There were plenty of good games to choose from this week, but I’d always had my eye on this game as there were some very good potential match ups I wanted to watch. The game itself was an interesting affair between the more aggressive down the field style of BYU, against the more run based and time controlling Irish, and in the end Notre Dame prevailed, deservedly, 28-20.
We’ll start the notes with the defeated Cougars and a few players who are certainly creating some draft buzz…
Quarterback Jaren Hall has been getting plenty of plaudits for his performances so far this season, so I was intrigued to see how he did against a top quality defense. The answer was not great really. It started with his very first pass of the game, which was either horribly underthrown or a miscommunication with the receiver, which was easily intercepted.
After that Notre Dame controlled the time of possession so well, that he only ended up attempting 17 passes all game. Now when they were backed into a hole and had to take chances, Hall seemed to come alive and hit a few nice chunk plays to get his team going. He is clearly the leader of that team and they responded to him well, but there’s still a sense of rawness and limitations to his game.
He certainly isn’t the second coming of Zach Wilson, which is what the hype around him had become, but there’s certainly things to work with and he could still end up a late day two type of guy.
The biggest reason I wanted to watch this game was for the matchup between left tackle Blake Freeland, and Notre Dame Edge Isaiah Foskey. Unfortunately for me, Foskey only played just over half the available snaps, and when he was in there he was mostly lined up over the right tackle.
Freeland was absolutely dominant against the other pass rushers the Irish threw at him, looking in total control throughout. He is one of these elegant, dancing bear types, that always seem unfazed by the chaos around them.
He has long arms that ride defenders away from the pocket and he has enough strength in him to overwhelm static rushers too. His run blocking isn’t on the same level as his pass protection, but he still gets movement in the run game and has a good understanding of combo blocks and angles, and is rarely beaten to his spot.
Usually with BYU prospects we worry about their age, as they tend to go on two year mormon missions whilst at the university, but Freeman is still listed as 21 years old, and will be 22 come draft day, so nothing to worry about there.
I was really high on Brady Christensen a couple of drafts ago, but I think Freeland has better all round tools than him and he could end up being a first round guy, especially as this year the tackle class is a bit cloudy with no true standouts yet.
A name for the future is redshirt freshman receiver Kody Epps. The Cougars had been without their two best catchers in Gunnar Romney and Puka Nacua for a few games and in their absence Epps had shown up.
They were back for this game, but clearly not 100%, so it was still good to see Epps being used as a weapon and he made a couple of nice big plays, including a great catch and run touchdown. Not the biggest guy, but he is an exciting player when he gets his hands on the ball, and the type that gets you out of your chair.
Defensively BYU had a bend but don’t break attitude, and they made some nice plays when they needed to, which kept them in the game. None of the draft eligible guys did much to stand out but sophomore EDGE Tyler Batty had a nice game.
He is a long, athletic looking defensive end who had some nice results working against the right tackle in the run game and as a pass rusher. He is a good edge setter who understands his role, and when let loose he shows enough to scare some linemen. He won’t be a stat filler in this defense, but his pass rush win rate is really high, so there are traits and skills to work with, and he’ll be a fun watch for the next couple of years.
This Irish offense has really taken off since quarterback Drew Pyne took over in week 3. They rely on the run game to move the chains, but Pyne can certainly sling it when he needs to, with poise and accuracy, and create splash plays. Now he’s built like Alabama’s Bryce Young, but obviously nowhere near the level of talent he is, but he is proving to be a good fit for this system and is at least making people sit up and take notice of him.
Pyne’s favourite target in this game was star Tight End Michael Mayer. Mayer was sensational, snagging 11 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. He has natural hands, plucking everything that comes his way, and is always making to look as much after the catch as possible.
He runs great routes, can create natural separation but is still strong enough to win contested catches too if needed. He isn’t the greatest blocker on the Earth, but he is willing and will always do a decent job, just don’t mistake him for George Kittle in that area. He isn’t the greatest athlete at the position either, but trust the tape, as this guy is the real deal and should be TE1 and a first round pick.
BYU’s left tackle Blake Freeland was fantastic for them, but Notre Dame’s Joe Alt was almost as good for the Irish in the same position.
The Irish offensive line has had a couple of down years, but Alt, a true sophomore, looks to have solidified the most important position at left tackle.
He caught my eye a couple of weeks ago when they played North Carolina, and he continued in the same vein here. He is a lot like Freeland in his style of play, a really dominant pass protector using his arms and height to control pass rushers easily. He looks like a real athlete too, moving around effortlessly in the arc and out in space in the run game. He hasn’t allowed a sack and has only 3 pressures allowed in 358 snaps so far this season, which is a phenomenal number.
He has the bloodlines too as his Dad was a first round pick in 1984, and showing my age now, I remember him playing for the Chiefs all those years ago. I’m planting my flag early for this guy, I think he could be special.
All eyes when the defense is out there are on star EDGE Isaiah Foskey. As I mentioned earlier, Foskey was on the field for just over half the snaps, which was odd as he is their best defensive player by a mile. This has been a bit of a frustrating season so far for Foskey, as I’ve seen him three times now and he just isn’t dominating like he did last year.
He still has a great get off, as you can see above, can win the edge in a flash, and he destroyed a running back on one play going straight through him and sending them both into the quarterback, but these are flashes rather than consistent play. I don’t know if the snap reduction is down to injury or trying to keep him fresh, but he needs to be out there alot more so we can see him take on the best guys, and get himself back up the rankings.
The other big name prospect for the defense is Safety Brandon Joseph. The Northwestern transfer has taken Kyle Hamilton’s old spot in the secondary, but so far hasn’t produced anywhere near the level that he did.
Joseph is still living off of his fantastic freshman season back in 2020, but whilst not making mistakes or giving up big plays, he isn’t making any either, and that’s what he was brought in to do. Hard to say where his draft stock is right now, but he may be better off staying for another season in South Bend to try and re-establish himself, otherwise he could get lost in the mix in this current draft class.
By Keith Lucken – Follow Keith on Twitter @LordLucken