5 To Watch: Notre Dame

Irisheyes.com publisher Tim O'Malley offers Sun Devils fans five Notre Dame players to watch during Saturday's contest with the No. 10 ranked Irish.

Arizona State fans know senior quarterback Everett Golson is the key to the Irish offense and likely the team's overall efforts Saturday afternoon in Tempe. Who are five other Irish competitors that will help decide the outcome? And why are all of them non-seniors?

RB #25 Tarean Folston: A true sophomore, Folston has emerged from what was a "starting" trio to become the team's feature 'back over the last three contests, compiling a combined 478 rushing/receiving yards with four touchdowns against North Carolina, Florida State, and Navy.

Folston's longest rush of the season is just 26 yards though he's added a pair of receptions in excess of 30. He thus can't be viewed as a home-run threat (though he ripped off a 43-yard run vs. Oklahoma last year), but the former Scout.com four-star has provided the Irish backfield with the consistent punch it needed to augment Golson's ability to stretch a defense with his arm.

He's a jump-cut runner. More quick than fast, combining a natural elusiveness with a forward lean.

WR #7 Will Fuller: Another true sophomore, Fuller is Golson's favorite target, a crucial development considering Notre Dame's top receiver DaVaris Daniels has missed the season due to academic suspension. Fuller is among the nation's fastest receivers between the lines -- he ran away from Florida State's standout corners throughout the contest in Tallahassee -- is quick to gain yards after the catch, has good ball skills on difficult throws and has already drawn seven pass interference penalties this season.

He also has concentration lapses and leads the team in drops as a result. Said head coach Brian Kelly of Fuller (when he was asked instead about backup receiver Torii Hunter): "Well, if Will Fuller practices the way he did last week, he'll get a lot more playing time, because that's the way he played (against Navy)."

The message was likely received. Fuller needs to play big for the Irish to upset the Sun Devils.

WLB #9 Jaylon Smith: True sophomore No. 3 on the list, Smith is Notre Dame's most talented player and his breakout game last year vs. ASU in Cowboys Stadium was one of the reason's the Irish left the Lone Star State with a W.

Oustanding in coverage and adept as an occasional blitzer, Smith has been charged this season with playing inside and stopping the N-S running game as well. Run away from him and you're dead. Run at him? Teams have had intermittent success (North Carolina killed him in this regard).

Something to watch Saturday: Smith will likely be in charge of pre-snap adjustments, a role that fell previously to senior middle linebacker Joe Schmidt, one of the smartest football players in recent memory at the program. Muddying Smith's game with the burden of defensive quarterback might not be the best tactic for this road tilt.

DT #91 Sheldon Day: Golson is the team's MVP, but the true junior Day is at least 1B in that regard. He demands double team attention from his three-technique role in the base defense and is the team's chief pocket pusher when the Irish go nickel and dime -- packages heavily favored on third-down by first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

Because of Day's consistent play, junior nose tackle Jarron Jones consistently faces solo-blocking matchups and he's thrived as a result, topping out in Tallahassee with an MVP effort (six stops including three tackles for loss). Sophomore defensive end Isaac Rochell has also benefitted, unexpectedly ranking second on the team in QB pressures behind Day. Rochell was slated for backup duty to senior Ishaq Williams, also suspended for the season for academic dishonesty.

MLB #5 Nyles Morgan: A true freshman, all Irish eyes will be on Morgan in his first career start due to the season-ending ankle injury suffered by the aforementioned senior Joe Schmidt.

The Morgan/Schmidt situation is a telling case study in message board fandom: Well over 90 percent of Irish fans assumed the five-star prospect Morgan would have, by this point, beaten out the former preferred walk-on Schmidt for the starting role. Schmidt instead developed into one of the team's 6-7 best football players and at no point was he challenged by the immensely talented Morgan.

Now Morgan gets his shot -- he can run and hit, and purportedly has been a studious pupil to Schmidt, the defense's quarterback. We'll find out Saturday, because the Sun Devils offense will either A.) gash the Irish because of a missed assignment by the rookie -- something that rarely happened with Schmidt inside -- or B.) Morgan will overwhelm his foe athletically on a key ASU offensive snap, something not often seen from Schmidt.

Youth has been served for Brian Kelly's Irish this season. It's about to be tested. • © 2014 Microsoft • Terms • Privacy & cookies • Developers • English (United States)

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