BYU’s Bills helps contain Niklas
SOUTH BEND -- Craig Bills isn’t exactly sure how tall Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas is. All the BYU safety needed to know was that he was going to be tasked with covering him.
“That guy was huge,” Bills said. “I don't know how big he was, but you just have to be in good position and make a play when the ball comes your way.”
Bills did just that on multiple occasions Saturday in Notre Dame’s 23-13 victory.
The first came on Notre Dame’s final drive of the first half. The Irish elected to attempt a fourth down conversion on the BYU 24 with less than a minute left in the first half. Needing seven yards, quarterback Tommy Rees targeted the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Niklas running open near the first down marker. While the ball was in the air, Bills cut in front of Niklas just in time to deflect the pass and prevent a catch.
“That's something that I've been focusing on, and that our coaches have been emphasizing,” Bills said. “We knew that guy was a big target so we had to be on him tight and make plays when the ball was thrown to him.”
Bills came up larger than Niklas later in the fourth quarter as well. Rees lofted another pass for Niklas, this time into the end zone, that Bills jumped in front of and brought in one-handed for an interception.
“They were setting that up all game,” Bills said. “They were throwing to the boundary quick and getting some yards on it. We were playing a coverage where we had help out there. So when they gave that motion or showed that look, I saw the tight end come up field and I just made a play on the ball when it was thrown."
Asked if he had ever covered a player the size of Niklas, Bills laughed.
“No,” he said. “I’ve never seen a guy that big.”
As if his plays in coverage weren’t enough, Bills tallied 15 tackles in the game. He roomed this weekend with former Notre Dame safety Chris Badger, who transferred to BYU midseason. Bills stuck close to Badger during film study earlier in the week to make sure he could pick up on any tendencies to help him out on Saturday.
“It was helpful to have him there because everything that we saw on film he was able to help us understand a little bit more,” Bills said. “It wasn't really any tips or secrets that he was able to give us. It was good having him over there. I know it was fun having him come back here and see some of his old friends and play in this stadium.”
Badger played for the Cougars on kickoff coverage, but did not record a tackle. Badger, who never saw game action for the Irish, was finally able to play a game in Notre Dame Stadium, but his teammates were unable to pick up a victory.
"It's really disappointing,” Bills said. “Definitely a game we could have won. It's really disappointing. Any big play that they had, it wasn't anything that was a surprise to us. We were either off a gap or we didn't make a play. Those are the things we need to do to become a great team.”