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PROVO — Last week BYU faced then-No. 10 Oregon State and lost 42-24 with a home-field advantage. Saturday, the Cougars will head to Indiana to take on Notre Dame (6-0), ranked No. 5 — half of what the Beavers were.
Half the ranking means double the skill, double the pressure and double the glory if BYU pulls out a win.
- BYU (4-3) at No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0)
- Date/Time: Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 3:30 p.m. EDT
- Site: Notre Dame Stadium - South Bend, Ind.
- TV: NBC
- Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM 1160 AM
- Series Record: Notre Dame leads 4-2
- Last Meeting: 2005 (Notre Dame 49-23)
- Kickoff Weather: Partly cloudy, temps in the low 50s
But as the Cougs move further into their season, their following slowly loses faith.
The return of quarterback Riley Nelson after a back injury was confirmed by his three interceptions during the Oregon State game. That, and the fact that even BYU's "Zion Curtain" defense didn't play as well as it should have versus the Beavers, has slowly begun to suffocate the cheers of Cougar fans.
And yet, professional sports enthusiasts still find Cougar sunshine in the clouds looming over Saturday's game against the Fighting Irish.
"(The) Cougars' front-seven is a gang of players who are truly well versed in the scheme," wrote Michael Felder, National College Football lead writer, in his Bleacher Report article. "They know (coach) Bronco Mendenhall's strategy and they don't make mistakes. Pardon the overused cliché when discussing BYU: this is a team of mature players who force the opposition to beat them because they don't beat themselves."
Although the performance of the Cougar D was shaken against Oregon State, linebacker Spencer Hadley said he and the defense are determined to prove themselves once again.
"As a defense we want to make sure that everybody knows that wasn’t us (against Oregon State)," Hadley said. "We watched the film (Monday) and it was insightful. We’re anxious to go out and play a quality team and show what we’re about."
In addition to a stellar D, featured columnist Randy Chambers narrowed BYU down to five specific players Notre Dame will have to keep an eye on: Riley Nelson, Preston Hadley, Jamaal Williams, Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman.
Although Notre Dame is ranked fifth, head coach Brian Kelly wants it well-known amongst his players that the BYU game could be a classic "trap game" — the Fighting Irish might get too excited about next week's game against No. 9 Oklahoma that they could overlook BYU, which, even with BYU's 4-2 record, would be a big mistake.
When it comes down to statistics alone, BYU is spread pretty even compared to Notre Dame, with 396.6 total yards to the Fighting Irish's 387.7, 223 passing yards to their 206.5 and 173.6 rushing yards to Notre Dame's 181.2.
At the very least, history shows that the underdog position has smiled on BYU before. Back in 2009, the Cougars, ranked No. 20 at the time, took on third-ranked Oklahoma and won 14-13.
Regardless of whether or not the underdog position rings true for the Cougars, head coach Bronco Mendenhall takes pleasure and notes from back-to-back games against top 10 opponents.
"It’s been good," Mendenhall said. "I’ve learned a lot about our team. I’ve learned a lot about our program. I think the only way we’ll take the next step in our program is to play teams like this. On the road is great too. I’m anxious to see how we handle it."
So far, the team is handling it well. The loss against Oregon State humbled many players, and Nelson said he has hope that everything will come together against the Fighting Irish.
"Again, just like our game was last week, it’s a great team in a great venue," Nelson said. "Hopefully we can put a whole game together, offense, defense, special teams, take care of the football, control field positions and do all those things. We’ve done those in spurts but it hasn’t been good enough."
Aside from the game, there's also the history and awesomeness of Notre Dame itself to look forward to. But the Cougar coaches and players already plan on being too focused to notice.
"Once you’ve been (to Notre Dame), it’s a really neat place," Mendenhall said. "But so much focus is just on the game now. I think once our players get there they’ll realize it’s a nice place, it’s a historic place to play, full of tradition but we just have to play."
Hadley echoed his coach's thoughts exactly:
"It’s cool. I don’t really get sucked into the hype of it all. It’ll be fun to go to South Bend and play there. Fans get to approach it that way but as players we don’t really get to look at it like that. It’s a business trip. It’s not like we’re going to Disneyland. We’re going to play a football game and we’re preparing as such."