South Bend, IN – George Atkinson III scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish escaped with a 17-14 win over upset-minded BYU at Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame's stout defense again held an opponent under 300 total yards and pitched a shutout after trailing, 14-7, at halftime.
Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood spearheaded a dominating running attack with 143 and 114 yards, respectively, on the ground, as the Irish (7-0) continued their best start since the 2002 season.
"They were physical and we had a very difficult time making consistent tackles," said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I was really impressed with their running game today."
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly opted to sit quarterback Everett Golson after the first-year starter suffered a mild concussion against Stanford last week. Tommy Rees, seven days after finishing off an overtime win over the nationally-ranked Cardinal, completed just 7-of-16 passes for 118 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Kelly said after the game that Golson will start next week against 10th-ranked Oklahoma.
Riley Nelson threw for 177 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for BYU (4-4), which has dropped its last two games to fall back to .500.
Midway through the third quarter, Riddick got Notre Dame's offense moving with a hard-fought 55-yard yard run down to the BYU 8-yard line. Three unsuccessful runs up the middle brought out the kicking unit, and Kyle Brindza kicked a 24- yard field goal to pull the Irish within 14-10.
After a quick BYU punt, Rees found T.J. Jones at the BYU 41-yard line for a 32-yard pickup for his only completion after the opening quarter. The Irish went to the ground the rest of the way, and on 3rd-and-goal from the two, Atkinson took an end around, shook a defender at the line of scrimmage and dove over the goal line for the deciding score with 12:52 to play.
A facemask penalty extended BYU's next drive, and the Cougars reached the opposing 31 before a sack by Stephon Tuitt and Carlo Calabrese pushed the ball back to the 40.
BYU eventually punted with 6:10 remaining, and Notre Dame ran off all but 22 seconds by gaining three first downs -- all via the run.
Danny Spond intercepted Nelson's desperation heave in the closing seconds to seal the tight victory.
"Really proud of my team and the way they competed, particularly the second half," Kelly said. "(We) came in here wanting to run the football. Thought we controlled that quite well."
Tyler Eifert led the Irish with 73 yards on four receptions, including a four- yard grab for the only score of the opening 15 minutes.
Notre Dame's defense had not allowed a touchdown in 17 quarters, then gave up two in a span of 2:18 midway through the second quarter.
The first came on 3rd-and-goal pass from the six, as Nelson hit a wide open Cody Hoffman in the back of the end zone to tie the game with 8:25 on the clock.
On the third play of the ensuing possession, Rees' pass went through DaVaris Daniels' hands, off his helmet and into the arms of linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who returned the interception nine yards to the Notre Dame 30 yard-line.
Nelson and Kaneakua Friel hooked up for a 2-yard score a little later, and the Cougars took a 14-7 lead into the locker room after Brindza missed his second field goal. Brindza was off the mark on a 40-yard attempt on the game's opening drive and pushed a 28-yard try wide right late in the half.
BYU's Justin Sorensen also missed wildly to the left on a 46-yard attempt in the third quarter.
BYU gained 243 total yards, the sixth straight opponent held to under 300 yards by Notre Dame ... The Irish have not allowed a rushing touchdown in nine straight games dating back to last season ... Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o recorded his fourth interception of the season ... BYU came in third in the nation in rush defense (67.9 ypg) and gave up 270 yards on the ground ... Hoffman led all players with eight catches for 86 yards ... BYU's Jamaal Williams gained 106 yards from scrimmage, including 64 on 14 carries.