The Notre Dame Fighting Irish played their best game of the season on Saturday. The Irish pulled off a surprising upset of No. 22 Arizona State, winning 37-34.
The win nearly got the Irish back in the Top 25, and dropped the Sun Devils out of the rankings.
This was by far the most complete game that the Irish played all season. We saw the return of Good Tommy Rees (after his disastrous performance against Oklahoma) and the defense playing at an extremely high level.
The win improved the Irish to 4-2 and kept alive the hopes of playing in a good bowl game at the end of the season.
But its not all good news for Notre Dame. Starting inside linebacker Jarrett Grace and wide receiver Daniel Smith are both done for the season. Losing Smith won’t affect this team all that much, he’s had just one reception this season. Losing Grace is a huge blow to the Irish.
Grace had to stay in Dallas to have surgery on a broken fibula and before the injury he was led the team with 40 tackles. Losing him will test an already thin position talent wise. The play of the middle linebackers hasn’t been all that great this season, but without Grace it will likely plummet.
Luckily, the Irish have the next week off to recover and find a viable option at the position.
Here’s our thoughts on the ASU game:
- Defensive Superiority. Giving up 427 yards and 34 points is bad, but those stats aren’t as bad as they look. One touchdown came off an interception return for a touchdown, and another came in garbage time with Notre Dame largely in a prevent defense (even if ASU had recovered the onside kick, they would have had 11 seconds left to score). That drops the ASU score down to 20. Couple that with three forced turnover (including a game sealing interception return for a touchdown) and it makes for a dominant day despite the score.
- The defensive line was magnificent. This is the line play that the Irish have been missing all season. Five sacks, three of which came from Prince Shembo, and a pair of QB hits from Stephon Tuitt is more than enough to get a quarterback like Taylor Kelly off his mark.
- Good Tommy. Rees has been all over the place this season. Last week he was horrible against Oklahoma. Fortunately, he bounced back against the Sun Devils. Anytime your QB throws three touchdowns, its probably a good day. What it troubling about Rees is a) his completion percentage (under 50-percent) and b) the interception in the fourth quarter. Rees has to be more consistent with his throws and the play calling (too many empty sets, especially when your running the ball well) needs to allow for more high percentage passes. His pick-six to open the fourth quarter let ASU back in the game. A long drive, even for a field goal or to flip field position, would have salted this game away, but a Tony Romo-esq interception gave the Sun Devils a fighting chance. Rees followed it up with two drives ending in field goals and was thankfully bailed out by his defense.
- Rees should owes his running backs and offensive line big time. The line didn’t give up a single sack and he was hit just one time. Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson took a lot of pressure off Rees with their hard running. The Irish amassed 145 yards on the ground, more than enough to keep the defense honest. That’s two weeks in a row that the Irish have have solid days rushing the ball. Notre Dame should keep running the ball and turn Rees into a game manager.
- Freshman Phenom. 5-star freshman Jaylon Smith had his best game of the season Saturday. The outside linebacker led the team with nine tackles. He also had a tackle for a loss (and helped on another TFL), a forced fumble, and broke up a pass. It was an outstanding game and an indicator of greatness to come in the future.
- Too Many Penalties. The Irish were flagged nine times on Saturday. Five times in the first half, mostly for procedural errors like false starts. These are silly penalties that are easy to rectify and the Irish are lucky that the penalties only cost them 64 yards.
Quality wins against talented opponents have been non-existent this season. The dream of a BCS bowl is very much alive with a 4-2 record.
The Irish have the week off, and will host USC on October 19th.
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