PASS OFFENSE: .. B .. A so-so overall game by Tommy Rees prettied up by a few deep passes to TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels. Jones played like a man possessed tonight, posting 135 yards and a touchdown on his second 100-yard receiving game of the year. He continues to play like this, and you’ll hear his name on Sundays next year. Jones took the lion’s share of catches, but Daniels nabbed four for 67 yards total — including a 23-yarder that set up the Rees-to-Jones score. Rees amassed 279 throwing yards for three touchdowns, fairly modest in the big picture but his best performance in the past three games. Accuracy for Rees is still sinking as he still has a knack of overthrowing receivers, but at least it wasn’t a crippling issue this time around. That pick-6 nearly was, though. Rees’s three touchdowns went to three different receivers, two of which were tight ends. What is this, 2012?
RUN OFFENSE: .. B- .. Getting George Atkinson the ball early and often seemed like an obvious —and effective — strategy early against Arizona State’s sub-par run defense. Atkinson ran the ball six times on the first drive, then went quiet for the rest of the half as the Irish offense adjusted to favor the throw. Atkinson didn’t break away on any jaw-dropping runs tonight, but he did exactly what the Irish needed him to do: Runn tough up the middle, gain yards after contact, chew time off the clock and draw the Arizona State defense into the box. Once again, Cam McDaniel’s second-half heroics allowed the Irish to burn time off the clock while the game was still close and the Arizona State offense was heating up and needed to be kept off the field. McDaniel finished with a team-high 82 yards on 15 carries, marking another solid performance for the Texas native.
PASS DEFENSE: .. B- .. Yes, Notre Dame allowed 362 passing yards and three passing touchdowns, but the Irish defense still showed better than it had all season. Though it gave up big yards, Notre Dame looked more like the “bend-don’t-break” defense of 2012, which also would give up a lot of passing yards but lock down against opposing teams in the red zone. When the Irish offense woke up slowly early in the game, the Notre Dame defense held the Sun Devils’ explosive offense to six points for most of the first half. Matthias Farley and Dan Fox’s back-to-back interceptions were the first Taylor Kelly had thrown all season. Jaelen Strong finished with eight catches for 136 yards and a touchdown, but the Irish looked improved against pitches and bubble passes.
RUN DEFENSE: .. A .. All week, if it wasn’t Taylor Kelly’s arm everyone was talking about, it was Marion Grice’s potential as a hybrid running back-receiver. Grice had 25 rushing yards on six carries at the half and would only get six more touches for 26 yards the rest of the game. Part of Grice’s ineffectiveness came from an Arizona State offensive plan that needed to play catchup, but part of it came from a stifling Irish defense that wouldn’t allow anything going on the ground. After not fumbling the ball at all in its first four games, Arizona State dropped the ball twice against the Irish. Dan Fox recovered the second fumble in a momentum-swinging moment in the third quarter. Kelly, advertised as yet another dual-threat quarterback, broke away on a 16-yard scramble but was otherwise kept at bay on the ground.
SPECIAL TEAMS: .. A-.. Barring a missed field goal and a pooched punt in the first half, the Irish special teams put together a solid performance. Kyle Brindza hit from a career-high 53 yards then again from 33 and 25 yards in the fourth quarter. Brindza may be flaky early in the game, but the junior kicker is 11-of-11 in career fourth quarter field goal attempts. Late in the fourth quarter, a Brindza punt pinned Arizona State at its 1-yard line with 90 seconds to make it up field to take the lead or tie (Hint: They didn’t.) He continues to be a crucial weapon for Notre Dame when the game is on the line late in the contest. TJ Jones returned a punt for 27 yards, and George Atkinson ran a kickoff return back for 34 yards to give the Irish a few jolts of energy on its return game.
COACHING: .. A .. This matchup had everything going against Notre Dame. On the road, in a strange environment, against an unfamiliar opponent, playing a high-energy offense a week after being torn apart by another high-energy offense and teetering on the edge of .500. And Notre Dame proved almost everyone in the college football world wrong. Brian Kelly & Co.’s staff had this Irish squad ready. All week coaches peached “doing whatever it took,” freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith said. To not worry about mistakes and rectify them “the next play, the next day.” That might seem like regurgitated coachspeak, but Notre Dame put together its most complete game from all three facets this season. The Irish, who likely lost MLB Jarrett Grace (broken leg) and WR Daniel Smith (ankle fracture) for the season, head into the bye week with a huge momentum swing before facing USC on Oct. 19.
— Compiled by Rachel Terlep