The Fighting Irish run a 3-4 defense much like BYU does. The anchor of the defense is always the nose guard, and the Irish had a very good one in Louis Nix until it was announced on Thursday that his season is over due to knee surgery. His backup Kona Schwenke is also suffering from a nagging leg injury and reports indicate he isn’t 100 percent.
While Nix was on just about everyone’s award watch lists, the Irish do have another All-American in Stephon Tuitt, who could be even better.
With the weather expected to be snowy and windy for Saturday’s game between Notre Dame and BYU, the ground game could become a focal point.
Cougar offensive lineman Ryker Mathews has missed some time recently, but is looking forward to playing against the Irish.
"Oh, I'm so excited," Mathews said. "Great time to be back. Gotta prove something."
Prior to the news that Nix was done for the season, Mathews said that Notre Dame’s defensive linemen "were a load last year and they're going to be a load this year with more and more experience. I'm just excited to compete. I think our offensive line has come a long, long way, and we're improving a lot, and I think it will be just another test for us to see how much we can handle."
While 6-foot-2-inch, 290-pound defensive end Sheldon Day hasn't received as much attention as Nix and Tuitt, he's a rising star on Notre Dame's defensive line. Coach Kelly stated that Day is one of the more difficult blocking assignments along his defensive line. Day has had three high ankle sprains but claims he will be fine come game day against BYU.
Two weeks ago against Pitt, Stephon Tuitt was ejected for a questionable targeting call on Pitt’s quarterback on the second play of the second quarter. CBSSports.com projects the 6-foot-6-inch, 312-pound defensive tackle as the eighth pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
"I think from an offensive line perspective, we just need to come out and be nasty, and, you know, play how we are meant to play," Mathews said. "If we come out trying to feel it out and see if we are going to be able to hang with these dudes, then it won't work out. I think we need to come out with a chip on our shoulder, especially for losing to them last year. You know, just come out and ball, and that's all we can do."
If the weather reports hold true, it will be cold and snowy on game day. BYU faced a majority of Notre Dame's current front seven last year and nearly came away with a win. This year BYU will bring a different style of offense coupled with a new tempo, which could aid them in their efforts this time around.
"Yeah, I feel like it's a different offense, of course, and they're pretty big dudes, so if we can get them tired it's a plus for us," said Jamaal Williams. "We're going to see how far, how long they can go, and how fast they can go for so long because we're going to go at them.
"It's a new season and a new game that we're going into. It's just us going out there and doing our best and executing, so pretty much just us going out there and play our game and don't worry about the opponent and who they are and what they do. Pretty much just do our job and we'll be fine."
Sure, Manti Te'o isn't roaming the middle of the field, but the four linebackers in the middle of the Irish defense are experienced and very capable.
"They're talented, they're big and they're physical," said Taysom Hill. "They're really good up front but it's nothing that we haven't seen or can't handle, so I like our chance if we come out and play hard and execute. So, I think we have a good chance."
Coming in at 6 feet 2 inches and 258 pounds, Shembo is a load on the outside. The senior outside linebacker has 14 career sacks and is listed on the Bednarik Award watch list. However, reports out of South Bend are that Shembo is playing hurt as well and could see a rotation with Ishaq Williams.
At 6 feet 3 inches and 245 pounds, Fox actually recorded one of his two career sacks against BYU last season. The senior boundary linebacker lost his starting position to Jarrett Grace earlier in the season but has since regained it.
Coming in at 6 feet 1 inch and 250 pounds, Calabrese is a fifth-year senior who played three years of his career alongside Manti Te'o. The senior middle linebacker is considered a capable run-stopper in between the tackles but struggles covering from side to side.
"It's kind of hard to fill in the shoes of Manti Te'o," said Mathews. "They still have a good linebacking corps. They go hard and make plays, so it's not going to be a lot different.
"You always want to say that we're going to roll over them like Idaho State, but I think it's going to be a slug match, just like it was last year, and I think we need to fight for every inch on that field. I mean, we want to come out with a ‘W’ and that's all we care about."
Mathews is right. The contest in South Bend should be a slug match, and if the weather inhibits the passing game, it will become even more so. Williams will face a stiff Notre Dame front seven, but hopes to achieve a goal he has set for this Saturday’s game.
"It's pretty much just a business trip now, just go out there and play football," said Williams. "This time hopefully come out with a ‘W.’ So, it's nothing new – the stadium is not new. One of our goals is to score a touchdown on [Touchdown] Jesus’ side."