BYU (7-3) at Notre Dame (7-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 23, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Notre Dame Stadium (80,795) -- Notre Dame, Indiana. Television: NBC. Home Record: BYU 5-1, Notre Dame 4-1. Away Record: BYU 2-2, Notre Dame 2-2. Neutral Record: BYU 0-0, Notre Dame 1-0. Conference Record: BYU 0-0, Notre Dame 0-0. Series Record: Notre Dame leads, 5-2.
GAME NOTES: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will try to climb back into the Top 25 as they host the BYU Cougars at Notre Dame Stadium for a matchup between the top Independent programs in the FBS.
BYU bounced back from a 10-point loss at Wisconsin and improved to 7-3 last week with a 59-13 rout of FCS foe Idaho State. The Cougars have won six of their last seven games and became bowl eligible for the ninth consecutive campaign in the process. If not selected for a BCS Bowl, the Cougars have already accepted a spot in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on Dec. 27.
The Fighting Irish dropped out of the Top 25 after their 28-21 loss to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field on Nov. 9, which snapped a four-game win streak. The setback to the Panthers prevented Brian Kelly from becoming the first coach in the school's storied history to win at least eight games in each of his first four seasons. Notre Dame has managed to compile a 7-3 record despite having all 11 of its starters on the defensive side of the ball missing at least two games due to injuries.
The Fighting Irish return from their open week hoping to build on a 17-14 win last year that was their second in a row and the third in the last four meetings versus the Cougars. Notre Dame holds a 5-2 edge in the all-time series as a result of its back-to-back victories.
Idaho State was no match for BYU last week as the Cougars' 59 points were the most the school has registered in a single game since Oct. 10, 2009. Six different players scored a touchdown in the game while Jamaal Williams tied his career-high with three rushing scores to bring his season total to six. BYU's outstanding performance versus the FCS opponent was not due to its inferior competition, as it has been exceptional all season to rank 12th in the FBS in rushing offense with 265.4 yards per game. The Cougars are also 13th among FBS programs in total offense at 503.7 ypg.
Taysom Hill has started all 10 games under center and spearheaded the charge en route to 3,335 yards of total offense, which is already the third most by a sophomore in school history. His average of 333.5 total yards per game ranks eighth nationally and his 956 rushing yards are the second most by a signal caller and 27th most among FBS players in 2013. Williams is only five spots behind Hill with 940 yards in just nine games.
Despite missing two games, senior wideout Cody Hoffman is still the team's leading receiver with 38 catches for 664 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomore Mitch Mathews (23 catches, 397 yards, four TDs) does not have his number called as often, but usually provides a few big plays per outing.
Equally important to BYU's success has been its impressive defensive unit, which allows just 21 ppg to rank 23rd nationally. The Cougars have a solid leader in Uani' Unga, who averages over 10 tackles per game and is one of just 15 players in the FBS with over 100 stops on the season. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy is also an impact player as he has registered 26 career sacks, which is the second most in the nation among active players.
The Fighting Irish's offense is not quite as explosive as BYU's attack, but they still have decent averages of 28.2 points and 404.9 total yards per game. Notre Dame's run for a return to the BCS national title game was hindered over the offseason when last season's starting quarterback Everett Golson was suspended. He passed for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last season and rushed for 298 yards and another six scores.
Golson may be back in the fold at some point as he applied for readmission to Notre Dame this week. The Fighting Irish had a serviceable replacement in Tommy Rees, who has started all 10 games under center. The senior quarterback had a tough outing versus the Panthers as he completed just 18-of-39 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns along with two costly interceptions in the fourth frame. Rees has completed a career-low 54.6 percent of his throws for 2,504 yards and 24 TDs. His total of interceptions has grown to 10 after being picked off twice in his last two outings.
The Irish received another solid contribution versus Pittsburgh from T.J. Jones, who caught six passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, while adding 41 yards and another score on three carries. Jones also lost a fumble as the team tallied only 355 total yards. Notre Dame has a decent running back tandem in George Atkinson, III. and Cam McDaniel. The duo is combining for just over 100 ypg and both have scored three times on the ground.
Kelly's defensive unit has been strong throughout the 2013 slate to limit the opposition to only 369 total yards of offense and 23.5 points per outing. Notre Dame surrendered 28 points to the Panthers its last time out, although the Panthers were held to only 355 total offensive yards. Senior linebacker Carlo Calabrese has been the most consistent member of the unit with an average of 6.9 tackles per game, 5.5 TFL and a pair of sacks in 10 games.
The Irish would still be ranked if their offense could have avoided miscues in the Steel City. They will lose their second game in a row if they continue to commit turnovers, as BYU's offense needs to be kept on the sidelines as much as possible.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: BYU 31, Notre Dame 28
11/20 10:40:31 ET