COUGAR TRACKS

Looking Back At BYU Football’s History With Notre Dame

Oct 7, 2022, 1:36 AM
BYU, Notre Dame, Football History...
BYU/Notre Dame will square off for the ninth meeting all-time. Two faith-based programs that have history with one another. (Graphic made by KSL Sports)
(Graphic made by KSL Sports)

LAS VEGAS – Saturday night in Las Vegas will be the ninth time BYU and Notre Dame square off in a football game. That’s not many games throughout BYU’s football program, which dates back to 1922.

But the respect and admiration for Notre Dame from BYU nearly dates back to those early days.

In the early days, when BYU football was getting off the ground, BYU’s athletic director E.L. Roberts asked Notre Dame’s legendary coach Knute Rockne to visit Provo and give the young Cougar program some pointers.

Unfortunately, the letter from Roberts was addressed to the wrong “UND.” Instead of the University of Notre Dame, the address was for the University of North Dakota.

The letter still ended up in Rockne’s possession as he made a trip to Provo to give his national championship-winning points to a BYU team in its infancy.

That was valuable to get that feedback from a championship coach. But it meant even more to BYU, considering it was coming from a coach at a school that was also a faith-based institution.

It planted the seeds for the dreams BYU hoped to achieve one day.

One of those dreams was to play Notre Dame.

That didn’t happen until 1992.

Former BYU athletic director Glen Tuckett lined up a three-game series with the Irish in 1987. Tuckett had a close relationship with former Irish AD Gene Corrigan and was able to get the series together.

“When we get Notre Dame on the schedule, they should bronze me and send me back to Murray, [Utah],” Tuckett told the Deseret News.

That’s how big of a deal it was for BYU to land a series with the Irish. Two games in South Bend and one coveted game in Provo. Keep in mind that BYU and Tuckett, especially, were no strangers to big games.

On that same day in 1987, when Tuckett announced BYU had put together a three-game series with Notre Dame, he also announced home-and-homes with Alabama and Penn State.

Anyone today would say getting the Crimson Tide or Nittany Lions was a bigger deal. But there’s something unique about Notre Dame.

Here’s a trip down memory lane looking back at the previous eight BYU/Notre Dame matchups.

1992: No. 10 Notre Dame 42, BYU 16

South Bend, Indiana

BYU’s first game against Notre Dame was on a picturesque day in South Bend. Led by backup QB Ryan Hancock, BYU was down 21-16 heading into the fourth quarter. But then they were run over by a bus.

Notre Dame running back Jerome Bettis, a.k.a. “The Bus,” scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to give the Irish a blowout win.

1993: No. 3 Notre Dame 45, BYU 20

Provo, Utah

The biggest crowd in the history of Cougar/LaVell Edwards Stadium was on hand to watch a mid-October clash between BYU and Notre Dame. 66,247 fans packed into the 65,000-seat stadium to witness the historic event.

The only problem was that the historic night quickly turned into a sad one for BYU.

Notre Dame jumped out to a 31-0 lead against a BYU defense that still stands as one of the bottom dwellers over the last 50 years.

1994: BYU 21, No. 17 Notre Dame 14

South Bend, Indiana

BYU’s victory over Lou Holtz’s Notre Dame program in South Bend is one of the greatest victories in program history. Running back Jamal Willis, who graduated from BYU as the school’s leading rusher after his career concluded in ’94, had a leap into the endzone to put BYU in front 21-14.

The lead blocker on that scoring play was a young freshman wearing uniform number 23. His name was Kalani Fifita, now more commonly known as BYU head coach Kalani Sitake.

“Yeah, that was fun,” Sitake said. “You’re going against Lou Holtz, and you’re going against a program that when I was in high school –we had a lot of guys in the St. Louis area– that played for Notre Dame. Just seeing everything there in South Bend was awesome. Being a true freshman and playing in that game was a lot of fun.

“There’s a picture where Jamal Willis is jumping over on the goal line. And my kids saw the picture –it’s framed up here somewhere– and Jamal’s jumping over. It’s a really cool picture; he’s jumping in for the touchdown. My wife says, ‘Oh, there’s daddy.’ So my kids point up to Jamal, and I said, ‘No, I’m the guy down here blocking for Jamal jumping over the top.’ I think you see my stomach or something like that. It was way better back then than it is now. But it was so much fun.”

2003: Notre Dame 33, BYU 14

South Bend, Indiana

Two bad teams were squaring off in late November. So yeah, there wasn’t much to write home about in this game.

Probably the most notable thing from this game was the play of BYU safety Aaron Francisco who racked up 13 tackles. Then there was tight end Justin Jory, who had 81 receiving yards, giving some life to a BYU offense that was downright brutal in 2003.

2004: BYU 20, Notre Dame 17

Provo, Utah

The last time Notre Dame traveled to Provo was BYU’s last win against the Irish in 2004.

BYU was mired in controversy with off-the-field scandals. But head coach Gary Crowton had a knack for pulling out some magic in week one matchups.

BYU was originally supposed to open the 2004 season against No. 1 USC. But the Irish wanted to play a game before their rivalry contest against Michigan. So they moved up the BYU game to open the season. BYU obliged in hopes of enhancing the relationship with the Irish.

That relationship didn’t turn into much, but that flexibility gave BYU a big win over the Irish. And it was televised on crisp high-definition television.

2005: No. 9 Notre Dame 49, BYU 23

South Bend, Indiana

Both teams were breaking in new head coaches in this midseason matchup. BYU hired Bronco Mendenhall, while Notre Dame tabbed former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to lead the Irish.

Weis’ offensive background worked in a big way against BYU in this 2005 game. Quarterback Brady Quinn got revenge for the 2004 loss to BYU by throwing for 467 yards and six touchdowns.

Every time BYU could blink, Quinn was probably throwing a jump ball to tight end Jeff Samardzija.

2012: No. 5 Notre Dame 17, BYU 14

South Bend, Indiana

The 2012 matchup marked the first meeting with both schools competing as FBS Independents.

Each team in this matchup had elite defenses. Notre Dame came into the game undefeated and was surging, led by linebacker Manti Te’o.

BYU’s defense was in the top three nationally with Notre Dame.

But offensively, BYU in 2012 had a lot of struggles and it cost them from pulling off one of the biggest upsets in school history. BYU had a 14-7 lead at the half but was shut in the second half to the Irish.

2013: Notre Dame 23, BYU 13

South Bend, Indiana

The 2013 meeting paired two evenly matched teams against one another. But goodness, this game was cold.

At kickoff, the temperature at Notre Dame Stadium was 26 degrees.

Like most games against Notre Dame, BYU’s offense was nonexistent. It was another missed opportunity for a BYU team that, two weeks prior, still had an outside chance at an at-large BCS bowl game. Those dreams were dashed.

2022: No. 16 BYU vs. Notre Dame

BYU has waited a long time for this game to come together. They wanted the game in Provo. But that was no longer an option for Notre Dame once they formed a scheduling alliance with the ACC.

So the next best option was to play a road game in Las Vegas against the Irish.

If this is the last game between these two faith-based programs, let’s hope it adds to the legacy of this unique series.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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