Turns out Arizona State will have both a direct and indirect affect on Notre Dame's 2013 football fortunes. The direct affect will occur this Saturday when the Fighting Irish and Sun Devils square-off at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. The indirect affect occurred this past Saturday with ASU's 62-41 win over USC.
The shellacking of the Trojans led to Southern Cal athletic director Pat Haden firing Lane Kiffin just hours after the embarrassment in Tempe. That means the Irish will play Arizona State this weekend, have a bye week and then host USC on Oct. 19 with a new head coach at the helm.
As for the Sun Devils (3-1) themselves, they have been scary good so far this season under second-year head coach Todd Graham. They started with a tune-up 55-0 win over Sacramento State before edging Wisconsin 32-30, then falling to Stanford 42-28 before Saturday's victory over USC.
Including their 21 fourth quarter points against the Cardinal on Sept. 21, the Sun Devils have scored 83 points in their last five quarters on the field. Their 44.3 scoring average ranks 11th among 123 Division One NCAA schools.
Arizona State also ranks No. 7 in passing offense (358.8 ypg), No. 15 in total offense (505 ypg) and No. 84 in rushing offense (146.3 ypg). The numbers are more impressive considering Wisconsin (15), Stanford (35) and USC (43) all still rank in the top-50 in scoring defense after playing ASU.
ASU's offense is led by triggerman Taylor Kelly. He has completed 61-percent of his 171 pass attempts for 1,370 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions through four games. He is a mobile threat as well, with 124 rushing yards this season after going for a team-high 79 yards against the Trojans (40 of it on one play). Kelly's nearly 343 passing yard average ranks 3rd nationally. He also ranks 4th in total offense at nearly 374 yards per game.
Marion Grice is the Sun Devils' do-it-all running back. Grice leads his team with 256 yards on 65 carries (3.9) and is also ASU's third-leading receiver with 22 catches for 183 yards. His four combined touchdowns against USC give him 12 TDs in just four games this season (four rushing and four receiving).
Grice's 12 touchdowns rank have him at No. 1 in the nation with an 18.0 scoring average per game. He is tied for No. 20 in the "Points Responsible For" rankings (72 points), while Kelly is tied for No. 25 in that category (66 points).
Redshirt sophomore receiver Jaelen Strong is having a breakout year already after quickly becoming Kelly's favorite target. The junior college transfer had 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns at Pierce College last year after sitting out in 2011. He has 31 receptions for 433 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Running back D.J. Foster is ASU's second-leading receiver with 22 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns. He has also rushed for 82 yards on 15 carries. He had a 74-yard TD reception Saturday against USC. Deantre Lewis has 134 yards on 16 carries (8.4). Tight end Chris Coyle has 11 grabs for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
Arizona State defines "explosive" offensive plays as pass completions of 16-plus yards or runs of 12-plus yards. The Sun Devils had 13 such plays in their win over the Trojans. Strong had three through the air, while Kelly and Lewis each had two on the ground.
While the Sun Devils have a fairly prolific offense, their defense is not so dominant. Arizona State ranks 59th in total defense (385.3 ypg), 92nd in rushing defense (192.3 ypg) and 80th in scoring defense (28.3 ppg) entering the week. They play a base 3-4 defensive scheme.
Like Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo, Arizona State has two players who combined for a high sack total in 2012. However, like Notre Dame's duo, the ASU tandem is having a hard time duplicating their dominance from a season ago.
Defensive tackle Will Sutton (13) and outside linebacker Carl Bradford (11.5) combined for 24.5 sacks last season, but they have just 1.0 and 2.0, respectively, through four games. The two also combined for 44 tackles for loss in 2012, but have been held to 6.5 this year while seeing more attention from opposing offenses.
Outside linebacker Chris Young leads the team with 29 tackles. Remember how Michigan State defensive backs played a big part in helping shut down the Irish running game two weeks ago? The Irish could see more of the same this weekend as well. Cornerback Osahon Irabor is the team's second-leading tackler with 20. He is also tied with Bradford for a team-high 4.0 tackles for loss.
Safety Alden Darby is next with 19 tackles. He also leads ASU with two interceptions - both in Saturday's win over Southern Cal. He returned one of them 46 yards for a touchdown. The Sun Devils had a total of three picks against USC to double their total in that category for the season. The team has forced a total of 10 turnovers and has committed just five for a plus-5 margin through its four games.
Grice also does duty as ASU's kick returner. He is averaging 22.9 yards on nine returns. Punt returner Robert Nelson has just a 5.2 average on his eight returns.
Kicker Zane Gonzalez has nailed all 21 of his PATs and 6-of-9 field goals. He has missed from 33, 45 and 49 yards, with his longest make from 40 yards out.
The Sun Devils have used three different punters so far. Dominick Vizzare has a 39.2 average on six punts, Matt Haack's average is 38.8 yards on four punts and Alex Garoutte is averaging 38 yards on three punts. None of the three punters has a touchback this season.