SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Todd Watkins misfired Saturday against Notre Dame at the most untimely moments and it was the wrong stage and wrong time for the Cougar big-play artist.

The talented BYU senior receiver dropped four passes and two of them could have been impact bombs in the Cougars' 49-23 loss to Notre Dame.

A third would have converted a second-half third down and extended a possible scoring drive.

Watkins did catch a 10-yard touchdown from John Beck, capping a 14-point spurt by the Cougars to close within 28-23 of the Fighting Irish in the third quarter. But he'll think about his misses for a long, long time.

"It's just one of those things," Watkins said. "Once I got in a rut, I couldn't pull myself out of it. Hopefully next week, things will be different. All I can do is look back and pull some positives out of it.

"It's a tough thing to explain unless you've been through it. If you've been in an athlete's shoes, you know how it feels. You know you can do it but you don't trust your hands. All this jumble starts going through your mind — should I catch it with my hands or catch it with my body? You just have to wipe it clean."

With the Cougars up 10-7, Beck fired a bomb to Watkins who clearly had a step on the Notre Dame defender. Watkins got his hands on the ball and after nearly a step, dropped the pass inside the 20-yard line. The play came after a series of possessions in which BYU set up Notre Dame with the run so play action could hold in the coverage for a Watkins big play. It misfired with the ball rolling harmlessly on the turf deep in the Notre Dame secondary.

"Todd is a very talented receiver," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "He'll have better games and has before."

But Watkins repeated those drops three other times, including a wide-open 12-yarder on a quick out. He finished with four catches for 63 yards and one touchdown. But if you close your eyes and think of the plays he's made in his Cougar career, he could have had 180 yards and perhaps two more touchdowns Saturday.

Notre Dame gained 511 yards Saturday; the Cougar offense generated 392.

It doesn't take too much of a stretch to believe if Watkins had hauled in two of those long ones, the Cougar total offense would have equaled No. 9 Notre Dame.

As it turned out, tight end Jonny Harline had his third consecutive 100-yard catching day, hauling in eight passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. Fahu Tahi and Curtis Brown each caught five passes for 73 and 52 yards, respectively.

"We're a good team, we know it," Watkins said. "We know it. We have four more games that we can look forward to playing. The positives are that we are a good team even through both sides of the ball didn't play well today. We can still make a bowl game."

Watkins said once the first dropped pass hit his hands and dribbled away, he couldn't pull it back together. "It's like the opposite of being in the zone. When you are in the zone you feel you can make every play. When the opposite happens, you can second guess yourself too much and that's what happened to me today."

Watkins said he could get open all day against Notre Dame. He called it "big time" open, but it was a "matter of connecting."

Watkins said coach Lance Reynolds kept telling him they'd come back to him. "It was a matter of making a play. We need to keep being aggressive. We needed to make more plays. Notre Dame is a top 10 team but they had their share of mistakes."

Fahu Tahi is one offensive player who did make plays on the Irish defense. In addition to his five catches for 73 yards, he had 14 carries for 63 yards.

"We played well in the third quarter and coming out and scoring right away was a boost," Tahi said. "However, we had our mistakes that killed us. We have a great offense but our mistakes held us back from where we could have been today. I believe we could have played a perfect game, it would have been a different outcome."

CAREER FG: The Cougars started the game with a 42-yard, nine-play drive that ended in a 44-yard field goal by Jared McLaughlin. It was a career long for the junior kicker, who is 8 of 11 on the season.

Punt returner Nate Miekle's 22-yard return set up a Cougar touchdown in the third quarter, a score that cut Notre Dame's 28-17 lead to 28-23.

It was BYU's longest punt return of the season.

SACK COUNT: Corby Hodgkiss sacked Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn for a 4-yard loss in the third quarter to halt a Notre Dame drive. It was the second consecutive game the sophomore safety had a sack. That was the only sack BYU got in the game, although Justin Luettgerodt nearly got to Quinn for another. Beck was sacked four times by the Irish.

BECK's 300s: Beck threw for 317 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame. He now has eight 300-yard passing games, 5, 646 passing yards and 34 touchdown passes. He is just 41 passing yards from moving into third on the MWC career passing list and one touchdown from tying for fifth in the league for most career touchdown passes. Quinn's 20 touchdowns broke a Notre Dame single-season record by Ron Powlus (1994) after his six TD passes Saturday.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com