The lights at night shine big and bright at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Notre Dame hopes to rebound from last week’s 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 Devils’ 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. He’s 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 ASU’s 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, they’ve developed some pretty good chemistry. And, yes, Kelly also can run, although we haven’t seen it as much. He broke a couple long runs off the zone read in last week’s win against USC. When he’s a rushing threat, it makes ASU’s offense that much more difficult to defend.
Q: Slot receivers and short, possession passes have been Notre Dame’s 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 ASU’s top rushing threat, but he also catches a lot of passes out of the backfield. He’s a unique back. One of his lineman recently said he’s never seen Grice run full speed. He’s shifty. Get him near the end zone, and he’ll find a way to score. He’s scored 31 touchdowns in 17 career games. Foster is listed as a running back, but 80 percent of the time he’s lined up as a slot receiver. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell does a lot of creative things to get Foster the ball. Teamed with Grice, they’re 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 he’s 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 aren’t good. Yes, the Sun Devils have had the misfortune of playing two great rushing teams — Wisconsin and Stanford — the first month, but USC ran all over them as well. Coach Todd Graham thinks it’s correctable. He shuffled his linebackers this week, putting ASU’s best linebacker, Chris Young, in position to help stop the runs off the edge. We’ll see if it works.
Q: What did Stanford do that Southern California and Wisconsin (barring the controversial ending) didn’t do? That game was the only time all year Arizona State was held to less than 30 points.
Haller: They beat up ASU’s offensive line and hit Kelly more than he’s been hit in two years of starting.
Q: This isn’t 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, it’s huge. The Sun Devils have been in these situations before, they’ve 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.