Can Notre Dame exploit ASUs run defense? Five questions about the Sun Devils
Posted: 10/04/2013 at 11:00 am
By: Rachel Terlep
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Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly (10) throws for a first down against Southern California during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 28 2013, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Notre Dame hopes to rebound from last weekís loss with a win over the young, offensively loaded Arizona State Sun Devils in the annual Shamrock Series off-site home game. The game begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, and will be broadcast on NBC.
Doug Haller, Arizona State football writer for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com, sheds some light on quarterback Taylor Kelly, the Sun Devilsí weakness in run defense and how ASU will utilize its slot receivers.
The Irish have never lost a Shamrock Series game, but Haller thinks Arizona State should come away with this one.
Question: Quarterback Taylor Kelly is putting up some gaudy numbers in an incredibly dynamic Arizona State offense. Heís also the fifth straight mobile quarterback Notre Dame will face. What makes his passing game so effective and how much of a ground threat is he?
Doug Haller: He has a lot of weapons this year. Last year Kelly had to pretty much rely on his running backs and tight ends because ASUís receivers were so weak. But this season he has a legitimate threat at receiver. Jaelen Strong, a junior college transfer, is 6-4 and he runs well. Through four weeks, theyíve developed some pretty good chemistry. And, yes, Kelly also can run, although we havenít seen it as much. He broke a couple long runs off the zone read in last weekís win against USC. When heís a rushing threat, it makes ASUís offense that much more difficult to defend.
Q: Slot receivers and short, possession passes have been Notre Dameís Achilles heel this season. Marion Grice and D.J. Foster look like dangerous weapons in that regard. How do you assess those two?
Haller: Marion Grice lines up behind Kelly in the pistol. He is ASUís top rushing threat, but he also catches a lot of passes out of the backfield. Heís a unique back. One of his lineman recently said heís never seen Grice run full speed. Heís shifty. Get him near the end zone, and heíll find a way to score. Heís scored 31 touchdowns in 17 career games. Foster is listed as a running back, but 80 percent of the time heís lined up as a slot receiver. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell does a lot of creative things to get Foster the ball. Teamed with Grice, theyíre a powerful 1-2 punch.
Q: Arizona State allowed an average of 240 rushing yards a game against Wisconsin, Stanford and USC, which Todd Graham attributes to alignment issues on the perimeter. Running off the edge is where George Atkinson is most dangerous, and heís coming off the best game of his career. How do you see this particular matchup shaking out?
Haller: Since spring practice, ASU has worked on its run defense. Five weeks in, the results arenít good. Yes, the Sun Devils have had the misfortune of playing two great rushing teams ó Wisconsin and Stanford ó the first month, but USC ran all over them as well. Coach Todd Graham thinks itís correctable. He shuffled his linebackers this week, putting ASUís best linebacker, Chris Young, in position to help stop the runs off the edge. Weíll see if it works.
Q: What did Stanford do that Southern California and Wisconsin (barring the controversial ending) didnít do? That game was the only time all year Arizona State was held to less than 30 points.
Haller: They beat up ASUís offensive line and hit Kelly more than heís been hit in two years of starting.
Q: This isnít a conference game, but is Saturday a big night for Arizona State? The Shamrock Series games are always high-profile, and Todd Graham has some history against Notre Dame. How do you see this game playing out?
Haller: For ASU, itís huge. The Sun Devils have been in these situations before, theyíve just never capitalized. A familiar script: They come out slow, fall behind by multiple scores, then rally in the final quarter to make it look respectable. They should beat Notre Dame on Saturday. Whether that happens depends on how they deal with all the outside noise.