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BYU quarterback Riley Nelson's second game back in the starting lineup did not mean the Cougars' return to the winning side of the ledger, as BYU dropped a 17-14 decision at Notre Dame.
Nelson completed 23 of 36 passes for 177 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions; he was sacked four times on the day, ending with minus-seven yards on the ground--a rare negative yardage day for the senior signal-caller. Three first-half sacks contributed to BYU's negative-19 rush yard tally in the second quarter.
Despite the recipe for disaster in the first half, the Cougars found an offensive rhythm in the second 15 minutes. After 17 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown, Notre Dame saw BYU score twice, as the Cougars headed to the locker room up 14-7.
"I was proud of our team, one or two plays short from being able to come away with a victory," said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Most likely the best game collectively we played offensively, defense and kicking, (and) when you put the composite together it was good enough to get us within striking distance and had a great chance, a number of chances to maybe pull off an upset. But ultimately didn't make a critical play here or there right down the stretch to win the game."
The positive mindset framed in the first half didn't last. Notre Dame's No. 5 ranking showed after the half when the Irish came back to win the game.
But stand their ground the Cougars did. All the way up until the fourth quarter when the Irish scored the game-sealing touchdown.
Just like last week against Oregon State, BYU fell apart during the final quarter of the game. Play after play yielded the same results — either incomplete passes from the quarterback, or a running game that seemed to barely moved an inch per play.
The guillotine on the Cougars' momentum was Nelson's incomplete pass to Cody Hoffman, who stood wide open and dumbfounded after a fourth-quarter pass sailed behind him.
"In the normal play, outside of scramble drill, (Hoffman) settles that window," Nelson explained. "But he saw nobody deep and he saw me running around, and I threw it to the window and he went deep. ... No one's to blame. I thought it was a great move on his part and I wish I would've thrown it. That throw will probably haunt me 'til I die."
With six seconds left on the clock and BYU needing a miracle, Nelson's final attempt was intercepted by Irish linebacker Danny Spond--Nelson' second pick on the day.
Frustrated BYU fans vented their feelings on Twitter--with much of the sentiment directed at Nelson--but Mendenhall had his quarterback's back:
"I liked (Nelson's performance). I thought he made good decisions and I thought he played with a lot of heart and he gave us a chance to win."
Mendenhall's confidence in Nelson also showed in his statement that the Nelson-Hoffman incomplete pass in the fourth quarter did not determine the game.
The bright side in BYU offense was found in 17-year-old Jamaal Williams — the replacement running back for Michael Alisa — who continues to bring hope to the team. Williams contributed 64 yards on 14 attempts, as well as seven pass grabs for 42 yards against the Irish.
"I love (Williams)," Nelson said. "He's a football player who's going to be exciting for years to come. ... I'm so proud of the way he's playing and battling and staying healthy and helping this team."
For Cougar defense, a 4-4 record is not proper recognition for BYU's hard work.
"You're only as good as your record, but I don't feel like we're a 4-4 team," said senior linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "We've had a chance in some games to beat some really good teams, and for whatever reason we haven't done it."
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly called BYU a team that's a lot more than meets the eye.
"(BYU) played very well," Kelly said. "They are a well coached football team. Very disciplined. ... They made some plays when they needed to make some plays. We expected their very best. This is a team that's got a lot of tradition, a lot of history and have won a lot more games over the last two years. And so, again, I thought they played very well."