Although the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have had a solid season to this point with a record of 7-3, it has been somewhat of a disappointment, considering that the team went to the National Championship Game last season. The Irish won't be playing for the title this year, but they still have a chance to finish with an excellent record.
BYU, also 7-3, stands in Notre Dame's way. The Cougars have a couple of impressive victories to their credit already, but beating Notre Dame would take the cake. BYU is certainly going to come to play as it looks for a signature win, and the Irish need to be ready.
If Notre Dame is going to improve its record to 8-3, here are three star Golden Domers who absolutely must play well on Saturday.
Which player is the biggest key to Notre Dame's success vs. BYU?
No Notre Dame player in recent memory has been picked apart as much as quarterback Tommy Rees. He has gone through plenty of trials and tribulations on and off the field, and he has taken a beating from the media and fans because of it. Some of the criticism is fair since Rees' free-wheeling style of play has gotten the Irish into trouble at times, but he has made plenty of plays as well. If Notre Dame is going to win on Saturday, the good version of Rees needs to show up.
In last week's disappointing loss to Pittsburgh, there is no doubt that Rees' poor play was a huge contributing factor. He did manage to throw for better than 300 yards and two touchdowns, but Rees also threw two picks and completed less than 50 percent of his passes. That type of performance simply won't fly against BYU's excellent defense.
Rees' numbers for the season are actually quite respectable. In fact, they represent the best production of his career by far with 2,500 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has come up big in a number of games for Notre Dame this season, and he has had plenty to do with the team's seven wins. Coming away victorious on Saturday is paramount, as is a mistake-free game for Rees.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Notre Dame hasn't been as dominant this season is the fact that it has dealt with some major injuries along the defensive line. Not only is nose guard Louis Nix out for the season with a knee injury, but fellow lineman Stephon Tuitt has been banged up all year as well. Tuitt will be out on the field come Saturday, though, and he is arguably the biggest key to halting the Cougars' dangerous offensive attack.
BYU is 12th nationally in rushing with over 265 yards per game, and much of that comes from quarterback Taysom Hill. Tuitt has 6.5 tackles for loss and five sacks on the year, so the big man has what it takes to make life miserable for Hill. He will have to be careful, though, after being ejected for targeting Pitt quarterback Tom Savage last week, although even Savage didn't agree with the ejection, according to Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
#Pitt QB Tom Savage on NCAA targeting rule: “It stinks.” Said he didn’t think Stephon Tuitt should’ve gotten ejected for hit.— Sam Werner (@SWernerPG) November 13, 2013
Although Hill is having a pretty solid year through the air as well, BYU's offense loses much of its effectiveness when Hill is unable to run wild. Tuitt is a game-changing kind of player who can make an impact along the defensive line unlike most other players in college football. Every game Tuitt plays helps him build his NFL case, and a dominant performance against BYU would really improve his stock.
Notre Dame has lost some great pass catchers to the NFL in recent years such as Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert, but someone always seems to step up. That has been the case this season for senior wide receiver T.J. Jones. Prior to the 2013 campaign, Jones had never established himself as a No. 1 guy. He was solid in 2012 to the tune of 649 yards and four touchdowns, but he has competed at a totally different level for Brian Kelly's squad this season.
Jones leads the team with 54 grabs for 891 yards and eight touchdowns, and there is no disputing the fact that he is Rees' go-to guy. If not for Jones, there is no telling where this team would be record-wise, so Kelly owes a lot to him. Kelly has been extremely complimentary of Jones this year, and he firmly believes that the late bloomer will play at the NFL level, according to JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago.
Brian Kelly says every evaluation he's heard on T.J. Jones is he'll be drafted -- dismissed Mel Kiper's projection he could go undrafted.— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) November 19, 2013
While Jones will have few more opportunities to impress NFL scouts, he can really solidify his status against BYU. The Cougars' defense is a tough nut to crack, but Jones has figured out a way to get open all season long. He has been especially good down the stretch with three consecutive 100-yard performances, and a fourth would definitely put Notre Dame in a great position.
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