Tempe, AZ – The big trip to Dallas to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish has come and gone, with the Sun Devils falling short 37-34.
As mentioned in the DieHard Storyline beforehand, this game was an opportunity for ASU to take a step forward and shine bright on the national stage.
Here’s how things played out in Dallas…
Notre Dame Receivers Lack Big Play Ability (or so we thought)
“The Notre Dame receivers aren’t big-play guys that will home-run you like Pac-12 receivers. If Rees is forced to throw on the run from being pressured, then it only makes sense that Robert Nelson, Jr (who has been steady in man-to-man coverage and open-field tackling), and Osahon Irabor (who is ASU’s best coverage corner) disrupt receiver’s routes at the line of scrimmage to completely negate the ND passing game.” – DieHard Storyline
Turns out this was the Achilles Heel for ASU throughout the game. Not because Irabor or Nelson had a bad night, but because the Sun Devil defense was unable to apply pressure on Tommy Rees and gave him plenty of time to find his receivers.
ASU attacked with blitzes and different looks, but the big, physical Irish offensive line was able to contain Sutton and company for most of the night. Missing Jaxon Hood up front hurt also. To his credit, Irabor got a pick six to get the Devils back in the game at the start of the fourth quarter.
Can Notre Dame Contain Jaelen Strong and the ASU Receivers? (Strong, no…but)
“Having to blanket a safety over the top of Strong’s deep routes opens up space underneath and in the middle of the field for routes that TE Chris Coyle and DJ Foster were able to exploit on play action passes.” – DieHard Storyline
The Sun Devils finished the game with 362 receiving yards against Notre Dame. Taylor Kelly was 33 for 47 on pass attempts and his favorite target once again was Jaelen Strong (136 yards). DJ Foster added 71 yards and Kevin Ozier had 63 yards.
Those are all respectable numbers, but the statistic that jumps out the most is Chris Coyle, who had only 2 catches and 11 yards receiving. Most of the ASU passing plays were outside or near the sidelines instead of in open space across the middle. The one exception was Strong, who snagged a TD pass deep down the middle.
Big Stage, Bright Lights, Huge Opportunity (How did they do?)
“It has been a while since Sun Devil football has stepped up when it mattered most under the bright lights. Although this game doesn’t have a big impact on the Pac-12 south, it means everything for national exposure for ASU, recruiting and the overall perception of Sun Devil football.” – DieHard Storyline
After a scoreless first quarter, the Sun Devils looked solid in the second quarter but gave up a crucial touchdown at the end of the first half. They fought hard and never gave up in the second half, but never took control of this game.
Overall, it was a respectable showing by Arizona State in front of a national audience, but it was also a huge missed opportunity with all eyes on the maroon and gold. The loss won’t be a major hit to the direction of the program, and all will be healed with a strong performance in the Pac-12 conference for the remainder of the season. At the end of the day, getting to the Pac-12 Championship game is the number one goal for Coach Graham and his team.
Starting with Colorado this weekend, the Sun Devils need to get back on the winning track and get some momentum heading into a tough game with Washington the following week. Expect things to open up more for Will Sutton and the ASU defense, as most of the opponents moving forward don’t have the size and physicality of some of the teams the Sun Devils have faced in the past four games.
Comments are closed.