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November 20, 2013

Q and A with Irish Illustrated's Pete Sampson about BYU and Notre Dame

We go to the experts and get thoughts on this weeks game. Pete Sampson who is a part of the Rivals family at Irish Illustrated took some time to answer some questions about this weeks matchup.

How do Notre Dame fans like the series between BYU and ND?

It's not a rivalry game, but I get the sense Notre Dame fans enjoy the series because BYU is a like-minded school in terms of holding itself to higher standard with student-athletes. I'm not sure how much the series will be played moving forward after Notre Dame starts its partial ACC schedule (five games per year), but I would think Notre Dame would like to keep an occasional home-and-home with BYU on future slates. It's better for Notre Dame is there are other independent programs out there in the college football landscape.

Notre Dame seemed to have some key injuries and coming off a loss, did the bye week come at a perfect time?

This weekend might be the healthiest Notre Dame's defensive line has been all season, so in that sense the bye week came at a good time. Stephon Tuitt played the first half of the season with the after effects of a sports hernia surgery, but has rounded into form. Louis Nix has tendonitis in his knee that kept him out of games against Air Force and Navy. Sheldon Day has battled an ankle sprain for two months. And Kona Schwenke, the top back-up, suffered a high ankle sprain against Navy. He's expected back this weekend. If Notre Dame has all four of those guys healthy, it would be a big boost to the defense. Offensively, Notre Dame is healthy.

What are the key differences between last years Notre Dame that played for the National Championship and this years team?

Lack of mobility at quarterback with Tommy Rees. Everett Golson, who didn't play against BYU last year (concussion), gave the offense a quarterback who could extend plays or tuck the ball and run. Rees can't do that and it's let defenses take away the runs and force Rees to throw more than is healthy for the offense. Brian Kelly is a pass-first coach, but he's probably passing even more than he'd like this season as the run game has struggle to move the ball against teams winning to load up at the line of scrimmage.

Who should BYU fans keep on from ND who you seeing making a big impact on the game?

Defensively, Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt are the big names on the defensive line, but freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith (No. 9) is worth watching. He was a five-star prospect last year and the highest-rated defensive prospect to sign with Notre Dame in the Rivals.com era. He's been outstanding the last few weeks against lesser competition and needs to play well against a mobile quarterback like Taysom Hill. He's a speed player with good size for his age and should be a freshman All-American after the season.

Offensively, the tight end position has improved the most over the course of this season with Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack. The Irish have moved to a more two tight end look as the season has gone one and both are big targets with good speed. Niklas is the lead guy of the two at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds. How they try to use the tight ends against Van Noy and Fua might go a long way toward dictating whether the Irish can move the football against BYU or not.

Chris Badger this week had great things to say about ND, and Notre Dame has Kona Schwenke, Justin Utupo and last year Manti Te'o that are Mormons that picked ND over BYU. Do you see BYU and ND being in more recruiting battles?

I don't, not that there won't be a guy here or there that pops up. I don't see Notre Dame getting Schwenke, Badger or Utupo without Manti on the roster, who sort of went beyond your typical recruit in terms of impact. Notre Dame is recruiting Osa Masina from Salt Lake City, so he could be that unique head to head battle with BYU for a prospect.

What are your predictions for the game?

I'm on the fence on this one, but BYU is the better team right now regardless of the talent that's on the rosters. The way I look at it, Notre Dame needs to change trends to win this game because the way the Irish have played for the past month won't be good enough on Saturday. What leaves me on the fence is that Notre Dame's defensive line is as healthy as its been all season and when it's been close to healthy it's been very, very good. Tuitt, Nix and Day have taken just 23 snaps together over the last seven games and those snaps amounted to just 61 yards of offense against Notre Dame. This week Notre Dame should have that trio out there for upwards of 50 snaps together based on their health. So as much as I don't think Notre Dame will be able to move the ball a whole lot against BYU, I don't think he reverse will be true either. So I'm thinking the final score will be something in the 17-14 range, I'm just not sure who wins.

For the BYU fans visiting South Bend this week, tell them your favorite place to eat and favorite site.

If you're making the trip to Notre Dame this weekend, be sure to spend time walking campus, stopping at the Basilica and the grotto, which are next to each other. They're Notre Dame landmarks and sort of capture the essence of campus. They're also located next to the Golden Dome, other stop. As far as places to go, I like The Mark (close to campus) for food and drink as sort of an upscale dinner/bar. If you're venturing downtown South Bend, Fiddler's Heath is a good Irish pub worth checking out. If you're looking for a nicer restaurant, the LaSalle Grill is the spot.


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