Our next Notre Dame opponent preview moves back west to the Pac-12. Last year’s Shamrock Series opponent, Arizona State, is a team that is still on the rise.
Todd Graham has, shockingly, stayed in the same place for three years and it’s clear that he can actually do some good things for a program if he hangs around (sorry, Pitt). Let’s take a closer look at the Sun Devils to see what’s in store for the Irish for their first trip out west in 2014.
Previous Opponent Previews:
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Offense[table “” not found /]
RB DJ Foster is one of the biggest threats to return to Arizona state this season. The junior was the third leading rusher behind departing RB Marion Grace and returning QB Taylor Kelly. Foster was also the second leading receiver behind returning WR Jaelen Strong. With Grace now gone, I would expect those numbers to rise.
With all that the Sun Devils return, I don’t think that they will lose much, if any, momentum on offense this season.
Further, not included in the returning starter list is Auburn transfer Christian Westerman who is projected to start at LG. Westerman was a four-star recruit according to Rivals and Phil Steele has him ranked as he the third best O-lineman in the class of 2011.
Arizona State was a simply dangerous offensive unit in 2013 and I do not expect that to change this season.
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So what do you do when you only have two returning starters coming back on your defense? If you’re Notre Dame, you hope that your recruiting class is incredibly strong or that you’ve built some depth the past few years. You hope that a freshman can step up or an upperclassman has a breakthrough.
If you’re anyone else in college football, you sign JUCOs to plug in the gaps.
And that’s exactly what Arizona state has done the past couple of years. Three of their JUCO signees from this year are expected to start (1 DL, 1 LB, 1 DB). One their two returning starters is a JUCO signee from last season (SS Damarious Randall) and other JUCO signee from last season is expected to start (DE Marcus Hardison).
That brings the total to 5 JUCO starters with 1 returning starter, LB Salamo Fiso, a true sophomore, taking the field for Arizona State this season.
That’s not a young and inexperienced defense. That’s a group of players looking to make the most of their chance to player college football at the highest level.
What to Expect
Honestly, a lot will depend on the health of the defense by this point. Hopefully, no knees fall victim to Navy the week prior, allowing the much needed rest the defense gets from the pre-Navy bye week to hold.
Why is that so important? Simply put, Arizona State will be one of the most dangerous offensive units that ND will face in 2014. The Irish will need a solid defensive performance to hold Arizona State at bay. Remember, a large part of why the Irish got a Shamrock Series victory against the Sun Devils in 2013 was because of the defense putting together a season high six sack performance to neutralize Kelly and his weapons. Causing three tunrovers, including a game-clinching INT (regardless of whether you think Dan Fox should have taken a knee or gotten his TD) certainly helped.
If the defense can’t repeat a 2013 performance, this game has all the makings of a shootout that would make defensive coordinators cringe.
Worst case scenario: the defense is banged-up, the offense struggles, and there will be blood everywhere in Tempe.
Study Your Enemy
Read about these Devils here: