter.
As previously mentioned, Rees has seen the single coverage on his tight end and made great decision to get it to him.
But Rees can't take all the credit, considering the large target has went up and snagged almost all of his catches, including the touchdown.
The running backs are also looking, especially Cierre Wood.
Showing patience waiting for holes to open for him, Wood has displayed nice cutbacks and it shows in the stat line.
Despite just two carries, Wood has 37 yards, including a 22-yard run that set the Irish up in the redzone.
The only disappointing things from this offense has been their inability to get George Atkinson III involved in the offense.
Atkinson, a former track star, has been given sweep plays to get to the outside but the blocking hasn't been there for him.
COMPLETE GAME -- B+
Despite a lowly second quarter that saw confusion and stupid penalties, the Irish defense stepped up when it had to -- the second half, especially the fourth quarter.
Even though BYU quarterback Riley Nelson was given some breathing room to roam the field, the Irish buckled down in the fourth quarter forcing a three-and-out and an interception.
Manti Te'o did record an interception via a tip, but didn't have the same presence he did last week when he led the defense against Stanford.
Regardless, Notre Dame's defense had a solid overall day.
Q4 -- A
Following a holding penalty forced a 1st-and-18 for the Cougars, the Irish defense was able to pin its ears back and create havoc in the backfield.
However, on a 3rd-and-16 from the BYU 10-yard line, Notre Dame was called for a clear facemask penalty that extended the drive.
While the Irish defense was burned a few times, BYU quarterback Riley Nelson's inconsistency throwing the ball helped Notre Dame way too much.
Specifically, BYU's Cody Hoffman was ridiculously open in the middle of the field for a touchdown but Nelson flat out missed him.
To Notre Dame's credit, the Irish started snuffing out the play-action pass, especially when they put BYU in a hole with a nine yard sack on first and ten from the ND 31.
That sack put the Cougars in a hole forcing them to punt and a methodical drive by the Irish didn't allow BYU to get the ball back with time to work.
A last ditch effort by BYU resulted in an interception by Danny Spond, capping the game.
Q3 -- B
Even though the defense looked like it forced an early second half turnover, a fumble call was overturned and called an incomplete pass.
While BYU followed up the review with a first down, Notre Dame locked in on defense and prevented the Cougars from advancing their drive.
On the Cougars' second drive, Notre Dame continued its solid drop back coverage.
Despite putting little pressure on BYU quarterback Riley Nelson, they allowed the Cougars' shaky signal-caller to make mistakes on his own, and the Irish came out of it with a three-and-out.
You can't really blame the defense for much in the third quarter, considering the bad field position the offense has given them.
Also, there been a lack of Manti Te'o - something that should concern Irish fans.
Q2 -- D
Plagued by penalties, the Irish got burned in the redzone in the second quarter.
After allowing a solid run by BYU running back Jamaal Williams, Matthias Farley made a dumb play.
After he ran Williams out of bounds, Farley continued to drag him and throw him to the ground, drawing a late hit penalty to put BYU at the 6-yard line.
Despite forcing a 3rd down, a busted coverage saw three linebackers covering one receiver while Riley Nelson found Cody Hoffman wide open in the back of the endzone for a game-tying score.
That touchdown was the first touchdown allowed by ND since the Purdue game on Sept. 8. On their second drive, they were poised to end it quickly, but a holding penalty gave BYU a first down and new life.
They've also not adjusted to BYU's bubble screens to the wide receivers, which set up the next touchdown.
While it was put under review, BYU tight end Kaneakua Friel came up with a touchdown. Two trips in the redzone for BYU, two touchdowns.
Despite forcing a three-and-out late in the half, it was not a good showing by the Irish in the second quarter.
Q1 -- A
While the Irish's offense has scored enough points this year, the team's defense has clearly carried this team to its top-five ranking in the BCS.
While they've missed some sacks opportunities, the Irish have gotten to BYU quarterback Riley Nelson and created pressure on the Cougars' run game.
Manti Te'o has come to play today, showing off his coverage skills yet again with an interception while BYU was driving.
Despite only rushing four, the Irish have gotten to the quarterback and look good so far.
Special Teams: D-
COMPLETE GAME -- D-
Field goals missed that should have been made, subpar kick returning, poor punting when it mattered most...
The list could go on and on, but the point is that special teams hurt the Irish today.
Placekicker Kyle Brindza, who came into this game 10 of 12 from field goals, missed two field goals today - one of which was from 28 yards.
Bottom line, if the Irish want to stay undefeated, they can't have gaffes like this on special teams heading forward.
Q4 -- D
Special teams really didn't play a part in the fourth quarter for the Irish.
However, with :29 seconds left on the clock, the Irish needed a big punt from Ben Turk, but he booted it for a touchback for a 12-yard net punt.
Special teams definitely didn't win the Irish the game today.
If anything, it's what kept things close.
Q3 -- C
On the opening kickoff of the second half, Notre Dame placekicker Kyle Brindza boots it pretty short, but solid coverage by the Irish contain BYU and place them at the 20-yard line.
After the Irish defense forced BYU to punt on its first drive of the quarter, Davonte' Neal unwisely fielded the kick.
With virtually all of the Irish trying for a blocked punt, Neal was absolutely swarmed by Cougars, dropping for a two yard loss on the play - and it could have been worse.
However, after a three-and-out by the Irish, a 50-yard punt by Ben Turk and the coverage by Notre Dame was successful, quickly getting down the field and gang tackling the return man.
Despite Brindza's early troubles, the kicker finally got his groove back a little bit with an easy 24-yard chip shot to cut the Cougars' lead to four.
Q2 -- D-
Yet again, placekicker Kyle Brindza hurt the Irish with another missed field goal.
However, this one was a more reasonable 28-yard attempt - something the kicker should make.
Also, George Atkinson III hasn't been a factor on the kick return game, barely getting out to the 20-yard line.
Punter Ben Turk also had a mediocre 41-yard punt.
If the Irish want to win this one, Brindza is going to have to nail a few field goals and not blow easy opportunities at points in the redzone.
Q1 -- C
Notre Dame's special teams should be coming into this game confident in their abilities to just do their job and nothing less than that.
After a productive 57-yard opening drive, a missed 40-yard field goal by Kyle Brindza hurts as the lead should be ten points, not seven.
On the lone kick return of the game for the Irish, George Atkinson returned it just to the 20-yard line.
The only bright spot was a 52-yard punt by seasoned punter Ben Turk.
COMPLETE GAME -- B+
In my mind, the only mistake Kelly made today was running the ball three straight times within the BYU 10-yard line as opposed to going to the play-action pass.
However, Kelly did a great job being patient with the running game when you could tell he wanted to throw the ball.
Despite this urge, he stuck with what worked - an effective running game - and it paid off.
Well done, Brian Kelly.
Q4 -- A
Coach's normally want a balanced offense, mixing in the run and the pass.
Brian Kelly ignored that and had extreme success with it.
While he abandoned the passing game and Tommy Rees altogether, the running game paid off and Kelly looked like a genius.
Also, the coach's clock management toward the end of the game was impeccable, building continuity running the ball consistency and wisely choosing to punt with :29 seconds back.
Q3 -- D
Throughout the first half, Kelly has featured Rees at quarterback, which hasn't hurt or benefited the Irish due to the effective running game.
However, the play-calling has to be questionable at best down in the redzone after Riddick's long 55-yard burst.
The run got them down to the BYU eight yard line, but Kelly decided to follow that up with three straight runs - and it was virtually the same play.
The decision not to go play-action pass on one of those three could end up being costly to the Irish.
Q2 -- C+
After not completing his first four passing attempts of the quarter, Tommy Rees was pulled by Brian Kelly in favor of dual-threat signal-caller Andrew Hendrix to create some new looks on offense.
Hendrix, who has some serious running ability, had a solid first down rush, then Kelly pulled him out and put Rees back in.
While Rees handed the ball off for the majority of the drive, the short change sparked the Irish offense for a little bit.
But after Rees continued to struggle in the second quarter, Kelly stuck with him.
It'll be interesting to see what he does in the second half.
Q1 -- B
While I never have been the biggest fan of Brian Kelly since he left Cincinnati just before their BCS bowl game, he's done a fantastic job this year putting the Irish in position to win six straight games.
His decision to start Tommy Rees today is paying off so far as the quarterback is 6-7 on the day.
However, you can't be happy with using a timeout already in the first half.
Kelly also should be conscious of getting George Atkinson better shots at making an impact play.