When BYU faced Notre Dame in last year’s season opener, the secondary looked quite a bit different. There was Thorpe Award watch list candidate Aaron Francisco manning the middle, Jon Burbidge and Brandon Heaney were also included. This time around things are a bit different.
“I think we stack up fine, honestly,” said senior katback Spencer White. “It’s all about confidence and I think we’re going to make more plays than last week and get better and better. They’re the same receivers we faced last year but they spread the ball out a little more and their routes are a little different. We already have a familiarity with their personnel I would say, but there are just different routes and some different things we need to focus on. I’m confident we’ll get things taken care of.”
For the Notre Dame game two out of the five current secondary players, Spencer White and Quinn Gooch, will be somewhat familiar with Notre Dame’s receivers from last year’s squad. Soelberg who started against ND last year is out due to injuries; Francisco, Heaney and Burbidge have all graduated and Bills redshirted last year due to an injury.
In place of Soelberg, BYU will play Antelope Valley JC walk-on Cole Miyahira with Kyle Buchanon possibly playing a situational role within the rotation.
“It’s between Kayle [Buchanon] and Cole [Miyahira], and they’re kind of switching,” White said. “Kayle looks good when he can get in there and go full speed and I know his hamstring is bothering him at times, and Cole is getting more and more confidence every time. Every time he gets more experience he gets more confident.”
Miyahira played well at cornerback during the SDSU game. He will have to up the ante against Notre Dame in South Bend as the Cougars will have their hands full. Receiver Chase Anastasio, a 6’2”, 203-pound kick returnee, could factor in the rotation. Anastasio had a season high punt return of 40-yards against BYU last year. Anastasio will join 6’5” Stovall and 6’5” Samardzija in the top five receiver rotation.
“You know it’s kind of just been the focus on each week,” said White. “I mean, we’ve played some tough receivers in the past. We just played against [David] Anderson and [Jeff] Webb and every week we’re getting better and executing. [Notre Dame] has some big guys but it’s just kind of focusing on knowing where the stakes are and matching our coverage to that and be aggressive.
“It’s just the same as usual. We have to make one more play than them and we have to execute and that’s pretty much how it is. I mean, it’s not rocket science and the team that executes more will win the game, and that’s what we’ve focused on doing.
On the side opposite Miyahira and Buchanan will be Independence JC transfer Justin Robinson whose sore ankle has improved from week to week. Quinn Gooch will probably see a lot of playing time in the secondary along side Dustin Gabriel who’s come back following a minor injury he suffered against CSU last week. Spencer White and Corby Hodgkiss will also factor in the rotation to round out the new look secondary.
However, BYU’s secondary got some much needed help from the all too familiar injury bug that has bitten Notre Dame.
Coming in at 6’2”, 207-pound senior receiver Rhema Mcknight, who caught a 54-yard TD pass last year and had a season high with eight receptions for 115-yards against BYU’s secondary last year, will be missing from the Irish lineup due to a knee injury he suffered against Michigan.
So heading into South Bend to face ninth-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend today, BYU’s revamped secondary will have a lot on their plate, but the challenge has in no way distracted or intimidated the young group of defensive backs.
“Honestly, not at all,” White said, “we’re excited because there’s tradition there but it’s still the same there. They have a 100-yard field and the goal posts are the same and it’s just football, so we’re going to go in there with that mentality and we just gotta make plays and do our thing.”