SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame’s defense was as cruel as the freezing wind, and its kicker was as cool as the intermittent snow that fell during a 23-13 win over BYU on Saturday in the Irish’s final home game of the season.
Notre Dame (8-3) yielded just two field goals and blocked another in BYU’s three second-half red zone trips, and kicker Kyle Brindza made three field goals to help seal the win.
You are going to be emotional and you can take that emotion into the game with you, said linebacker Dan Fox, who was one of 33 seniors honored before the team’s final home game.
I felt like a lot of the guys did that, and that’s why we played so well.
Notre Dame’s defense saved its best when it was in tight quarters and did it without star nose guard Louis Nix III, who had season-ending knee surgery Thursday.
Irish linebacker Joe Schmidt tackled quarterback Taysom Hill for a 1-yard loss on third-and-5 from the 11 with 8:20 to play in the third quarter to force the Cougars (7-4) to settle for a 31-yard field goal form Justin Sorensen. Former Bishop Luers star Jaylon Smith took Hill down for no gain on third-and-2 from the 9 with 39 seconds left in the third to make BYU settle for a 27-yard field goal as Notre Dame took a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Irish’s finest defensive stand came after a 46-yard run by Paul Lasike put the ball on Notre Dame’s 6-yard line late in the fourth quarter. On second-and-goal, Smith batted down what looked like a TD throw at the line, and after a 2-yard run by Hill, Jarron Jones blocked Sorensen’s 22-yard field goal attempt with 4:15 to play to preserve a 23-13 lead.
In the past we haven’t been very good in the red zone, said Smith, who had three tackles. We worked on it all week and were able to be successful.
Fox led the defense with nine tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack, and Jones – who stepped in at nose guard for Nix and backup Kona Schwenke, who was slowed by an injured ankle – had seven tackles to go with his second blocked field goal of the season.
We did a very good job, and I thought (defensive coordinator Bob) Diaco hit some very good calls down in that short zone area where we were able to come up with some big stops, coach Brian Kelly said.
Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees – who threw for 245 yards with a TD and an interception – opened the scoring with a 61-yard pass to DaVaris Daniels less than 5 minutes into the game, and Tarean Folston scored on a 2-yard run with 4:43 left in the first quarter to give the Irish a 14-7 lead.
Brindza made field goals from 26 yards out with 7:35 to play in the first half and with 12:48 to play in the third quarter as Notre Dame built a 20-7 lead.
Brindza’s biggest kick, in yards and importance, came with 6:53 to play and the Irish clinging to a 20-13 lead as he knocked in a 51-yard field goal to help seal the win.
I didn’t want to go out there and miss the field goal and have to come out with my head down and look up with all the seniors looking at me, Brindza said. I just wanted to be able to go out there and help them end strong here at Notre Dame.
Note: Notre Dame lost starting center Nick Martin in the first quarter to a hyperextended left knee and played most of the game with Matt Hegarty at center.