Inside a temple to our nation’s new gods, athletics and media, the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame defeated the Sun Devils of Arizona State University 37-34. In knocking off a nationally-ranked squad, the Irish gave themselves a critical win going into a bye week and, perhaps, some encouraging signs for the season’s second half. While the offense mostly did its part, it was the Notre Dame defense that doused the blazing Sun Devil offense to make it a game and, ultimately, a win.
Coming into this fifth iteration of the Shamrock Series, in which the Irish moved to 5-0, ASU had one of the more prolific offenses and was fresh on the heels of a sixty plus point shellacking of the USC Trojans. Notre Dame, on the other hand, was a team fighting for leadership on the field and in the locker-room, fighting turnovers, fighting to get the other team off the field, and fighting a withering storm of, at times, personal and vitriolic, criticism from its own fans. While last night’s win may not have been a strategic victory on all fronts, the case can be made that some of the fights were won inside the dome of decadence in Arlington.
Prince Shembo, whom I picked as the player to watch this season on defense, held a pass-rush clinic, netting three sacks against a very mobile, agile quarterback in ASU’s Taylor Kelly. The Irish D, overall, had six sacks and essentially shut down the Sun Devils’ running game, giving up only 65 yards. Notre Dame was also able to come up with turnovers at critical times, notably a Dan Fox interception and touchdown that should have iced the game at 37-27, with the PAT for you readers paying overly-close attention, and should have made the remaining minute sixteen a relaxing moment to finish your vodka and soda with limes.
But, it wasn’t, for as really good as the defense looked on most plays, ASU’s final drive was positively baffling. Starting on their own 25 with 1:08 on the clock, the Sun Devils moved down the field and into the endzone in under one minute and just seven plays, to make the score 37-34. That put the onus of victory on the hands team, and they and TJ Jones were up to the challenge.
In fact, outside of Kyle Brindza’s first FG attempt, which struck and badly injured a shopper in the stadium’s Victoria’s Secret, and a “punt” from Alex Wulfeck that Gisele Bundchen thought was kicked by a girl, the case can be made that ND’s special teams rose to the occasion in Arlington. Brindza connected from 53, to grab a host of superlative accolades, and had a 53-yard punt downed at the 1, which set up Dan Fox’s interception one play later.
On offense, Tommy Rees and the boys did enough to get the win. Tommy’s 7.3 yards per attempt was better against the Sun Devils than either Stanford or Wisconsin. TJ Jones was terrific and turned in eight catches for 135 yards and the aforementioned on-side kick recovery. Davaris Daniels had a quiet night, as did the backs, though local hero Cam McDaniel turned Irish legend, if you missed those bajillion remarks last night, put in another labor of lumber, accumulating 82 yards on 15 carries. Overall, it was enough to get the W.
So, what made the difference? A noticeably “better” defense? A competent offense that got the necessary first downs and only gave the ball away once? I think, given the circumstances, that the case can be made that, to answer the age-old question, it was, in fact, the shoes.