As the game played itself out, so did the talent levels on both rosters. It was very clear that by the end of the 4th Quarter, there was a stronger team on the field. Notre Dame came in and executed with strong efficiency on both sides of the ball and showed why they were a pre-season top 25 team. Their strong offensive and defensive lines would be the key area and catalyst in the 37-34 victory for the Irish, breaking down Arizona State up front at the line of scrimmage.
Arizona State had its fight as it has all season long and never backed down, yet in the end it was just three points too short from being on the opposite side of the win column. Key plays in this game were the difference in the outcome. Miscues and missed opportunities rang clear as the back and forth fight from both teams never broke wide open.
Early on, ASU had their chances to score touchdowns and instead could not get it in the end zone, settling for field goals. A lack of run game and three costly turnovers on offense would be too deep of a hole for the Sun Devils to fight out of. As the game progressed and the momentum slider went back and forth from sideline to sideline, it was never really clear who was going to pull it out.
Yet, in the end, it was those small missed opportunities that came back to bring the victory back to South Bend. Great teams make big plays on both sides of the ball when it matters most. Notre Dame did a great job getting after it up front and their big plays were a direct result of the line of scrimmage being won.
Talking about the Offense
362 Yards Passing, 3 Passing Touchdowns
3 for 3, Red Zone Chances/Scores
65 Yards Rushing, 2.6 Yard Average (47 Yards Lost)
3 Fumbles (1 Lost), 2 INT, 1 TD Allowed
4 of 13 on Third Down
6 Sacks Allowed
Up and down was the story of Taylor Kelly's play on Saturday night. At times, he was on fire placing the ball right where only the ASU receiver could catch the football as he has done so well this season. He also made several key mistakes that allowed ND to take over the football. Typically you want to really get on a Quarterback when they make the bonehead decisions that turn over a game. Yet, after watching this game, I really think some of Kelly's misreads and poor throws were a direct correlation to the pressure he was under and the big hits he constantly took. Any time you are put on your back time and time again, it is never going to be easy to feel comfortable back there and play your offense out.
Kelly added 51 yards rushing on the ground as well yet only ended up with five total yards after 46 were taken away from sacks. Not a performance that will go down as one of his best, yet Taylor played hard and gave this team the chances to stay in this game from front to back. The late INT he threw on the ASU goal line was also a play that broke the back, yet if you watch the throw, he is clearly getting turned as he was going down which caused such a poor throw to come out. One of the major turning points at the end of the game and unfortunately the tune of the night for Kelly. Being that he plays so well at home, look for him to bounce back strong against the Buffalos in Tempe.
Marion Grice was the only ball carrier gaining 51 yards rushing on 12 attempts and hauling in 36 yards receiving on five receptions and a touchdown. Not the kind of night that would spark the offense on the ground and once again I thought Grice looked far too hesitant in his progression through the block reading. Still not sure what it is about him so far this season in the running game, yet he just looks so much slower to the second level than last season. In his opportunities on pass pro, he failed a couple times to really get his hands in on the defender and allowed the aggressive pass rush to disrupt the pocket. It's never easy when you are going against a Defensive Line that is getting off like the ND line did, yet you have to show you are not afraid and be willing to come up and stone the rusher to the best of your ability and I am not sure it was the best effort we saw at times here.
It was unfortunate that the duo of Foster and Lewis were not featured in the ground attack. These two backs are game changers when they get their opportunities and you would always like to see them have their chances at the games end. Not the case Saturday.
Jaelen Strong led this group once again and had his fourth consecutive 100+ yard receiving game. He is such a competitor and you can see how hard he works in his progression downfield in the pass concepts. You got to love the concentration he showed on the bobbled catch into the end zone. Next level type skills out of him and he continues to dominate the opponent.
Kevin Ozier was able to find some production and received 63 yards on four catches. His effort on the catch that was called incomplete shows me he is getting more confident and believes in himself to go make the play. Hopefully this sparks more as his play goes forward and he keeps getting after it like he did on Saturday.
Cameron Smith made two catches and looked good in his route running. On several other plays he left his pass defense and was wide open, yet was on the opposite side of the play side attention. Love seeing that he is out there and ready to get after it now especially since the play of Richard Smith has shown far too many mistakes this season.
The fumble on his lone catch of the night was sort of the theme on him from the whole season. The game of football is about the small details and holding on to the football is one of them. So far, he can't seem to do this when it is thrown to him or in his basket. That was a game changing play and being that ND turned around and scored off the turnover, it ended up being one of the biggest outcomes of the game.
It was a very average night for both Chris Coyle and De'Marieya Nelson in terms of production and blocking. Nelson did haul in his touchdown catch and showed why he is a great weapon on this offense, yet both Coyle and Nelson seemed to be far out matched when you break down their efforts on both pass blocking and run blocking. Neither one of these two are dominate, "I'm going to bull you over" type blockers, yet I know they both pose the skills to disrupt the defender they are engaged with. Not the case so much on Saturday and you would hope they can correct some of their mistakes on film with their coaches.
Another group that has played very up and down so far this season and after watching them last week against USC, I thought they had turned a new leaf in 2013 which proved very much wrong breaking down the performance from last Saturday night. The relationships along the line and progression through the play looked much similar to that of the Stanford game. The difference though was that in the Stanford game, they used twists, delayed blitz schemes and came all afternoon long with it. Saturday's ND game showed the offensive line getting beat time and time again by a one on one defender and just getting plain beat.
Watching the offensive tackles, Evan Finkenberg and Tyler Sulka, it was very clear they were not comfortable out there on the edge. You can watch both of their progression through their pass sets and it was very clear that some poor footwork put them in a bad place for getting where they needed to be. Sulka was allowing himself to take much too wide of a kick step on his drops and because of this, his second and third step was not able to recover. He opened himself up to counter moves underneath and seemed to not get enough punch with his hands to slow down the speed rush when it came off the edge. The same can be said on Finkenberg as he was beat several times really cleanly. Not what you expect from a guy who has started as many games as he has.
Thing about it though in a match up like this is that the offensive line just doesn't match up well with a Defensive Line that has the size of ND. Finkenberg and Sulka are not tackles that can just hold down the edge all night by themselves facing pressure that is as big if not bigger than them from the opponent. Its physics really and more often than not, those laws always win out. Inside, it was some of the same when it came to the relationships from man to man. Poor first steps allowed some holes to open wider than should be and really didn't allow themselves the chances to work together the way a pass set should. As the game wore on, there are many examples of how this all played out. The effort on the ground was even worse as the offensive line was dominated by the push of the defensive line and couldn't open up the play concepts the way they were meant to be ran.
There were some very clear and dictating factors that played through this match up against ND. The loudest and one I think everyone could agree on is that the offensive line can't get it done consistently, and how the current players up front are just not able to win their jobs when it comes to playing a big defensive line. This was shown in the Wisconsin game, Stanford game and again against ND. If you are going to play with the big boys, you got to go get some yourself. Had the pressure been slowed some and a bit more production out of the running came created, this could have been a very different game. Play action doesn't work when the defense doesn't fear your front five. Very much the case Saturday as ND sat back and allowed their front four to do work.
Talking about the Defense
4 of 15 on Third Down
1 INT, 1 Defensive TD
7 Pass Breakups
0 Sacks on 38 Pass Attempts
4 for 4 on Red Zone Scores-Chances
Lots of opportunities and not much to speak of. That is what I took away after watching the film of the ASU defensive line. Far too many guys running down the middle of the blocker rather than controlling their assigned edge/gap. Too many chances to counter on pass rush and create some havoc in the pocket. Poor effort to violently get off a blocker with a release move and pursue to the football. All these opportunities added up and at the end of the day, the production and outcome spoke for itself. Will Sutton has MIA Saturday night only collecting 3 tackles, mostly on plays outside of the pocket. His push inside was swallowed up by the interior Notre Dame offensive line and he really looked at times as if he was taking plays off.
I will counter that also by saying that I was impressed at times with his effort to get out and hustle downfield to get in on some, yet that has to occur every down and not every 8th down. Carl Bradford was also contained by the tackles. His pass rush was not nearly as creative as it has been over the last year and a half and I didn't see his "want to" when it came to getting home to the target. Bradford spent too much time running down the middle of the blocker and allowed his blocking surface to be exposed. Not typically what we see out of him.
Gannon Conway was a step too slow on far too many plays. He guy who is a work horse and does all the right things in practice, yet just doesn't have the athletic skill at the end position to make the needed plays. His speed in Saturday's game was really evident and there was no fast twitch that was needed in his run defense.
The player who stepped up and played hard was Davon Coleman. He rotated around on the defensive line all night lining up both inside and out and took away a career high seven tackles on the night. Hopefully he can keep playing with as much energy as he showed against ND. It was refreshing to watch.
A better performance came out of this group than the previous matchup against USC. I thought the linebackers played with a ton of energy and looked very strong in their efforts to get off blocks and pursue. Salamo Fiso and Steffon Martin both led the group with seven tackles and played about as hard as they could. The one mistake that came from Fiso on his pass coverage where he falls down allowing his man to score the touchdown will shine over his work throughout the night, yet I like what I saw from him in his second start this season.
Chris Young did not produce the number we usually see from him yet he did do a great job on his assignments throughout the game. It was very clear that because the defensive line was gaining no push, the linebackers had to make up for it and at times were getting swallowed up. Not what you ever want, yet this was the story of the game on both sides of the ball.
Poor tackling and bad angles in the run game really stood out when you watch the film on this position group. Alden Darby, who is usually one of the more sound defenders, constantly showed how out of position he was. His body lean and feet didn't allow him to get down hill enough to make the plays needed and instead he caused some major holes to be ripped off for big gains. Darby also allowed some big hits in the pass game. An off night for him and we all know he is the type of player that is going to go back to the class room and get it all right for the next match up. Damarious Randall made his first career start and man was it a productive one, leading the team in tackles with 17 (9 solo). He did a great job working into the box on run plays and took great angles to get where the ball carrier was going. I personally was very impressed with him as we have waited a while to get him in the fold. The play could have changed the game and I know we all will remember it, the dropped INT that Randall had in his hands. Catch that ball and the game could have ended differently.
Osahon Irabor had his first career pick 6 and sparked the Sun Devil 4th Qtr surge. Irabor did a great job in his pass defense. The only thing I want to critique is his blitz path. Since it has been a common theme this year overloading a side and bringing Irabor off the edge, you would like to see him get a bit more active with his hands. Too many times he came off the edge Saturday and did not engage his hands in his rush and seemed to just run down the middle of the blocker. Use that speed advantage and get something working on the outside edge to get you home.
The player who brought down this position groups overall grade was Robert Nelson and his play on the night. Nelson looked lost in his pass defense allowing ball after ball to be caught on his watch. His footwork and hips took him away from his receiver and never gave himself a fair chance to work more aggressively. Seemed like at times he was playing far too off his man and his eyes were not keying the route and man he was covering but allowing himself to get lazy, giving up too much space.
When ND needed their plays, they took them from the ASU defense. A controlled and balanced attack from the Irish allowed them to exploit the match ups they wanted put up 424 yards on the Sun Devils. The blitz packed seemed like it was simple and when dialed up, the rush seemed to just get swallowed up by a dominate ND offensive line. Too many guys running down the middle of blockers and not enough energy to work the pass rush lanes ended in zero sacks on the night. Reece never looked like he was in panic mode back there and even though he was 17 of 38 on the night, he took what ASU gave him.
If ASU is going to get better this season on defense, they need to get more creative with how they are going to get home up front and the players need to show the energy to get these schemes to work. Counter moves, pursuit and a mean attitude go a long way at every position on defense. This all has to come together with every man on the field for four quarters if you want to beat good teams. Talking about Special Teams
Field Goal Team: A
Zane Gonzalez was 2 for 2, hitting from 40 and 27 yards. Both kicks were on a hash and he seems to have gained some confidence back in the last two weeks.
Punt Team: D+
Matt Haack was up and down. A long kick of 52 yards that went for a touchback was his boom of the night as the rest of his kicks went to the tune of 31 yards, 37 yards, 39 yards and 33 yards. The punt team still seems to be something this team cannot get ironed out in terms of consistency. Not sure why they went away from Alex Garoutte and the rugby style from last week. It seemed to work quite well.
Punt Return Team: F
No returns on the night created and four kicks that were downed inside the 20. The punt team needs to do a much better job blocking and creating space for the returner. Not the case on Saturday one of the game's key moments came when Nelson allowed a punt that landed on the 18 yard line to not be caught. This punt rolled all the way down the one yard line and we all know what came next. You cannot let that ball get away from you in such a key situation. Fair call and catch the football.
Kickoff Team: C-
6 kickoff attempts with zero going for touchback. Not sure where the Alex Garoutte went that put nine of them in the end zone game one of this season. ND had a long return of 34 yards.
Kickoff Return Team: B
ND did a great job putting the ball deep and Marion Grice only had one return on the night for 21 yards.
Special Teams: C
Offensive MVP: Jaelen Strong
Defensive MVP: Damarious Randall
The "Gauntlet" was been played out and Arizona State came out 2 and 2 through one of the toughest schedules any team would face to start a season. All across the board there are positive and negatives breaking down how this team has played. Inconsistent play on both the offensive and defensive lines has been some of the main factors to how the last four games have gone. Poor tackling on defense, lack of "big play" play makers and an overall attitude seemed to have shown this defense is more of a cluster than an attacking hybrid of sorts. The same can be said on the offensive side of the ball as outside of about four players, there has been some major let downs.
It's always cliché but it's the truth. Football is a game of attention to detail and doing so with great energy. Put a mean streak in all that, do it every play, and you have yourself a team that is going to win football a lot games.
With the Colorado Buffalos coming to Tempe, the Sun Devils will hopefully have a chance to get this all going. The offense will shine in this game, yet it will be a good chance to see what this defense is really made of. Can they dominate a Pac-12 opponent they are better than on paper? Let's see it happen this upcoming weekend
Defensive end Kyle Caldwell played for the Sun Devils from 2003-2006 and finished with Sun Devil career with 90 tackles and 10.5 sacks. He earned Pac-10 All-Freshman honors in 2003 and Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 recognition in 2006. A graduate of Scottsdale Saguaro High School, Caldwell is also a member of the Sabercats' coaching staff who won the 2010 Class 4A Division I state championship