Down in Flames: Arizona State tops Notre Dame, 55-31
Brian Hartnett | Monday, November 10, 2014
TEMPE, Arizona — On a warm Saturday in the Valley of the Sun, No. 8 Notre Dame was scorched by a turnover-riddled offensive performance, which put the Irish in a deep hole early and stifled their late comeback attempt in a 55-31 loss to No. 11 Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium.
Arizona State (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) scored 28 points off five Notre Dame turnovers, returning two interceptions for touchdowns and scoring on drives of 13 and 23 yards following a fumble and an interception, respectively, by the Irish (7-2).
“If you look at it really closely, we turned the ball over five times,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “You can’t turn the ball over. Our guys were ready to play, and you can’t play sloppy like that.”
Notre Dame found itself facing a 31-point deficit late in the first half when Arizona State sophomore kicker Zane Gonzalez kicked a 28-yard field goal to put the Sun Devils ahead 34-3. The field goal marked the end of a stretch in which Arizona State scored on six of seven drives, three of them aided by Notre Dame turnovers.
“We didn’t come out and take care of business in the first half,” Irish senior running back Cam McDaniel said. “We played flat, and it showed. We turned the football over. You just can’t do that with a team like Arizona State.”
That same 31-point deficit was later whittled down to three, however, as Notre Dame scored the next 28 points unanswered. Notre Dame cut Arizona State’s lead to 34-31 after senior running back Amir Carlisle hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Irish senior quarterback Everett Golson with 6:37 remaining in the game.
Notre Dame’s second-half production provided a glimpse of what Notre Dame expected to do offensively entering the game, Kelly said.
“We just did what we were supposed to do in the first half in the second half,” he said. “We moved offensively like we were expecting to move in the first half.”
Arizona State responded with a two-minute, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a four-yard touchdown pass from redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly to freshman running back Demario Richard with 4:29 left in the game.
“We definitely came up short when we needed to come up big,” Irish junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day said. “We definitely missed some key opportunities.”
Less than a minute later, the Sun Devils were back in the end zone, as redshirt sophomore cornerback Lloyd Carrington snatched a ball Irish sophomore receiver Corey Robinson had bobbled and returned it 58 yards for the score and 17-point lead.
Arizona State’s 55 points represented the most scored against Notre Dame since the Irish allowed 58 to Miami in 1985. Despite the high point total, Kelly said the defense, which was without senior linebacker Joe Schmidt and graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs, shouldn’t shoulder too much of the blame.
“This game was not set up for us to rely on our defense to come up with a big stop,” Kelly said. “This game was set up for the offense to win the game.”
Notre Dame outgained Arizona State, 487-412, and Golson threw for 446 yards, the fifth-most iin a single game in program history. The Irish, however, led the Sun Devils in several other categories — interceptions, committing four to Arizona State’s one, fumbles, losing the only fumble of the game and sacks allowed, giving up seven versus the one the Sun Devils allowed.
Notre Dame’s turnover problems began when Arizona State freshman defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood sacked Golson and forced a fumble, recovering it on Notre Dame’s 13-yard line. The Sun Devils jumped out to their first lead on the next play, as Kelly found redshirt junior Jaelen Strong, who made a one-handed touchdown catch to put Arizona State up 10-3.
Arizona State’s next touchdown came in a similar sequence. Sun Devil redshirt junior defensive lineman Demetrius Cherry tipped Golson’s pass, and the ball landed in the hands of senior defensive end Marcus Hardison on Notre Dame’s 23-yard line. The Sun Devils scored three plays later when freshman running back Demario Richard ran it in from one yard out.
Kelly said Arizona State’s defense didn’t sneak in any surprise alignments or looks in the first half.
“Everything that we practiced, everything that we saw last year, we saw this year,” he said. “Absolutely no changes in what they did.”
Soon after Notre Dame crossed midfield on its next drive, another tipped pass went to Arizona State senior safety Damarious Randall, who returned it 59 yards for the touchdown and 21-point lead.
Kelly said the interception came as the result of a misinterpretation regarding how the play was supposed to be run.
“We have run and pass routes,” he said. “The ball should’ve been handed off. Everett saw it differently. … We have to do a better job coaching him so that when he sees that look, he doesn’t think that he’s supposed to throw the football.”
Taylor Kelly’s second touchdown pass, this one a 43-yard strike to sophomore receiver Cameron Smith, capped the Sun Devils’ fourth consecutive touchdown drive, putting them ahead 31-3.
Notre Dame made its attempt to stop the bleeding with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Golson to sophomore receiver Will Fuller with 11 seconds left in the first half. The Irish added a touchdown run by McDaniel in a third quarter in which they held Arizona State to 32 yards and zero points.
“We realized our offense needed us, and we were just trying to rally the whole game,” Irish sophomore safety Max Redfield said. “… It’s just a matter of eliminating the big plays and pulling together as a unit.”
McDaniel scored again in the fourth quarter to cut Notre Dame’s deficit to 10 points. The Irish captain said the late scores put Notre Dame in a position on which it should have capitalized.
“We know how to play in big games because we’ve won big games,” he said. “There is no excuse why we didn’t come back in the second half. We had them.”
With the loss, Notre Dame, which was ranked 10th in the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings before Saturday’s game, will most likely find itself out of the playoff hunt. Still, McDaniel said the team’s goal for its final three games remains the same.
“Right now, there is no excuse not to win the rest of our games,” he said.