Like a bloodied fighter ASU picked themselves up off the mat and finished with a late-round TKO. After racing out to a 34-3 lead, they held off a furious Notre Dame rally to beat the Fighting Irish 55-31 at a rowdy Sun Devil Stadium. With the win ASU improves to 8-1, 3-1. The Irish fall to 7-2.
Here are five things we learned in the win.
1. Tale of Two Halves, Survive and Advance…no one will be misled into thinking the final score was any indication of how close this was to a colossal meltdown by Todd Graham, Mike Norvell and the entire Sun Devil team. With that being said, the Devils are essentially in a single-game elimination playoff. Quarterback Taylor Kelly was again both good and, at times, not so good but–as was the case in wins over Washington and Utah, he made the plays when he has to finishing 17-28 for 224 yards and three touchdowns. He also added a late 2-yard rushing touchdown to ice the game.
“It’s huge getting a win on a national stage like that,” said Kelly after the game. “It’s big time for this program and where it’s headed…We came together as a family tonight even more.”
2. Fool’s Golson?…it was as if Graham and the ASU defense were sitting in the Notre Dame offensive huddle in the first half. As has been the trend in 2014, the blitzing and scheming continued confusing Notre Dame’s talented duel-threat quarterback Everett Golson. ASU pressured with cornerbacks and linebackers forcing a fumble and two first half interceptions, the second which was snagged off a deflection by safety Damarious Randall and taken back 59 yards putting ASU up 23-3 early in the second quarter. Senior defensive lineman Marcus Hardison spent most of the day in the Irish backfield registering a sack, an interception and tipping the pass Randall snagged near the ASU sideline. Golson did everything in his power picking apart the ASU secondary for the entire second half but the 31-point deficit was eventually too much to overcome. He finished with over 400 yards passing but threw four interceptions and was sacked seven times.
“He was the biggest challenge we’ve had to this point,” said Graham of Golson. “If you mess up, he is going to make you pay…If we could get him moving forward in the pocket, that’s what we were trying to get him to do.”
3. Sack Lunch…The Sun Devils registered six of those sacks…by halftime. What’s even more impressive was the six sacks were by six different players. The ASU secondary not only blitzed effectively but mostly neutralized the Irish receivers throughout the day-providing effective coverage and allowing Hardison, Demetrious Cherry and Tashon Smallwood to work effectively in the first half.
“So far that was one of our best games,” said Hardison of his defense. “But we are only getting better.”
4. The Force Is Strong…there were no shortage of heroes but Sun Devil Nation needs to enjoy the skills of Jaelen Strong over the next two months before he’s wearing an NFL jersey next fall. The junior used Saturday and the national platform to showcase his skill set, hi-lighted by a pretty one-handed, 13-yard scoring snag in the end zone which kick-started ASU’s 34-point first-half. He finished the game with five receptions for 58 yards and the touchdown. He was limited for most of the second half from cramps.
5. Big Game Hunters…when Graham arrived at ASU just less than three years ago he promised Pac-12 Championships, Rose Bowls and playing big in big games. He’s already accomplished two of three and the Devils’ accension has caught the attention of all of the college football world. The ASU-can’t-win-a-big-game-critics have again been silenced as the Devils’ knocked off their fourth ranked opponent (USC, Stanford, Utah, Notre Dame) this season and still likely control their own destiny.
“This was kind of that hump that we needed to get over,” mentioned D.J. Foster. “To make our name nationally. At the end of the day, it was just another game, but we knew we had to get this win to impress some people.”
“It is different because it’s Notre Dame,” added Graham. “To go 7-1 (vs) 7-1 at home and to see Sun Devil Nation come out the way they did, if I’m being honest with you, this one means more to me than anything that’s happened since we’ve been here because of who that team is that we beat.”