Head to Head: Notre Dame vs. Arizona State
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, November 7, 2014
Last weekend, senior quarterback Everett Golson became the first Irish quarterback to have three passing and three rushing touchdowns in the same game. Golson’s name is still in the Heisman conversation and for good reason — he has thrown for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of his last three games.
Golson has been complimented by the continued development of his receiving corps — three different receivers caught touchdown passes against Navy. And sophmore receiver Will Fuller has put his name among the nation’s most productive receivers, as he’s currently tied for fourth in the FBS with nine touchdown catches.
Arizona State’s pass defense has been solid, particularly recently — the Sun Devils held Utah to only 57 passing yards last weekend. But the Sun Devils secondary has struggled against top-tier quarterbacks, as it surrendered 355 yards and four touchdowns to UCLA’s Brett Hundley and 273 yards and two touchdowns to USC’s Cody Kessler. Figure the Sun Devils to have some difficulties with the multi-threat Golson.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
Sophomore running back Tarean Folston has received the lion’s share of carries for the Irish after strong performances in his last three games. He’s rushed for more than 120 yards in each of the past two games, becoming the first Irish running back to do so since Darius Walker did it in 2006. His emergence has relegated senior captain Cam McDaniel and fellow sophomore Greg Bryant to limited roles.
Folston and the Irish offensive line, which has also looked good the past three games, have to be excited to face Arizona State’s rushing defense. The Sun Devils have allowed more than 150 yards in all but one game this season and yield an average of more than 180 rushing yards per game, 88th nationally. Folston and Golson alike should be able to find running room this Saturday.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
IRISH OFFENSIVE COACHING
With the recent production from Folston and the offensive line, Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock now has several more options at his disposal. The Irish have played four consecutive close games, but with the exception of the Stanford game, generating offense hasn’t been an issue for the Irish.
Keith Patterson is in his first season as Sun Devils defensive coordinator, but he is familiar with Notre Dame — he was Tulsa’s defensive coordinator when it upset the Irish in 2010 and Pitt’s defensive coordinator during an ugly 15-12 Notre Dame win the following season. The Sun Devils have had some struggles replacing six starters from last season on defense but enter the game with some momentum, having held their last three Pac-12 opponents to a combined 40 points.
IRISH SPECIAL TEAMS
After a strong start to the season, the Irish special teams have started to revert toward their usual mean. Notre Dame averages over seven yards per punt return and just under 20 yards per kickoff return. Even the normally reliable senior kicker Kyle Brindza missed two field goals last weekend.
But the Irish have potential for big plays against Arizona State’s punt and kickoff return defenses, which rank among the worst in the nation. The Sun Devils have surrendered both kickoff and punt return touchdowns this season.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
SUN DEVILS PASSING
Arizona State has long had a potent passing attack, and this year is no different. Redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly has had a distinguished career — he just passed Jake Plummer to move into third in Sun Devils history in passing touchdowns, and he threw for 362 yards against the Irish last year.
When Kelly missed three games earlier this season due to a foot injury, redshirt junior quarterback Mike Bercovici stepped in, and the offense didn’t miss a beat as the signal-caller threw for nearly 1000 yards and eight touchdowns in his first two games.
The Sun Devils have several good receivers, but none has been more explosive than redshirt junior Jaelen Strong, who averages more than 100 yards per game and has eight touchdowns on the season.
Although the Irish secondary has been aggressive and forced turnovers all season, it will be hard-pressed to stop an experienced Arizona State passing attack.
EDGE: ARIZONA STATE
SUN DEVILS RUSHING
Arizona State’s running game doesn’t quite stack up to its passing attack, but it still generates over 190 yards per game. Dual-threat junior D.J. Foster has generated many of those yards, though his effectiveness in recent weeks has come mainly as a receiver.
Perhaps more concerning for Notre Dame is the fact that Kelly is a running threat himself. If sacks are removed from rushing statistics, Kelly has averaged nine yards per carry on the ground. The Irish allowed 132 rushing yards to North Carolina multi-dimensional quarterback Marquise Williams last month.
Still, Notre Dame’s rush defense has been solid throughout the year. The Irish have allowed only two players to rush for at least 100 yards — Williams and Navy’s Noah Copeland. The unit has struggled with running quarterbacks, but it has been strong enough against running backs to make this category a push overall.
SUN DEVILS OFFENSIVE COACHING
Under offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, Arizona State ranked 10th nationally in scoring offense last season. The Sun Devils have dropped to 36th in that category this season, but they also were without their experienced starting quarterback for three games.
Despite some struggles in the past three games, the Irish defense under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has been fast and aggressive. Notre Dame will need VanGorder to prove his worth this week as it looks to replace senior linebacker Joe Schmidt, arguably the quarterback of the team’s defense. How will defensive calls change with the talented but raw freshman Nyles Morgan at middle linebacker?
EDGE: ARIZONA STATE
SUN DEVILS SPECIAL TEAMS
Field-goal kicking has been one of the few bright spots for Arizona State’s special teams this season. Sophomore kicker Zane Gonzalez has connected on 14 of 17 field goals this season, and he averages nearly 10 points per game, putting him seventh among kickers and 14th nationally.
Arizona State’s kickoff return unit ranks above average nationally, but its punt return team has been abysmal, ranking 122nd in the nation.
Notre Dame’s kickoff and punt coverage units are nowhere near as cringe-worthy as they were the past few seasons, though the potential to give up long returns still exists.