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Head-to-Head: Arizona State vs. Notre Dame

Observer Football Beat Writers | Thursday, October 3, 2013


Arizona State redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly is just one of three FBS quarterbacks this season to throw for at least 300 yards in each of his starts. Kelly has thrown 11 touchdowns against four interceptions and has also rushed for an average of 31 yards per game.

Redshirt sophomore receiver Jaelen Strong is off to the best four-game start for any receiver in Arizona State history and leads the team with 31 receptions for 433 yards. Sophomore running back D.J. Foster has also been a major factor in the passing attack with 22 grabs for 258 yards.

While the Sun Devils rank seventh in the nation in passing offense at 358.8 yards per game, Notre Dame is 67th in passing defense, allowing 230.2 yards per game. The Irish have yet to allow an opposing passer to go over 300 yards, but they have struggled at times to defend, both across the middle and down the field. Irish coach Brian Kelly noted the importance of limiting the big play, something Notre Dame struggled to do against Oklahoma and Michigan, most notably. Arizona State has passing touchdowns of 74 and 45 yards in its past two games.




Versatile running backs Foster and senior Marion Grice start for the Sun Devils. Grice has already scored 12 touchdowns, eight of which have been on rushes.

Yet as a team Arizona State is only averaging four yards per carry, and the Sun Devils rank 85th in the nation with 146.3 yards per game on the ground.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, has been inconsistent stopping the run this season, though it does rank 45th in the country in rushing defense. In consecutive weeks, the Irish held Purdue and Michigan State to a combined 157 rushing yards, but they were gashed against Oklahoma to the tune of 212 yards from the Sooners.

But only two Arizona State starting offensive linemen weigh more than 300 pounds. Notre Dame’s defensive line – led by beasts Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix – should be able to hold its ground and turn in a strong performance against the Sun Devil rushing attack. If sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day is able to return to the Irish starting lineup at close to 100 percent, Notre Dame’s defensive line should fare even better. Inside linebackers Jarrett Grace and Carlo Calabrese have seemingly improved with every game.




Dating back to last season, Arizona State is averaging 46.5 points per game over its last seven contests. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell has talented players such as Grice and Foster and utilizes them in a variety of ways.

Brian Kelly said he believes his defense is solid if not spectacular. Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will have to find a way to contain talented playmakers like Grice, Foster and Strong, something that proved troublesome against Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon and Oklahoma’s stable of skill-position players.




Arizona State freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez is 6-for-9 on field goals, but only one of his made kicks has been from more 40 yards or more.

A mix of Sun Devil punters have combined to boot 17 punts for an average of just 32.9 yards. Opponents have also blocked two punts.

The Sun Devils have a long punt return of 14 yards and a long kick return of 36 yards, though Grice is always dangerous with the ball in his hands. In the kickoff game, redshirt junior Alex Garoutte has drilled touchbacks on 62.5 percent of his tries.




Right when the running game breaks out, the passing game goes rogue. Irish senior quarterback Tommy Rees threw for 142 yards against Michigan State and 104 against Oklahoma on Saturday. In those two contests, Rees has completed 39 percent of his passes.

After strong starts to the season for both senior receiver TJ Jones and junior receiver DaVaris Daniels, Jones has caught just six passes for 57 yards in the past two games, while Daniels has amassed only four catches and 19 yards.

Defensively, the Sun Devils allow an average of 193 passing yards per game, the 36th-best mark in the nation, but opposing teams have only attempted an average of 25 pass attempts against Arizona State. The Sun Devils have six interceptions this season, powered by a pair from senior boundary safety Alden Darby.

Brian Kelly is seeking balance in the offensive attack, which would seem to indicate getting the passing game back on track is a top priority. Going up against a veteran Sun Devil secondary – led by three seniors or redshirt seniors – could present more problems for the Irish, but Jones, Daniels and junior tight end Troy Niklas have the talent to turn things around.




Junior running back George Atkinson broke out in a big way against Oklahoma with a career-high 148 yards on 14 carries, including his 80-yard touchdown scamper. Brian Kelly said Atkinson knows what it takes to have those performances every week. Should he struggle, however, Notre Dame can turn to juniors Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel, who have both produced as something close to the feature back at various times this season.

But there is no reason to think Atkinson – or any other Irish back for that matter – will struggle against the Sun Devils. Arizona State has surrendered nearly 200 yards per game on the ground to opponents, which ranks 92nd nationally. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Will Sutton, a consensus All-American, gobbles up double teams and tallied two tackles for loss and a sack against USC on Saturday. In 2012, Sutton recorded 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Redshirt junior ‘Devilbacker’ Carl Bradford has overcome a slow start and posted 16 tackles – four of which went for losses – in his last three games.




Brian Kelly has stressed the importance of offensive balance, but at times this season Notre Dame has gone too heavily in one direction, either all in passing or all in rushing.

But if Notre Dame can strike that ever-important balance, the Irish should be able to put up points against the Sun Devils.




Junior Kyle Brindza has improved as a punter, has booted half of his kickoffs for touchbacks and is 5-for-7 on field goal attempts, including three out of four from 40-49 yards out.

Atkinson has shown flashes of his freshman-year self as a kick returner, averaging nearly 28 yards per return. The punt-return game continues to struggle, with Jones averaging 7.3 yards per return, but his performance still represents a marked improvement from the past few years.

Arizona State has typically won the field-position battle this season, and opposing kick returners are averaging fewer than 19 yards per return.

      EDGE: EVEN