Tempo, Temps, but not Time, to Test Irish

Notre Dame's worst defensive effort of the season was largely the result of an up-tempo offensive approach. It's a tactic Arizona State employs intermittently as well.

On October 11 in South Bend, visiting foe North Carolina executed 84 snaps vs. Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's unit, a season-high against Notre Dame.

The end result was 6.1 yards per play against, 14 missed tackles, and 36 offensive points allowed. A gassed, gashed, and at times confused Irish defense played poorly, nearly from start to finish.

Up-tempo is a tactic that the Irish will likely see again this season, but will it present in Tempe Saturday afternoon when No. 10 Notre Dame takes on No. 9 Arizona State in a playoff elimination game?

The Sun Devils are billed nationally as an up-tempo attack, but their snap totals are inconsistent to that end. Not including a win over FCS foe Weber State, ASU's snap totals this season are as follows 69, 60, 105 (a blowout loss to UCLA), 68 (USC), 80 (Stanford), 79 (Washington) and 76 vs. ball-control focused Utah.

The Irish aren't dissimilar: 64 (Rice), 65 (Michigan), 78 (Purdue), 80 (Syracuse), 65 (Stanford), 81 (UNC), 87 (FSU), and 64 last week vs. Navy. Over the last seven games, ASU has 537 snaps; Notre Dame 520 (excludes Rice for the 7-game comparison).

But what pace favors Notre Dame's offense? It's defense?

"We learned quite a bit from that," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of the North Carolina contest. "I think from a coaching standpoint, some of our situational substitutions put us in a tough position with some quick screens back towards their bench. That put us in awkward positions. I think we've got a better handle on it. We'll work on it this week, and we'll run some tempo. We'll go against them...we can duplicate their tempo and give our defense a pretty good look at it, as well."

Over the last two seasons (21 games), Notre Dame is 7-2 when executing 70-plus snaps. They're 8-1 when the total finishes between 60-69 and predictably 1-2 when it's under 60 (Oklahoma, Navy, and Stanford, 2013). When opponents break off 70 or more plays, the Irish are 8-3. 7-1 vs. 60-69 snaps and 1-1 vs. 59 or fewer (including a loss at Florida State).

Regardless of what either team will unveil Saturday, Kelly offered that practice this week was primarily about transitioning away from defending option football rather than focusing on defending an up-tempo attack.

"We would naturally, whether we were playing Arizona State or another opponent, we would naturally go together a little bit more this week just to get acclimated back from running to the triple option (pitch) to dropping into the curl (in pass defense)," said Kelly.

"But we probably have an eye towards doing it a little more because there's some similarities (to ASU) that we can do offensively that really help our defense, as well. We'll be spending some time with ones versus ones (first string) this week."

And with practice day temperatures either perfect (high 50s Wednesday) or inclement (pouring and mid-40s Tuesday/expected Thursday), they'll also be spending some time indoors.

And not comfortably.

"The weather is something that we've addressed," said Kelly of a forecast that puts Tempe at 87 degrees for the 1:30 kickoff. "We're consuming 40 ounces of fluids daily starting yesterday to prepare for that.

"Really worked with our kids beginning on Monday to properly hydrate them because there's no doubt about it, it's going to be hot. We're going to try to duplicate practice. We're going to maybe try to get indoors and crank up some heat in there and see if we can create a similar environment to the heat, but at the end of the day, you're going to have to rely on hydration and your conditioning level to get you through that kind of environment."

Told the Sun Devils have been historically tough at home, Kelly noted that its nothing his Irish aren't prepared for.

"Yeah, I mean, I think the environment will be a great one. Certainly we had to be prepared for the Florida State environment, and we'll prepare similarly as we did for Florida State in terms of crowd noise and things of that nature."

Most Irish fans (and every member of the media) was surprised when the game did not receive a prime time kickoff. Of Notre Dame's last 25 games played outside of South Bend previously, only four received (EDT) afternoon starts (2011-present), including nine of the last 10 played in prime time. Four Irish home games likewise kicked off under the lights in that span.

"We were in a routine of playing night games…I'm a coach…so I'm a product of habit," said Kelly. "I would have preferred the habit of playing night games. Having said that, it will make no difference on the outcome of the game, whether it's at noon, 1:30, 2:30, 6:30 or midnight.

"It might have been a little bit cooler at night. Other than that, no excuses, let's go play."

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