Saturday’s game between the twenty-second ranked Arizona State and unranked Notre Dame is the fifth iteration of the off-site “home” games known as The Shamrock Series. It will be played at AT&T Stadium and those in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area can expect a full slate of events showcasing every aspect of the University, from free band concerts to a lecture on the saints in the stained glass. The only thing you cannot expect is a win, for in the Sun Devils, the Irish will have to contend with the highest-octane offense they’ve met all season, one that can claim Lane Kiffin’s scalp, and possibly his house, for its trophy case.
Coming into Saturday’s tilt, the Sun Devils are fresh on the heels of a gaudy sixty-two point, 612 total yard offensive tour de force against what was, at the time, the fourth-ranked defense in the nation. The Irish are a team adrift, with questions on both sides of the football, none bigger than the ones emanating from the quarterback position.Whether he was off the mark or his receivers were out of step, Tommy Rees suffered a horror start against Oklahoma, tossing three interceptions, two of which came in his first three attempts. Yet, somehow, the Irish were in the game until the end.
Though the USC game was tremendous, Arizona State’s other games have been less so. Their win over Wisconsin was as controversial and stupid as any. They got thumped squarely by Stanford, losing 42-28. In their opener against the Big Sky’s Sacramento State, State’s defense shut them out while the offense put up fifty-five.
It may be wrong to put too much stock in AZ State’s game against USC, as the Trojans clearly gave up the ghost at some point before the final whistle. Whether that moment occurred during the game or during the weeks and practices preceding is anyone’s guess, though USC AD Pat Haden’s decision to fire Kiffy-kins at the airport may help answer that question. Still, USC’s defense is/was pretty good, and they got boat-raced. Given the issues the Irish have had with short- to mid-range passing plays to date, you can expect the Sun Devils prolific scoring to continue unless and until the Irish can bring pressure to State’s redshirt junior quarterback, the “precise,” to borrow Coach Brian Kelly’s descriptor, Taylor Kelly.
And, if the Irish are somehow able to contain the pass, they must contend with a very solid dual-threat out of the backfield in Marion Grice, who leads all players with twelve touchdowns, eight of which have come running the ball and four through the air. Even worse, Notre Dame faces an opposing head coach who is very familiar with the Irish. Todd Graham, one of college football’s “one-and-done” villains, having left both Rice (2006) and Pitt (2011) after one season, is perhaps most known to Irish fans for knocking off Notre Dame in 2010 when he was at the helm of Tulsa.
In sum, the Sun Devils are a dangerous foe wearing new helmets being played at a neutral site at what is frankly a bad moment in time for Notre Dame, with the Irish coming off a rough loss and missing an important member of their defense for the first half due to a now-definitive targeting penalty. In his pre-game presser, Coach Kelly referred to his defense as “solid” but “not spectacular” and bemoaned a lack of balance, on that has now flipped with a great running performance against the Sooners paired with a disaster of a passing performance. That said, Coach believes our D is good enough to handle anyone left on the schedule. Saturday’s Shamrock Series game will put that belief to the test.