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A few big offensive plays, a suffocating defense and tough special teams play were enough to hold off Notre Dame and keep coach Gary Crowton's perfect home opening record intact with a 20-17 victory over the Irish Saturday night.
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Crowton said he was happy with the win, crediting the defense for shutting down the Notre Dame running game.
"Defensively we were tough, against the run especially," Crowton said. "That's what their goal has been, and we knew that going in."
The defense was aided by the excellent punting of Matt Payne, who pinned the Irish inside the 20-yard line six times.
"Our kicking game did such a good job of pinning them back, in the second quarter and late in the game especially," Crowton added. "They (special teams) really gave us a chance to win."
BYU took possession of the ball with 2:23 remaining in the game and ran the clock out for the win. The final series came with plenty of drama, however, as receiver Todd Watkins made an acrobatic 37-yard catch to give the Cougars a first down, allowing them to run out the clock.
The defensive unit was huge for the Cougars, limiting the Irish to 201 yards of total offense and completely shutting down the Notre Dame running game. Head coach Tyrone Willingham credited the BYU defensive scheme to shutting down their offense.
Newcomers, Watkins and Austin Collie, made big plays at key moments to preserve the win. Watkins finished the game with five receptions for 115 yards and Collie caught three for 54 yards and a touchdown. Along with his 37-yard grab in the fourth, Watkins caught a 50-yard pass from starting quarterback John Beck in the opening drive to set up BYU's first score, a three-yard run by Fahu Tahi.
"He (Watkins) was able to beat them in the game," Crowton said. "He was blowing their coverage. Not only is he fast and tall, he goes after the ball."
The next Cougar score came on a Matt Payne 44-yard field goal. The kick moved Payne into fourth place all-time on BYU's career scoring list. His ranking was short lived as he moved up to third all-time with a 53-yard second quarter field goal, putting BYU up 13-0 and giving him 244 career points.
Beck left the game in the second quarter due to an injury. Matt Berry, who started last year's season opener, came in and finished the game, completing 15 of 23 passes for 167 yards, one touchdown, and an interception.
BYU's defense prevented the Irish from advancing past the 50-yard line until Notre Dame's final drive of the first half, when the Irish offense finally showed signs of life
Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn started the drive by competing four of five for 37 yards. Two BYU penalties and a Quinn pass to McKnight for 11 yards put the Irish on the BYU three. After a failed attempt at the end zone, kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick hit a 21-yard field goal to get the Irish on the board and cutting the Cougar lead to 13-3.
The Cougars looked poised to put the Irish away in the second half when Collie scored on a 42-yard pass from Matt Berry to put BYU ahead 20-3. Notre Dame would not go quietly, however, as Quinn found receiver Rhema McKnight for a 54-yard touchdown pass later in the third to put the Irish within 10.
BYU had various opportunities to put the game away, but the offense sputtered and gave up a touchdown when Notre Dame cornerback Preston Jackson picked off a Berry pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.
With the Irish trailing by just three, the teams traded possessions as both failed to make anything happen offensively. Notre Dame elected to punt with over two minutes remaining and BYU successfully ran out the clock. After a few short running plays and a Notre Dame timeout, Watkins made his big play to finish the game.
After the game, Crowton said the win will set the tone for the next week.
"Basically I am pleased with the win," Crowton said. "It gave us some momentum to move forward. What we are really going to do is to prepare well for Stanford. We need to get back in there and work hard and get ready."
Written by BYU Athletic Media Relations