The unranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the AP Poll’s 22nd and the Coaches Poll’s 24th ranked Sun Devils of Arizona State meet for the third time ever in Arlington, Texas, inside the Cowboys’ AT & T Stadium. The game is scheduled for 7:30 EST and will be televised by NBC with the usual cast of characters in the booth for the Peacock Network. The weather forecast, as of this writing, calls for a day’s high of 71 degrees, a night’s low of 54 degrees, thundershowers, a forty percent chance of rain, and winds from the north at up to 16 miles an hour.
Notre Dame holds a 2-0 edge in the series that ran from 1998 to 1999. The Irish won in Tempe 28-9 and in South Bend 48-17. This season the Irish stand at 3-2 and the Sun Devils at 3-1.
Arizona State is led by Todd Graham, East Central University ‘87, in his second year at the helm of the Sun Devils. Graham has been a head coach since 2006 with a season at Rice, four seasons at Tulsa, and one season at Pittsburgh before going to Tempe. His career record is 60-35 including 11-6 at ASU. His assistant coaching career included stops at East Central University, West Virginia, and Tulsa.
Graham, already given a contract extension in his second year, was getting some heat from the media and fan base after the Stanford loss. Both factions felt that promises were made about championships and expectations were raised. In the eyes of Sun Devil Nation, in the second year of Graham’s reign, ASU wasn’t beating the better teams on the schedule and even worse ASU wasn’t beating PAC 12 foes. That may have changed with the Sun Devil’s shootout win over USC this past Saturday 62-41. Against Brian Kelly and Notre Dame Graham is 1-1 with a win while at Tulsa and a loss at Pittsburgh.
Arizona State has defeated Sacramento State 55-0, Wisconsin 32-30 in a controversial ending, and USC 62-41 which led to the termination of Lane Kiffin. They lost to Stanford 42-28 in a game that was over at the half and 39-7 after three quarters. Arizona State’s opponents have a combined record of 12-7 while the Irish opponents are a combined 12-9.
Notre Dame – Arizona State Connections
The starting Spur linebacker, Anthony Jones, starting nose tackle Jaxon Hood, and three reserves were coached in high school by Steve Belles, a member of Lou Holtz’s and Notre Dame’s last National Champions in 1988.
Arizona State Offense
Arizona State runs a multiple offense with the philosophy of using the zone read as their base running play and working their offense off of that. They also run their offense at an up tempo speed. The Sun Devils’ passing game includes a lot of play action, a high percentage of passes directed to their backs, lots of screens, and it appears they have mastered the back shoulder throws so hard to cover. ASU stretches the field better than anyone the Irish will have faced this season. The Sun Devil quarterback, Taylor Kelly #10, has passed for over 300 yards in all four games this season. Arizona State’s least offensive output this season has been 417 yards to Stanford, and the most 621 yards against USC.
Eliminating their cupcake opening game Arizona State has scored an average of almost 41 points a game against Wisconsin, Stanford, and USC and single handedly pushed USC from 11th to 43rd in scoring defense in one game.
Trick Plays & Wrinkles
Food for thought: Backup punter Matt Haack #26 is an athlete much like Notre Dame’s Hunter “The Punter” Smith 99’ and he ran a fake punt for 70 yards for a touchdown in high school.
Arizona State runs the Wildcat and likes to run an unbalanced line with three tight ends to one side and let Marion Grice #1, or another back, pick a hole. They will also use a backup quarterback in motion across the face of the back, so something tricky could come from that package.
While at Pittsburgh Graham ran the following against Iowa in one game alone:
No backs, unbalanced line where the H-back or tight end replaces a tackle that is then flopped to the other side of the field and split out as a wide receiver. The H-back is uncovered. The idea of this is to confuse the defense into forgetting that the H-back is an eligible receiver. Pass completed and it almost went for a score. The Sun Devils lined up for this against Wisconsin, but a motion penalty ended it before it started.
Flanker reverse pass that went for a touchdown.
Zone read fake to the running back, quarterback takes a few steps like he’s running, receiver fakes a stalk block, and the quarterback passes to the receiver down field. Another option off the zone read which ASU has run.
Pitt hit a quick kick. The potential is there for ASU as their quarterback does pooch kicks.
The Panthers ran crazy formations on extra points with varied personnel while the coaching staff checks out the defense’s response before deciding on running a trick play or bringing on the kicking team.
Projected Starting Offense and Significant Contributors
QB #10 Taylor Kelly, 6-2, 201, senior, 19 games, 17 starts
TB #1 Marion Grice, 6-0, 207, senior, 17 games, 4 starts, JUCO
RB #8 D. J. Foster, 5-11, 195, sophomore, 17 games, 5 starts
RB #25 Deantre Lewis, 5-11, 190, RS junior, 24 games, 2 starts (9 games, 0 starts at CB)
TE #87 Chris Coyle, 6-3, 240, fifth year, 43 games, 17 starts
WR #21 Jaelen Strong, 6-3, 205, RS sophomore, 4 games, 4 starts, JUCO
WR #3 Richard Smith, 5-9, 172, sophomore, 17 games, 3 starts
WR #82 Kevin Ozier, 6-2, 200, fifth year, 30 games, 11 starts
LT #62 Evan Finkenberg, 6-4, 298, fifth year, 39 games, 38 starts
LG #74 Jamil Douglas, 6-4, 301, RS junior, 30 games, 17 starts
C #67 Kody Koebensky, 6-3, 298, fifth year, 33 games, 17 starts
RG #73 Vi Teofilo, 6-3, 302, RS sophomore, 19 games, 13 starts
RT #54 Tyler Sulka, 6-5, 289, RS junior, 30 games, 6 starts
Arizona State’s backfield ranks high in the PAC 12 hierarchy with a steady dual threat quarterback and some fast backs. There has been some disappointment with the Sun Devil running game until the USC game as Graham prefers the run and actually wants his quarterback to carry the ball more than he has this season.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly #10 ranks 3rd in passing yards per game in the FBS with 343 yards per game. He also is ahead of Johnny Manziel in total offense. Kelly is a dual threat quarterback who is more effective when he’s not required to put the ball up over 40 times a game. His arm strength is nothing to write home about, but he does throw accurately, he stands in there, takes a hit and puts the ball where it needs to be. Kelly takes care of the ball as a passer and as a runner he’s an athlete with surprising speed and good balance. He shows leadership that you want from a quarterback, has great poise, extends plays with his movement in the backfield, and is good in running the zone read. He throws very well rolling out or sprinting out from both the left and the right. Kelly’s sometime late with his throws from the pocket. This season he is 105-171-4 for 61%, has a long of 74 yards and 11 touchdown passes. One of those interceptions was on a Hail Mary. As a runner Kelly is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, has a long of 40 yards, and 0 touchdowns. He had a 29 yard and a 40 yard run against USC.
His backups are both red shirt sophomores, Mike Bercovici #2 and Michael Eubank #9 who are listed as Bercovici OR Eubank on the depth chart. Eubank has the most experience and has played the most this season so it seems he’d be the number two and most likely to enter the game should Kelly go down. Eubank is a less heralded version of Oklahoma’s Belldozer at 6-6 and 240 pounds. As a collegian he is 35-54-3 for 64% with 4 touchdowns. As a runner he has run for an average of 1.7 yards, but has 2 touchdowns this season and 6 touchdowns in his career. Bercovici is 3-4-0 for 10 yards as a college passer.
Tailback Marion Brice #1 does the bulk of the rushing and is a touchdown machine for ASU even though he shares carries with two other backs. He scores equally well on the ground or via pass receptions. The positive side of this back is that he shows a good burst, hits the hole hard, cuts well, has good enough hands for the passing game, runs good routes, and makes an effort to block. He also has good vision, follows his blockers well, and has enough speed to break big plays when he sees a seam. On the negative side he runs too upright, doesn’t get the tough yards after contact, and occasionally loses concentration on a pass thrown to him. Still, he has stats to back up his play this season. He’s averaging 3.9 yards per carry with a long of 28 yards and 8 touchdowns. As a receiver Grice has been targeted an average of 7 times a game. He has 22 receptions, a 10.3 yard average, a long of 26 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Brice’s 12 touchdowns lead the nation.
D. J. Foster #8 is more receiver than running back and Kelly’s second most go to target. He’s used much like the Irish used Theo Riddick, but with less rushing attempts. Foster has rushed for an average of 5.5 yards per carry, a long of 15 yards, and 0 touchdowns. As a receiver he has 22 receptions, an 11.7 yard average, a long of 74 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Deantre Lewis #25 has game breaking speed, is elusive, and possess good instincts as a runner. Averaging more than 6 yards per rush as a freshman the red shirt junior was involved in a random shooting incident and suffered nerve and muscle damage. Lewis was red shirted in 2011 to recover physically. He began 2012 with a lackluster performance running the ball as a shell of his former self and endured a move to a seldom used defensive back. Lewis could have called it a career, but his work in the Sun Devil off season conditioning program was above the norm and he returned to running back. Lewis has speed, speed, and speed. He runs from tailback or the slot in the normal zone read and on jet sweeps. He cuts well, has good vision, and is able to bounce outside. Lewis is averaging 8.4 yards per rush, has a long of 45 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Jaelen Strong #21 is the ASU big play and Kelly’s go-to receiver. Against Stanford, a career performance, he caught 12 passes for 168 yards and 1 touchdown. Four of those catches went for 27, 28, 30, and 34 yards. Before Stanford 10 of Strong’s 12 receptions resulted in first downs. Strong uses his body well to ward off the defender as he goes up for the ball. He has 4.5 speed to go with good height, adjusts well to where the ball is thrown (good ball skills), jumps well, and has long arms. Back shoulder throws are his specialty and the receiver has caused 6 pass interference calls on opposing defenses. In short Strong is a very viable target for any quarterback and Kelly has gone to him an average of 13 times a game. It’s almost a given that Strong gets a slant pass if given a big cushion. Strong has 10 receptions over 20 yards and 31 total receptions. He averages 14.0 yards per catch, has a long of 34 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
Richard Smith #3 is a burner with 4.4 speed. He’s one of two Smiths in the receiving corps of ASU. Smith runs well after the catch indicative of his kick returning ability. The problem Smith has is too many drops. He has 8 receptions for a 7.0 yard average and a long of 15 yards.
Freshman Cameron Smith #16 has battled hamstring issues and didn’t play until Stanford, but the Sun Devils are high on his 4.4 speed. Smith has good hand and runs good routes to go with that speed. He has one catch for 30 yards.
Chris Coyle #87 is listed as an H-back on the depth chart, but he’s a heck of a tight end. His 57 receptions last year made this Mackey Award Watch individual one of the best tight ends in the PAC 12. He even had 10 receptions in one game. Coyle is a good athlete with fair speed for a tight end, soft hands, and he runs good routes. As a blocker he gives good effort and exhibits good technique. Ten of his receptions have resulted in first downs this season. He has 11 receptions, a 19.4 yard average, a long of 45 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
Wide receiver Kevin Ozier # 82, a former walk-on, isn’t a burner at 4.5 and is more of a possession receiver, but he lulls defenders to sleep. He can also run well after the catch. This season Ozier averages 23.0 yards per catch on 5 receptions with 1 touchdown.
As a group the Arizona State offensive linemen have improved each week and overall they have done a good job protecting the quarterback. Stanford got to Kelly for 3 sacks and 3 hurries, but USC didn’t get to Kelly for a sack or a quarterback hurry. The ASU offensive line has also blocked for a rushing attack that averages 192 yards per game and an aggregate average of 5.2 yards per rush. The primary tailback, Grice, averages 9 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, so they just get stronger as the game progresses.
Right tackle Tyler Sulka #54 is in his first year starting but has a lot of game experience behind him. He has long arms, good technique, but has some trouble sustaining his run blocks.
Right guard Vi Teofilo #73 was a state champion wrestler in high school and it shows in his play.* The guard is aggressive, physical, and possesses a good work ethic on the field and in the weight room. He’s good now and will only get better.
Center Kody Koebensky #67 is versatile and has backed up at all the line positions over his career. This is his second year as the starting center. A leader on the line, Koebensky is an avid film watcher and seldom gets fooled by the defense. Movement while his head is down just before the snap can cause him problems.
Left guard Jamil Douglas #74 has gained over fifty pounds in college. He’s aggressive, plays with tenacity, and is quick off the ball. The former high school tight end is athletic…
Left tackle Evan Finkenberg #62 is a three year starter for the Sun Devils. In my opinion he’d be a better guard who is playing tackle, but he’s the best of the ASU linemen because he always gives maximum effort. Finkenberg is technically sound and redirects well on a pass rusher’s second move. He’s played against, and held his own, against some first round defenders like JJ Watts of Wisconsin and Cameron Jordon of California.
*If you don’t think wrestling helps college linemen ask former Irish linemen Bob Golic, Mike Golic, John Sullivan, or Trevor Laws. They will enlighten you to the benefits of wrestling for linemen.
Arizona State Defense
The Sun Devil defense is based on the 3-3-5 alignment and a variety of blitzes, something the Irish faced last week against Oklahoma. The Sun Devils may show a four man front like they did against Stanford. This may be the shortest defense I’ve ever seen in FBS history. Only one starter is over 6-1. Still, Arizona State is the only FBS team to return two defenders who have at least 10 sacks and 20 tackles for losses. They play a lot of man coverage and there isn’t one of that back seven that hasn’t blitzed from somewhere on the field this season.
The Arizona State defense is ranked 59th allowing 385 yards per game, 92nd in rushing defense allowing 192 yards per game, and 36th in passing defense giving up 193 yards per game. The Sun Devils yield an average of 28 points per game to rank 80th. In third down efficiency they have allowed 23 conversions on 61 attempts for a 38 percent success rate by their opponents to rank 57th.
In the Red Zone ASU has allowed 11 scores on 13 penetrations to rank in a tie for 73rd. The breakdown of that scoring is 5 rushing touchdowns, 3 passing touchdowns, and 3 field goals.
Projected Starting Defense and Significant Contributors
NT #92 Jaxon Hood, 6-0, 299, sophomore, 16 games, 15 starts
DT #90 Will Sutton, 6-1, 305, fifth year, 41 games, 31 starts
ED #95 Gannon Conway, 6-4, 280, fifth year, 20 games, 4 starts
DEVIL #52 Carl Bradford, 6-1, 242, RS junior, 30 games, 18 starts
WILL #58 Salamo Fiso, 6-0, 226 RS freshman, 4 games, 1 start
SAM #2 Steffon Martin, 65-1, 231, senior, SPUR #31 Anthony Jones, 6-1, 215, fifth year, 30 games, 6 starts
BC #24 Osahon Irabor, 5-11, 186, fifth year, 41 games, 17 starts
FC #9 Robert Nelson, 5-11, 169, 36 games, 4 starts
BS #4 Alden Darby, 5-11, 192, senior, 39 games, 16 starts
FS #28 Viliami Moeakoia, 6-0, 210, RS freshman, 4 games, 3 starts
The ASU defense had already lost senior pass rush specialist Junior Onyeali for the season with shoulder problems. Nose tackle Jaxon Hood #92 suffered a leg injury against Stanford and may not play against the Irish. He was replaced by his backups in that game, but he will be replaced against USC by moving defensive end Gannon Conway # 95 inside to nose tackle and putting reserve defensive end Davon Coleman #43 to start in Conway’s slot. That has weakened the ASU front and shows that the depth isn’t there position by position.
Defensive tackle, or “Tiger”, Will Sutton #90 had a breakthrough season last year with 13.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for losses that earned him PAC 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year. This extremely talented defensive lineman added about 40 pounds over the off season and that’s hurt his quickness and possibly his stamina. This season he is also getting more attention, double teams, and getting chipped by backs. As a result he has only 1 sack. Sutton didn’t have a very good game against Wisconsin. He used his quick burst to penetrate, but the Badger line would just redirect him and the back would go to the hole Sutton’s penetration had left. Too many times he’s been reduced to hand fighting and it has frustrated this preseason All American. Sutton has short arms and that’s a liability with big, long armed offensive linemen. He’s still a force in the ASU defense though. Sutton has a great burst off the snap and penetrates well. That effort often leaves him off balance and reduces his ability to pursue. I’d question has conditioning or his ability to carry the increased weight. He’s also susceptible to traps. Sutton has 13 tackles, 9 solos, 2.5 tackles for losses, 1 sack, and 1 fumble recovery.
Jaxon Hood #92 is the regular nose tackle who missed the USC game with a leg injury. If he can go he gives ASU a big boost in talent. The son of former Cardinal defensive lineman Eric Swann brings size and agility to the Sun Devil front. Hood is quick off the snap, a good run stopper, agile in pursuit, and has a good bull rush. The Freshman All American has 7 tackles, 6 solos, 1.5 for losses, and 2 passes batted down.
End Gannon Conway #95 is a steady performer. The former JUCO was shifted to nose when Jaxon Hood went down. A former walk on who entered ASU after a two year mission Conway works hard and has increased his weight, strength, and speed over last season. When Hood and Sutton are in the lineup the second year starter benefits from double teams on his team mates and usually takes advantage of that fact. Conway has 7 tackles, 4 solos, 2 for losses, and 1 sack.
Normally a backup at defensive end Davon Coleman #43 is another JUCO who will move to starter if Hood can’t go. He also benefits from the presence of Hood and Sutton. Coleman has 18 tackles, 13 solos, 2 for losses, and 1 sack.
I’ve added defensive lineman Jake Sheffield #91 to this preview. Not a starter, but this JUCO did two tours in Fallujah, Iraq with the Marines. Click here to read his story.
This group is the weakest unit of the Sun Devil defense and their Devil linebacker depth has been hit by injuries. Past performance against the run last season had forced the movement of one linebacker from outside to inside and the outside has suffered. So the Sun Devils are again going to reshuffle the positions for Notre Dame.
Chris Young #21 who had been shifted from SPUR to WILL to start the season is now back at SPUR according to reports out of the ASU practice. Young is a good tackler and was moved inside from the SPUR linebacker spot to get better results against the run. One of the many athletic Sun Devil defenders Young is often blitzing from anywhere and making plays. Another JUCO from Arizona Western College Young has 29 tackles, 17 solos, and 1.5 tackles for losses.
The SAM linebacker is Steffon Martin #2. Martin brings more size to the position and more game experience. Martin has 15 tackles, 9 solos, 1 for a loss, and 1 pass defended.
Former SAM linebacker, Salamo Fiso #58, will be moved to WILL linebacker for this game. Fiso a red shirt freshman, has battled his way into the lineup over a senior by his aggressive play, his physicality, and his instincts. Fiso fills his Gap on runs quickly and hits a ton. Unfortunately, he made several mental errors or failed due to the wheels spinning last week against USC. He has 10 tackles, 9 solos, and 2.5 tackles for losses.
Devil, or hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, Carl Bradford #52 came out of high school as a highly ranked fullback prospect from the same school as Stanford’s Toby Gerhart. A disruptor of offenses Bradford is a very good athlete, tough, plays well in space, and a defender with good instincts. Whether he aligns in a two or three point stance Bradford brings speed, power, and a great motor to his game. If playing as a linebacker he will blitz very effectively from any gap. He might well be the best defender on the Arizona State defense despite being in the shadow of Sutton. He has 16 tackles, 14 solos, 4 tackles for losses, 2 sacks, 1 pass defended, and 2 quarterback hurries.
Arizona State runs a boundary & field system which means that if the ball is on one hash the boundary corner and boundary safety usually play to the smaller side of the field. The field corner and the field safety will play to the larger side of the field. So if your best receiver always goes to the boundary side of the field then the boundary corner, usually the defense’s best cover corner, has him most of the time. Of course, offensive formations and other factors can affect this alignment. The ASU secondary has two outstanding players at the boundary positions in Irabor and Darby. After these two the talent level drops off, but they play a lot of players keeping them fresh. Of particular note is that the Sun Devils have yet to be flagged for pass interference this season.
Boundary corner Oshan Irabor #24 was recruited by some major programs as a prep athlete. He has 4.4 speed, athleticism, and is a good cover corner. He led the PAC twelve with 12 passes broken up in 2012 and was never flagged once for pass interference. Irabor’s coverage ability exceeds his ball skills as he only has one interception for each year he’s played with 4. He’s a physical corner against the run, fearlessly takes out interference, is a controlled blitzer off the corner, and tackles well. The total package that he is may land him a shot at the next level. Irabor has 20 tackles, 15 solos, 4 for losses, 1 sack, 1 interception, and 1 pass defended.
Field corner Robert Nelson #9 plays physical despite his size. The 169 pounder plays the slant well, is physical in doing so, and surprisingly enough he hasn’t been flagged in doing so. He has 17 tackles, 13 solos, 1 interception, 2 passes defended, and 1 blocked kick on special teams.
Boundary safety Alden Darby #4 came to ASU as a receiver. All Pac 12 second team Darby has 6 career interceptions including a 70 yard return for a touchdown against USC last season. Darby is an excellent worker and a leader who was moved from corner to safety in 2012. A hard hitter one usually found around the ball, he does have coverage issues. Last week against USC he had two interceptions and returned one 46 yards for a score. He has 19 tackles, 13 solos, 1 tackle for a loss, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 forced fumble.
Viliami Moeakiola #28 plays free safety. He’s short on experience, but was moved to the starter’s roll when Nelson was moved to corner. He has 17 tackles, 9 solos, and 21 pass defended.
Arizona State Special Teams
This Sun Devil’s special teams have been a sore spot in the ASU season to date. Against Stanford they had two punts blocked, gave up a 50 yard return, took a delay of game penalty, and missed a 45 yard field goal. A big shakeup and intense practice time that included head coach Graham was part of the USC prep week.
Arizona State’s place kicker is Zane Gonzales #5. The true freshman is 6 of 9 on field goals with a long of 40 yards, with misses from 33, 45, and 49 yards, but he has potential to kick it farther. He was 26 for 28 in high school on field goals with a long of 48 yards. The former high school soccer star was perfect on extra points in high school and remains so in college with 21 of 21 extra points.
Kicking off is Alex Garroutte #25. He has kicked off 32 times and had 20 touchbacks. His kickoff coverage team is ranked 28th allowing 18.8 yards per return.
Kick returns for the Sun Devils are carried out by Marion Grice #1 who has 9 returns for a 22.9 yard average and a long of 36 yards. Richard Smith #3 has 3 returns for an average of 18.7 yards and a long of 24 yards. Jaelen Strong #21 has one return for 19 yards and Alden Darby has one return for 26 yards.
Punting for Arizona State this season has been a keystone Cops type of operation. A pooch punt by Kelly was blocked by Stanford and another punt was blocked by ASU themselves as their last line of blockers lined up to deep and the punt hit one of them. So far four people have punte for Arizona State. Dom Vizzare #99 averages 39.2 yards with a long of 45 yards. Matt Hack #26 averages 38.8 yards with a long of 50 yards. Kickoff man Alex Garoutte # 25 averages 38.0 yards with a long of 46 yards and he kicked against USC. Kelly’s pooch punts average 28 yards. Out of the four’s total of 17 punts, 8 have been returned. Their punt return coverage team is ranked 97th allowing 12 yards per return.
One punt returner for the Sun Devils is Robert Nelson #9 with 8 returns for an average of 5.2 yards and a long of 14 yards. The other is Richard Smith #3 who has 1 return for 9 yards.
Arizona State’s defense has faced 101 passes this season and has not had a single pass interference call.
In 12 games where an opponent has played USC and Notre Dame back to back no team has ever won both games. I repeat, no team has ever beaten USC and Notre Dame on consecutive weekends. ASU, the 13th team to play The Irish and Trojans back to back, seeks to be the first team to win both games. Two teams have had a chance by first beating the Trojans, but both, Michigan State in 87 and South Carolina in 83, lost to the Irish 31-8 and 30-6 respectively.
ASU’s Kelly is a home cooking quarterback in that through his eight home starts he averages a 72% completion rate, and he has 23 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. On the seven road games he started he has 59% completion rate, 14 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Can the fates consider a neutral field a road game?
Notre Dame is ranked 93rd in rushing offense while ASU’s defense against the run ranks them 92nd. Something has to give if the game isn’t altered by a bunch of early scores from the Sun Devils.
Arizona State is tied for 9th in the fewest number of penalties against them and they have a season total of 5 turnovers. Those turnovers are 4 interceptions and 1 special team fumble. So no lost fumbles have occurred by the backs or receivers. The Sun Devils usually don’t beat themselves.
Many an Irish fan and members of the football program look at this game as an opportunity to showcase the brands that are Notre Dame and Notre Dame Football in Texas as a way to promote recruiting in the Lone Star state. Arizona State is thinking the absolute same thing.
Taylor Kelly is a 68% passer in the first half and a 53% passer in the second half.
Notre Dame is 0-3 versus ranked teams since beating Oklahoma last season.
Notre Dame Offense vs Arizona State Defense - Advantage Arizona State
I’d normally give this advantage to the Irish considering that the Sun Devils have allowed an average of 458 yards per game in their three games with FBS opponents. I can’t because of the poor offensive performance in Notre Dame’s last three games and the inability to equip Tommy Rees with a running game to complement his strengths as a quarterback.
Tommy Rees may have a confidence problem or he may be feeling the pressure. Rees, the most accurate Irish passer ever before the season started, has had two bad games tossing the rock. Without Rees reverting to the form of the first three games I don’t see the Irish winning.
You can’t tell me that the Arizona State defense is better than Oklahoma’s defense. Notre Dame torched the Sooners for 220 yards rushing. Take away George Atkinson III’s big run and the total is still 54 yards more than the total in any of the last three games. If Notre Dame eschews the run, which should be effective against the Sun Devils, then the game is probably lost.
If I was in charge of the Irish offensive I’d attack ASU with a power running game and attack them on the perimeter. The perimeter is ASU’s Achilles heel. I’d also overload the offensive line with Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack on the same side and run stretch at them from this type of formation and wear down their defensive line which doesn’t have a lot of depth. Then I’d play action them deep.
Many have been concerned with first down yardage this season. I don’t have exact figures, but I know the average of yardage gained on first down is nothing to brag about. I also know that if the big plays were eliminated that average dips close to the Mendoza Line. The question is why? Play selection? Play execution? Opponents prepared for and guessing right on Irish tendencies? Whatever, it needs to change and it needs to change this week.
Notre Dame’s running game hasn’t been anything to get excited about this season until the Oklahoma game and still the first down production wasn’t very good. If you eliminate the 80 yard run of George Atkinson III the Irish averaged 3.7 yards per rush on first down. It has the potential to do better this week as Arizona State allows an average of 6.6 yards per carry on firsts down.
First Down needs to be improved. One way to do that based on last week’s game is to run only. The Irish passed 8 times on first down last week and had a net of 15 yards, a 1.9 yard average per pass, on 3 completions, 5 incompletions, and 1 interception. Run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, and then play action pass.
Most teams use maximum protection against ASU. The usually bring five and sometimes six in their pass rush. The continued overuse of the no back formation and the inability of our quarterback to scramble really concern me. Tommy Rees is not Everett Golson.
I seldom suggest one play, but I’d like to see T J Jones or some Irish receiver running a slant and go against ASU’s Nelson.
Turnovers cannot happen.
Notre Dame Defense vs Arizona State Offense - Advantage Arizona State
The Irish defense must be ready for the Sun devils when they come to the line. They won’t wait on the Irish getting set. Unlike some teams who don’t feel comfortable going with a play while the defense is getting set they’ll snap it and go.
Quarterback Kelly was the leading ASU rusher against USC with 79 yards. The Sun Devil total rushing yardage against the Trojans was 269 yards. Notre Dame must stop the run or face a long afternoon on defense.
Kelly is best outside the pocket. He must be contained.
The Sun Devils hadn’t broken the 100 yard rushing mark until they ran up 261 yards against USC. The Trojans had been fourth in the nation in total defense, but they gave up 612 total yards to the Sun Devils.
Arizona State has not lost a fumble on offense all season.
Many are saying the Sun Devils just wore USC down. I’d say that 28 points in the third quarter after a half time rest did more to wear the Trojans down than the up tempo offense and the lack of numbers that USC brought to Tempe. The Trojans brought 56 scholarship players. The Irish only played 55 players against Oklahoma, so I don’t buy the numbers approach to exhaustion by some USC apologists.
Even if the Irish stop the run, Kelly can put points on the board with the passing game, so the idea of making Kelly beat you isn’t the same as getting the Purdue and Michigan State quarterbacks to beat you. Kelly is the best quarterback that Notre Dame has faced this year.
If Notre Dame’s defense can play 75% as well as Stanford did against ASU the game could go to the Irish. Arizona State’s first half of seven possessions against the Stanford defense went interception, punt, missed field goal, punt, punt, punt, safety. As a result they trailed 29-0 at the half before losing 42-28.
Oklahoma’s Bell missed a lot of wide open receivers last week. Kelly won’t.
Notre Dame Special teams vs Arizona State Special Teams - Advantage Notre Dame
The Sun Devils punting has been dicey at times, but that’s not the only reason I give the nod to the Irish. Notre Dame has done better returning kickoffs, covering kickoffs, covering punts, and in pressure kicks in punting and for points.
If Notre Dame comes out and tries to imitate Stanford and run the ball, use play action, and play tough defense they can win. The Sun Devils are a little worn after physical games against Wisconsin, Stanford, and USC. The Irish have an opportunity to play a physical game they can win.
I just don’t see that happening if it’s the same overall Notre Dame we’ve seen most of year. The Irish haven’t done much to inspire me this season and when did the opposition last play a poor game against Notre Dame?
Arizona State 37, Notre Dame 24