Notre Dame vs. BYU: What Can Irish Learn from Last Year's Close Call?

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst INovember 10, 2013

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 20:  Players for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish pray in the end zone before a game against the BYU Cougars at Notre Dame Stadium on October 20, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated BYU 17-14.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Looking to the past is often frowned upon by coaches in any sport, particularly Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly, who implemented the "24-hour rule" upon his hiring nearly four years ago.

But leading up to his team's showdown with BYU at Notre Dame Stadium in two weeks, pulling a page from a season gone by will pay dividends for the current Irish outfit.

When the Cougars visited South Bend, Ind., last season to do battle against then fifth-ranked Notre Dame, they were thought to be yet another hapless victim along the Irish's undefeated rampage through the regular season. But it proved to be anything but, as head coach Bronco Mendenhall's squad gave the Irish everything they could handle during a thrilling 17-14 Notre Dame victory.

The manner in which BYU contained the Irish during that contest is directly applicable to this season's matchup, particularly because of the clashing of similar philosophies.

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 20:  Kapron Lewis-Moore #89 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes between Ryker Matthews #72 and Braden Hansen #76 of the BYU Cougars at Notre Dame Stadium on October 20, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated BYU 17-1
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Cougars are built strikingly similar to the Irish, with their No. 1 priority being to control the line of scrimmage, then run the ball effectively and stop the run defensively.

While BYU failed to contain Notre Dame's rushing attack—the Irish ran for 270 net yards—the Cougar defense consistently tightened up near the red zone, forcing the Irish into three Kyle Brindza field-goal attempts, two of which were missed. 

Aiding BYU's defensive efficiency was the Irish offense's inconsistent play with Tommy Rees at quarterback in his lone full start of the 2012 season (Everett Golson was out with post-concussion symptoms). Rees completed just seven of 16 passes for 117 yards and one touchdown to go along with one interception.

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 20: Head coach  Bronco Mendenhall of the BYU Cougars talks with his team during a time-out against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on October 20, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated BYU 17-14. (Pho
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Cougar defense employed the most common and effective strategy against Rees, as it loaded the box and dared the immobile quarterback to move the ball down the field with his arm. While the Lake Forest, Ill., native is a markedly improved player this season, his performance against BYU last season was an encapsulation of his struggles against quality defenses.

That same strategy in defending the Irish's Rees-directed offense hasn't changed, and that's the bad news for Notre Dame entering its Senior Day showdown with BYU for one reason in particular.

The Cougars rank 29th nationally in passing efficiency defense, which could be the demise of the Irish offense.

Because Rees is completing just 54.6 percent of his passes—the lowest of his career—each completion possesses an added value, which the BYU defense will attempt to eliminate. If it does as it did last season, points will come at a premium for the Irish offense.

Aside from play from the quarterback position, Notre Dame must avoid the types of maddening mistakes that can, potentially, cost it the game. First and foremost, Brindza can't miss multiple field goals as he did last season, especially in a contest that will likely come down to one or two scores.

Secondly, the offense as a unit must find a consistency that it has lacked for the better part of the current season.

Only time will tell if these lessons will be applied, for if they're not, the Irish may experience their first two-game losing streak since the final two games of the 2011 season against Stanford (28-14) and Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl (18-14).