Evaluating the Notre Dame defense is quite interesting. The Irish defense has played well this season, but its numbers aren't overly impressive.
Part of the reason is Notre Dame has already faced two offenses that rank in the Top 10 nationally in scoring, total offense and yards per play (Ohio State, North Carolina). The Irish have also faced two Top 15 rushing teams (Ohio State, Marshall) and a pair of Top 20 pass offenses (Ohio State, North Carolina).
Notre Dame has held all four of its opponents well below their season scoring averages, but the overall numbers are still inflated because of the quality of the opposition.
Of course, Notre Dame faces another outstanding offense on Saturday when it takes on the 16th-ranked BYU Cougars. We continue our breakdown of this matchup with a look at how the Irish defense stacks up against the BYU offense.
Notre Dame Rush Defense vs BYU Rush Offense
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame holds the edge based on how strong it has performed in its last two games, and how BYU has performed against Power 5 opponents. The Irish held California and North Carolina to an average of just 89 rushing yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry. Will we see that unit against BYU or the unit that gave up 195.5 rushing yards per game in the first two games.
That strange variation makes it hard to know just how good the Irish defense is against the run. Notre Dame's success in recent games has been fueled by dominant performances from the Irish defensive line, which has been a primary driver in the run game success the last two games.
Notre Dame has also averaged eight tackles for loss in the last three games, which has also been a factor in the run game improvement.
BYU has an underrated ground attack. The Cougars rank 74th in yards per game, but that's more of a usage problem by a team that likes to throw it. BYU ranks 35th in yards per carry, and when they commit to running the ball they've been good. BYU's top two backs - Christopher Brooks and Miles Davis - are both averaging at least 6.0 yards per carry.
That is except when they play Power 5 teams. BYU rushed for just 83 yards (2.5 YPC) against Baylor and just 61 yards (2.5 YPC) against Oregon. That's a big difference from what we saw in 2021, when the Cougars rushed for 385 yards against Virginia, 238 yards against Washington State and 231 yards against Utah.
If Notre Dame is going to continue BYU's Power 5 run game struggles it means Isaiah Foskey, Jayson Ademilola and Howard Cross have to continue leading the defensive line into another dominant performance.
Notre Dame Pass Defense vs BYU Pass Offense
Notre Dame's pass defense numbers are a bit misleading. Notre Dame's yards numbers are inflated by what North Carolina did in the second half when the game was all but over. The Irish held Ohio State 100 passing yards below what the Buckeyes racked up against its other four opponents. Its next two opponents - Marshall and California -failed to get to 190 yards.
North Carolina's 9.4 yards per pass attempt also inflates the overall numbers, as the Irish held Marshall (6.9), Ohio State (6.6) and California (5.0) below 7.0 yards per attempt.
Notre Dame struggled to get pressure on the quarterback in the first two games, but the Irish have racked up nine sacks in its two victories.
Freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison has been the team's best cover player in recent games, but this will be the toughest test since playing the Buckeyes. BYU's pass catches are experienced and well coached. Notre Dame needs nickel TaRiq Bracy to be on top of his game and they need Cam Hart to get his game back on track.
BYU has one of the best quarterbacks in the country thanks to Jaren Hall being behind center. Hall has passed for at least 261 yards in each game and he's topped 300 yards in six of his last 12 games.
Getting wideout Puka Nacua is key to BYU's pass game success. He's been banged up much of the season, but if he's back in the lineup - which is expected - the pass game is far more dangerous. Nacua is an athletic wideout that can stretch the field, run precise routes and he's dangerous after the catch.
Notre Dame Scoring Defense vs BYU Scoring Offense
On paper the Cougars have the advantage. They rank higher in points per game, yards per game, yards per play, red zone success and on third down. BYU has also only turned it over once while the Irish have only forced one turnover.
That is why BYU has the advantage, but if you want to discuss the context of the opposition you could make a case for even, or for the Irish to have the advantage. BYU averaged just 23 points in its two matchups against Power 5 teams this season, and it's averaging just 366 yards per game in those contests.
Notre Dame has been tested on a much larger scale. Ohio State has averaged 55.8 points and scored at least 45 points in its four games against its other opponents, but Notre Dame held them to just 21 points. North Carolina averaged 48.8 points per game in its four wins, while the Irish held them to 32 points, but at one point the score was 38-14 in Notre Dame's favor.
The Irish will once again need to be on top of their game against this BYU offense, which didn't have Nacua or wideout Gunner Romney in its matchups against Baylor and Oregon.
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