Sep 28, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Troy Niklas (85) celebrates with wide receiver T.J. Jones (7) after scoring a touchdown against the Oklahoma Sooners at Notre Dame Stadium. Oklahoma defeats Notre Dame 35-21. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Week 6 Preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs No. 22 Arizona State Sun Devils


This week, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel to Arlington, Texas to face the No. 22 Arizona State Sun Devils. The Irish (3-2) face an intriguing matchup against ASU (3-1).

The Sun Devils could easily be 2-2, save for a blown call by the officials against Wisconsin a few weeks ago. Their lone loss of the season was at No. 5 Stanford’s hands.

2013 has not been kind to the Irish, and this rough season isn’t going to get any easier. ASU presents a lot of challenges the Irish have faced in recent weeks: dynamic passing attack, mobile QB, and a fast paced offense. That doesn’t bode well for Notre Dame.

Here’s what to watch for:

  • Stop the Taylor Kelly. The Sun Devils are mediocre at running the ball, averaging 143 yards per game. But their passing attack is beyond prolific. Kelly has passed for at least 300 yards in each of his starts this season and has 11 passing touchdowns (and just four interceptions). He isn’t generally a threat to run the ball, but had 79 yards rushing off four carries against USC last week. Notre Dame’s defense has been up and down this season. When facing a talented passer, the secondary has wilted and the pass rush has failed to show up. One of those two units has to perform at a high level for the Irish to have success on Saturday.
  • Slow the Offense. ASU runs a no-huddle, fast paced offense that scores a ton of points. The Sun Devils are currently 12th in the country in scoring, averaging 44.3 points per game. They are also averaging 505 yards per game. The offense is well above average on third down, converting 43-percent of the time, but they averaging 26 first downs per game. Getting ASU into a third down, any third down, will be key. ASU won’t beat teams with big plays, but rather prefers to dink and dunk their way down the field at a fast rate. The Irish have been vulnerable to this type of offense before, especially with the middle linebackers giving up the middle of the field.
  • Good Tommy. Quarterback Tommy Rees has been up and down this season, most notably he’s been down against quality opponents like Michigan and Oklahoma. Notre Dame can’t afford for him to have a multiple turnover game again versus ASU. Giving Kelly a short field will result in death for the Irish. If the Sun Devils are spotted 14 points in the first quarter, this game will look a lot like last week’s. ASU is very good at forcing turnovers and has 10 takeaways through four games. Its not just Rees who needs to play well, the offensive line has to give him time and keep him upright. When he’s forced to move, Rees’ accuracy plummets and the offense grinds to a halt. ASU has a solid secondary that is allowing less than 200 yards passing per game. The pressure is on for Rees to have a good game.
  • Run the Ball. The Irish finally found their rushing attack last week and ran the ball for 220 yards against Oklahoma. If there’s one glaring weakness the Sun Devils have, its run defense. ASU is giving up 192.3 rushing yards per game. The Irish have the personnel to pound the ball, but haven’t been able to do so very often this season. ASU is ripe for a ground assault, and success there will take the pressure off Rees. A good ground game will allow Rees to use more play action and limit his passing attempts.
  • Coach Killers. Following a 62-41 drubbing of USC, the Trojans fired head coach Lane Kiffin. The Sun Devils had an unreal 28-point third quarter that sealed victory. Based on how USC athletic director Pat Haden handled Kiffin’s firing (cutting him loose before the team got back on the plane), its surprising Kiffin was allowed to coach the fourth quarter. None of this is to say that Brian Kelly would lose his job after the game, but the Sun Devils surely enjoy beating a team so badly they fire their coach.

Notre dame has had its struggle this season, and those old issues are unlikely to be solved this week. ASU is a very good team, and not just because they’re in the top 25. The Sun Devils will be able to exploit the weaknesses of the Irish defense and I don’t trust Rees to win a big game.

I see Rees attempting to lead a game winning (or tying drive) and throwing another interception.

Notre Dame falls once again, 35-28.

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