Notre Dame football: Keys to the game
SCALE THE HILL
The one guy who makes the BYU offense go is sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill. The progress he has made this season has been amazing. He has rushed for 956 yards and has thrown for 2,379 (176 of 336, 16 TDs, 12 interceptions). Containing Hill will be a primary order of business for the Notre Dame defense. He may be the best QB the Irish have seen since Michigan's Devin Gardner — and we all know how that turned out.
SEARCH AND DESTROY
Hidden yards, especially on kickoff returns, have hurt the Notre Dame defense this season. The Irish rank 121 of 123 FBS teams, yielding 26.08 yards a return. BYU is eighth in the country in kickoff returns, with 26.0 yards a return. Irish coach Brian Kelly calls his coverage team's mission search and destroy. The "destroy" part is acceptable to the boss. "Search" is still searching for an answer. BYU is proficient in disguising its scheme, which will make that aspect of the game difficult to solve.
Cody Hoffman (6-foot-4, 210 pounds), BYU's top receiver (38 catches, 664 yards, 5 TDs), will be a difficult matchup for either Notre Dame corner — Bennett Jackson (6-0, 195 or KeiVarae Russell (5-11, 190). Finding a way to limit his opportunities could go a long way toward stifling the Cougar offensive attack.
BYU has run more than 200 more offensive plays (868) than Notre Dame (646). The Cougars like to play an up-tempo style. BYU's defense factors into that scheme as much as the offense. Led by linebacker Kyle Van Noy and safety Daniel Sorensen, BYU ranks 46th in the country in total defense. The Irish need to establish a run game (BYU is 57th against the run, 155 yards a game) with George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel or Tarean Folston and dictate how the game is played.
Notre Dame will honor 33 seniors Saturday. Many of those (some who have a year of eligibility remaining could be invited back) like Tommy Rees, TJ Jones, Zack Martin and Bennett Jackson will be playing their last game in Notre Dame Stadium. Sometimes the emotion surrounding Senior Day is difficult for a team to navigate. How Kelly is able to maintain enthusiasm and avoid melancholy is critical.