Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 08, 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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40 OCT. 8, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: BYU Tooley also leads the Cougars with 26 tackles, while senior cornerback Kaleb Hayes is also a solid pass defender. Advantage: Even SPECIAL TEAMS As is typically the case early in any season, Notre Dame doesn't provide much to report yet in this category. It ranks 58th in punt return defense, 71st in punt returns, 79th in kickoff returns and 99th in kickoff return defense. Graduate student Irish placekicker Blake Grupe is perfect on his 2 field goal attempts, and was 5 of 5 on extra point attempts through three contests. The highlight for Notre Dame on these units re- mains graduate punter Jon Sot. The Harvard transfer already had 19 punts through three games, and he averaged 45.2 yards per boot, with 9 downed inside the 20-yard line and 5 of more than 50 yards. Sot's good work had Notre Dame ranked 18th nationally in net punting at 43.21 yards per kick. Notre Dame special teams ace Bo Bauer was cred- ited with a blocked punt against Marshall when he tipped a kick late in the loss to the Thundering Herd. For BYU, their units rate below average. The Cou- gars ranked ninth last week in punt return defense, 113th in punt returns, 110th in kickoff return de- fense, and 66th in kickoff returns. Junior placekicker Jake Oldroyd entered play last weekend a pedestrian 4 of 7 on his field goals, with all three of those misses coming in the manage- able 30- to 39-yard range. The Cougars have neither blocked nor given up a blocked kick. And like Notre Dame, BYU hadn't scored or allowed a touchdown on special teams through three games. Advantage: Notre Dame COACHING BYU head coach Kalani Sitake has done a solid job with the Cougars. The seventh-year BYU skipper qui- etly went 21-4 in 2020 and 2021, and finished in the top-20 of the final Associated Press poll both seasons. Sitake followed that up with another solid start to this season, lifting his Cougars to No. 12 in the country before dropping to No. 19 following a 41-20 loss at No. 15 Oregon Sept. 17. Sitake went 6-1 against Power Five conference teams last season. He's split two such outings so far this season, beating No. 17 Baylor Sept. 10, before losing to Oregon the following week. For Notre Dame, having Freeman finally secure his first win after an 0-3 start to his head coaching career should help settle his environment, calm nerves and ease some pressure moving forward. This is the type of game that former Irish head coach Brian Kelly excelled in, and Freeman needs to find a way to do the same. Advantage: BYU INTANGIBLES With the Cougars playing their final season as an independent — BYU is set to join the Big 12 in 2023 — the team's 2022 schedule welcomes all takers with opponents from multiple conferences, includ- ing the Big 12, the Pac-12, the SEC, the American Athletic Conference and the Mountain West, as well as fellow independent Notre Dame. The Cougars are a good football team — one of the best on the Fighting Irish schedule — that was one victory away from going unbeaten in 2020. Then, last season, it won the "Pac-12 Champion- ship" by sweeping its slate of that league's teams — Utah, Arizona State, Washington State and USC — during a solid 10-win campaign. For Freeman and Notre Dame, this game pres- ents another challenge for the new head coach to try and extend a winning streak that Kelly built and left behind. Notre Dame is a perfect 10-0 in Shamrock Series games since the traveling Irish initiative launched in 2009. Kelly won all nine of his tries in this series. Notre Dame enters this game off its bye. BYU plays it a week after a home game against Utah State. Advantage: Even Heading to Week 4, head coach Kalani Sitake had led BYU to a 23-5 record — including 7-2 against Power Five teams — since the start of the 2020 season. PHOTO BY CHRISTI NORRIS/COURTESY BYU

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