Faced with a third-and-8 on Notre Dame's 25-yard line with 1:42 left in the game, Matt Berry lofted a pass to Watkins, who caught the ball with a defender hanging on his arm. The 37-yard
completion was enough to hold off the Irish, who had scored 14 unanswered points.
Relief mixed with joy after the game.
"It's a huge win," Beck said. "To beat a team like Notre Dame, it's a big boost, especially after last season. It's a completely different team."
BYU, which snapped a five-game home losing streak, was cruising until Preston Jackson returned Berry's pass for a 38-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. From then on, it was a defensive battle until Watkins sealed the game.
"It's nice to have great weapons out there," said Berry.
It's also nice to have a great defense.
Playing the swarming style that defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall loves, the Cougars held Notre Dame to a net of 11 rushing yards. They also sacked Brady Quinn three times and hurried him into completions on several more attempts.
"Bronco has a way of getting the most out of the defense," said coach Gary Crowton.
The Cougars got just enough out of their offense, scoring the most points since putting 27 on UNLV in the ninth game last season. The Beck-to-Watkins connection, which occurred frequently during practice last month, made its debut on BYU's first possession.
On the fifth play, Beck found the junior college transfer for a 50-yard gain. One play later, Fahu Tahi rumbled 5 yards into the end zone to give BYU its first lead since the opening quarter of last season's Notre Dame game.
The Cougars followed up with Matt Payne's 44-yard field goal on their next possession to go up 10-0. On a third-and-4, Beck scrambled 6 yards to keep the drive alive.
After completing seven of 10 passes, Beck left the game. He expects to play next Saturday at Stanford.
The starter last season, Berry looked shaky coming off the bench. But he settled down and threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to freshman Austin Collie in the third quarter.
The pair agreed before the game they would hook up if Berry got a chance to play. Collie caught the perfectly thrown ball with his fingertips.
"We saw we could take it," Collie said. "It was a high, long ball. I had to put on the afterburners to go get it."
BYU wasted several opportunities in the first half, after the defense provided great field position. Four times the offense started in Notre Dame's territory but could only muster three points.
On the fourth possession, which resulted in minus-4 yards, Payne kicked a 53-yard field goal. It tied his career best, with the other kick coming against Southern California last season.
Early in the second quarter, linebacker Brady Poppinga recovered a Notre Dame fumble, which was forced by Manaia Brown. But the offense went backward 23 yards, resulting in Payne's 52-yard punt.
After the Irish failed to get a first down, BYU's Chris Hale rushed in to tip D.J. Fitzpatrick's punt. The Cougars got the ball on Notre Dame's 46-yard line but managed only 4 yards.
BYU's defense pushed the Irish back 7 yards on their next possession. Again, the Cougars went three-and-out.
Taking over at Notre Dame's 31-yard line, BYU had losses on its first two plays. After a 3-yard pass to Watkins, Payne cleared the uprights.
On the final possession of the first half, the Irish went 77 yards in 10 plays to get on the board. A pass interference and a facemask penalty on BYU set up the drive.
As the clock expired, Fitzpatrick kicked a 21-yard field goal.
BYU's defense also slipped up on a Notre Dame screen pass that resulted in a 54-yard touchdown pass.