Two of the religious schools with an FBS program. And where will their first-ever meeting at a neutral site, away from either team's home stadium, take place? Sin City. Oh, the irony.
Both the Cougars and the Fighting Irish will enter this week's matchup with plenty of rest. BYU capitalized on its momentum from a 38-24 Week 4 win against Wyoming with another 38-point output, which came on a short-week win over Utah State last Thursday. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is coming off a bye after the Fighting Irish offense put forth its best game of the season: a 45-32 win in Week 4 in Chapel Hill over then-undefeated North Carolina.
Despite both being FBS Independents, BYU and Notre Dame haven't squared off in nearly a decade. The Fighting Irish lead the overall series 4-2, not counting Notre Dame's wins in 2012 and 2013 which were vacated due to NCAA discretionary penalty. Of the remaining six meetings, Notre Dame claimed wins in the first two (1992, 1993) while the Cougars and Fighting Irish have alternated victories in the next four. The Cougars most recently came out on top in a 20-17 win in Provo in 2004, while the Fighting Irish bounced back the very next year by cruising to a 49-23 win at Notre Dame Stadium in 2005.
This is not only the first neutral-site matchup between the two programs, but it's also the first time that BYU is the only ranked team. Notre Dame has been unranked for three of the encounters, going 2-1 (with one of the wins being vacated in the eyes of the NCAA) in those matchups.
No. 16 BYU vs. Notre Dame
When BYU Has the Ball
The Cougars entered halftime of last week's game against Utah State tied at 17 but survived that slow start and came away victorious by outscoring the Aggies 21-9 in the second half, including a 14-3 third-quarter edge. Quarterback Jaren Hall leads a top-30 passing offense that averages 293.2 yards per game through the air, with Hall's 12 passing touchdowns positioning him tied just inside the top-10 in the FBS. The Cougars' pair of 38-point scoring outputs have certainly signaled prime operations for Hall, who threw for 337 yards and four touchdowns against Wyoming before adding 274 yards and three more touchdowns on Thursday.
Hall was quite balanced in the passing game against Wyoming, finding eight different receivers with seven of the eight tallying more than one catch. In fact, at least eight Cougars (up to 12 against South Florida) have caught at least one pass in all but one game this season, with last week's win over Utah State (seven different pass-catchers) the lone exception). It was Keanu Hill who led the way with 160 yards and a pair of touchdowns on five catches against the Cowboys, while he managed just two catches for 46 yards and a score against Utah State. Leading the way against the Aggies was Kody Epps, who notched a team-high five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, his first time pacing the team in yards after fellow freshman Chase Roberts had led the team in the first three games of the season.
BYU's running game, however, has not been balanced. The Cougars are middle-of-the-pack nationally with 152.6 yards per game on the ground, but their five single-game outputs have been boom or bust. The Cougars rushed for 314 yards in Week 1 against South Florida but were held under 100 in each of the next two weeks, before tallying 188 and 117 against Wyoming and Utah State, respectively, in the last two weeks. Regardless of the totals, it's been Christopher Brooks leading the way in four of the five games — the win over Wyoming the lone exception, even though Brooks still found the end zone in the win.
Notre Dame's defense finally got on the board in the turnover department, notching its first takeaway — a fumble recovery — in the win over North Carolina. However, the Fighting Irish still find themselves alone in the FBS in that category, as every other team nationally has collected at least two takeaways. This will be a tough week for continuing that momentum, though, as BYU has lost just one turnover all season — a Hall interception in Week 1 — and the Cougars have otherwise kept control of possession in their last four games. A point of hope for Notre Dame's defense, though, is up front along the defensive line. The Fighting Irish enter this week ranked 12th in the FBS with 3.3 sacks per game, receiving a boost from its six sacks in the Week 3 win over California and three more — two by defensive end Rylie Mills — last week against North Carolina.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
Notre Dame's offense appears to have found its footing, especially as the Fighting Irish scored 45 points in Week 4 against North Carolina — despite being held scoreless in the first quarter — after mustering just 45 total points combined across the previous two weeks. In that win, Notre Dame collected 576 yards of total offense, its highest output since 2019 (New Mexico, 591 total yards) and best day of offense on the road since Week 3 of 2017 when Notre Dame posted 611 yards at Boston College. Its 35 first downs were also quite prolific, finishing just one shy of the school-record 36 first downs tallied against Army in 1974.
The Fighting Irish's 24-point second quarter certainly helped the offense click, with two of Drew Pyne's three touchdown passes coming in the second quarter — to Michael Mayer and Lorenzo Styles — along with a rushing touchdown by Audric Estime, his first of two for the game. The impact of the running backs was key for Notre Dame in the win, as Estime had a season-best 134 rushing yards — after entering with just 130 yards rushing combined in the first three weeks of the season — and Chris Tyree rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, giving Notre Dame two running backs with at least 80 yards for the first time in more than five years. On the passing side, Mayer (seven receptions) and Styles (five) finished with 88 yards and 69 yards receiving, respectively, with running back Logan Diggs not far behind with 65 yards and a touchdown on just three catches while also adding 50 rushing yards on 10 carries.
Notre Dame will have a tough obstacle to counter, however, as BYU has allowed just 175.6 yards passing per game this season, a top-25 FBS mark entering Week 6. But the defense hasn't had as much success in stopping the run, as opponents have rushed for more than 162 yards per game against the Cougars so far in 2022, which leaves BYU right around the bottom 40 nationally. Estime and Diggs, along with Tyree, present a dynamic combination of running backs to complement the playmakers for Pyne to utilize in the passing game, which will face a difficult defense to break through on Saturday night.
While BYU has more than thrived in limiting turnovers and in slowing down opposing offenses through the air, one struggle for the Cougars has been in keeping officials' flags off the field. BYU has been penalized more than eight times per game for 71.8 yards per game, both among the 15 highest per-game marks in the FBS. If that high rate of penalties per game ultimately continues, Notre Dame has a very good chance of keeping intact its undefeated 10-0 record in Shamrock Series games.
Prediction: Notre Dame 37, BYU 34
Podcast: Week 6 Preview, Predictions, the Latest in Coaching Changes, and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the editor-in-chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
*Price as of publication.