ND v ASU: Questions Answered

Revisiting the questions presented in O'Malley's Friday game preview...

To read the full questions posed in Friday's preview, click here.

1.) Nyles Morgan's the Man in the Middle -- Now What? The rookie starter wasn't the problem, nor predictably, the solution.

But if consensus opinion wasn't already clearly accurate it is today: Notre Dame needs Joe Schmidt in its defense. It's also incumbent upon Morgan that progress continues over the next three games, throughout bowl preparations, and through Game #13 in December, because the two might be paired together next fall -- Schmidt in the middle, Morgan on the weak side, and Jaylon Smith playing to the field as a strong side linebacker.

Better games for Morgan lie ahead, but the Irish staff needs that reality to begin sooner, rather than next season, because little is guaranteed without Schmidt in the middle of the Irish defense over the final three contests.

"It was what we kind of expected for a first time start from Nyles," said head coach Brian Kelly Sunday. "The communication was just okay. We were hoping for some help from others that we didn't get. He played a little tentative for his first game out there."

2.) Has attrition kicked In, and will Jaelen Strong benefit as a result? Attrition, namely the cumulative loss of cornerbacks Keivarae Russell and Cody Riggs certainly played a role in the defense's demise, but not as projected here.

Arizona State's Strong was solid, of course, notching five receptions, 58 yards, and a leaping touchdown. But with no gain in excess of 16 yards, Strong was hardly the problem. Continual issues limiting the Sun Devils' off-tackle runs, however, was a major issue, and Riggs's backup Devin Butler appeared to struggle in that regard.

"You know, he competed today," said Kelly of Butler, likewise in his first start. "He got matched up with Strong a couple of times, I though he did a nice job. There's things we need him to do better. The last touchdown, he's got boot(leg) control and he wasn't there. He needs to force the ball a couple times in that last drive.

"He hasn't played a ton but he competed. I like the way he competed out there. With more snaps, I think he'll get better. I like the way he competed."

The Irish defense is down two starting cornerbacks, a starting safety, a starting defensive end, and a starting middle linebacker from the mid-point of fall camp. Brian VanGorder's unit can little afford to lose someone else.

3.) Can They (ASU) Win A Shootout? Apparently, but the shootout nature of the second half almost caught up to the host Sun Devils. What is certain is that a Todd Graham-coached team thrives in situations similar to Saturday afternoon -- call it Controlled Chaos -- it reigned, and it's his cup of tea far more so than Kelly's.

"That is a good team," said Graham post-game. "Coach Kelly is an incredible football coach. I have been coaching against him since 2010. Anytime you can beat a football team with that talent, coaching, and character is amazing. The only other football team that has beat them is Florida State. I think we beat them more soundly. It makes a big statement that we can beat a very good football team. We have not reached any of our goals but that has been the biggest win we have had since I have been here."

4.) What Does Graham Have Planned? According to Kelly, nothing the Irish hadn't prepared for all week, but if that's the case, something was lost in translation, because the Sun Devils front seven went scorched earth on the Irish offense, notably at the line of scrimmage.

"What I'm upset about is how crazy it is that we saw everything for a week that we saw today -- the same stuff we saw it all week," said Kelly of ASU's continuous pressure on quarterback Everett Golson. "We shoe-dust a right defensive end and don't bring him down so we get the ball tipped (intercepted). We inexplicably put the ball on the ground on a scramble. They're maddening mistakes. I guess that's what I'm most upset about, because we didn't move the ball today effectively."

And the onslaught was in no way unexpected from the gambling Graham.

Over three previous games entering the contest (wins over Stanford, Washington, and Utah) Graham's Sun Devils had registered 26 TFL, 7 sacks, 15 PD, 2 INT (one returned for a touchdown), forced three fumbles and blocked a kick.

Add to that Saturday 10 more TFL, seven more sacks, three more PD, four more interceptions with two more touchdowns, and three more forced fumbles.


5.) Will These Five Continue To Thrive? Everett Golson, Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller, and Tarean Folston.

Wow, no.

From the group, only Day and Fuller broached their best. Golson, Folston (benched), and the presupposed star Smith collectively face-planted. It was offered in the preview column that if just one of the five didn't rise to the occasion, the Irish could drop an otherwise winnable game.

Three from the group playing poorly proved far too much to overcome.

6.) One Play, or One Year, Away? A year, to be sure.

College football fans often opine that better days lie ahead, assuming, as is their wont, that an untested gaggle of underclassmen will prove superior to their failing, former heroes, the upperclassmen. In Notre Dame's case, it's mostly returning players that have risen to the fore this fall. It's hard to imagine the team playing so poorly as three handfuls of two-deep competitors return for 2015.

But Saturday reiterated a college football reality: being young is both a blessing and a curse -- in Tempe, it proved to be the latter.

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