In Las Vegas, styles determine fights. That’s why BYU-Notre Dame should be a good bout
Tale of the tape reveals what fans can expect when the Cougars and Irish do battle Saturday night.
BYU and Notre Dame will own Las Vegas on Saturday night. The largest venue in the city, Allegiant Stadium, will be full of football fans who paid good money for a ticket to watch what they hope will be a classic battle.
Just like Las Vegas itself, the game comes with no guarantees and no reimbursements. What we see is what we get. It’s not unlike the buildup to a heavyweight boxing match. Having spent 20 years working in television in Las Vegas, I have witnessed firsthand the thrill when a fight lives up to its billing — and the disappointment when it doesn’t.
The key factor in a memorable match is the style of the fighters. If two brawlers’ step into the ring, a brawl is what we will get. If a pair of defensive-minded fighters duke it out, we’ll likely see a snoozer.
The good news for Saturday is the No. 16 Cougars and Irish bring similar styles to the fight. Neither team runs a spread offense and the core success for both hinges at the line of scrimmage.
The Irish run first and pass second. Notre Dame rushed 51 times two weeks ago at North Carolina, but 5-foot-11, 198-pound sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne, playing for the injured Tyler Buchner, also threw three touchdown passes in a 45-32 win.
BYU would prefer to run first and pass second, but so far this season, the Cougars have opted to throw first, with 6-1, 205-pound junior quarterback Jaren Hall completing a stunning 70.2% of his 171 pass attempts with just one interception.
These two heavyweights tip the stat scale with a lot of similarities. The Irish average 4 yards per rush attempt and 11.6 yards per reception. Audic Estime, a 5-11, 227-pound running back, leads the team with 4.9 yards per carry and four touchdowns, and 6-5, 265-pound tight end Michael Mayer spearheads the passing attack with 22 receptions for 233 yards and three touchdowns.
BYU’s offense averages 4.9 yards per run and 12.0 yards per catch. Hall has thrown for 1,438 yards and 12 touchdowns. Chris Brooks, a 6-1, 235-pound grad-transfer averages 6 yards per carry with four touchdowns. The Cougars also feature four receivers, Kody Epps, Keanu Hill, Chase Roberts and Brayden Cosper, who have 15 catches or more for a combined nine touchdowns.
The addition of Gunner Romney, who made his season debut last week against Utah State, and possibly Puka Nacua, who is nursing a strained hamstring, will provide added strength to BYU’s receiving group.
Defensively, the Irish are allowing 142 rushing yards (4 yard average) and 213 yards passing. BYU is allowing 162 yards rushing (4 yard average), and 175 passing.
When weighing the strength of schedule, the Irish (2-2) have victories at home against Cal and at North Carolina. They have defeats at No. 2 Ohio State (21-10) and at home against Marshall (26-21).
BYU’s (4-1) victories came at South Florida, at home against No. 9 Baylor, Wyoming and Utah State with the lone defeat at No. 25 Oregon (41-20).
The only true statistical separation between BYU and Notre Dame is in the kicking game. Grad-transfer Blake Grupe has made three of his four field goal attempts. BYU junior Jake Oldroyd is just 5 of 10, having missed five of his last six attempts with all five misses from 39 yards or less.
When the offensive and defensive numbers are close, the determining factor, both in boxing and in football, is often left to the opponent, who has the most discipline and competes with the most energy.
In a city where anything goes and it often does, there is also the factor of the unexpected. It shows up in sporting events all of the time. It’s why we watch.
I can never forget seeing a paraglider crash into the ring at the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace while Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield were in the middle of their heavyweight title fight in 1993.
On another fight night, in 1996, I watched in shock as Mike Tyson bit off the lower part of Holyfield’s ear at the MGM Grand Garden. I also witnessed when Diego Corrales, who was knocked down twice only to get up and seconds later and knock out his opponent, Jose Luis Castillo, at Mandalay Bay in 2005 in a turn of events that left the arena delirious.
BYU has its own history of the unexpected in Las Vegas, including Jimmer Fredette’s 52-point night at the Thomas and Mack Center to defeat New Mexico, 87-76, in the 2011 Mountain West Conference basketball tournament and break Danny Ainge’s all-time scoring record.
Ethan Pochman kicked a field goal in overtime to lead No. 6 BYU past No. 20 Wyoming 28-25 in the inaugural 1996 WAC championship game that sent fans streaming onto the field and sent the 13-1 Cougars to the Cotton Bowl.
Long before my time in Las Vegas, there was BYU’s 92-90 overtime win over Jerry Tarkanian’s vaunted Runnin’ Rebels and star Sidney Green on Jan. 3, 1981, in the sold-out Las Vegas Convention Center (6,393).
In all three historic BYU events in southern Nevada, the style of the opponent, whether it was New Mexico, Wyoming or UNLV, made for an electric event in a city that is illuminated by neon lights.
Saturday’s BYU-Notre Dame game (5:30 p.m. MDT, NBC) has all the makings of another classic, because in Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, styles make fights and there will be a full house watching with lofty expectations.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.