(Photo: Allyson Cummings/WCSN)
The Arizona State Sun Devils scored four touchdowns in a 7:07 span between the first and second quarter to completely bury the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a deficit that proved too much to overcome. But it nearly was overcome, as the ASU offense went completely AWOL and scored zero points over a 22-minute span that stretched from the second quarter to the final minutes of the game.
Then suddenly, with the team’s back against the wall, and a three-point lead to protect, Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devils’ offense found life once again and capped a 5-play, 75-yard drive with a touchdown that essentially sealed a victory for ASU. It was the same story in a different week for ASU.
Just one week ago, the Sun Devils scored a touchdown with 7:13 remaining in the second quarter and didn’t score again until 5:47 remained in the fourth quarter and ASU faced a 3-point deficit. One week before that, ASU was shutout for the first 27 minutes of the second half and watched a 10-0 lead disappear before the offense drove 75 yards for a game-winning score.
So when Notre Dame cut 28 points into the 31-point lead built by ASU, the pressure was on the offense to shake off its struggles and come up big, and head coach Todd Graham couldn’t help but be pleased with the result.
“When we got the ball and it was a 3-point game, I stood in front of them and said ‘Let me tell you what championship teams do, they take the ball and they stuff it down the throat and they score,'” Graham said. “And that’s exactly what they did. I was pretty impressed with that.”
Graham spent the week of practice prior to the game describing Kelly as a “winner” who just finds a way to come up big when the team needs him most. That was true again on Saturday.
Still, the habit of struggling until the game is on the line likely isn’t the best one for a national championship contender to have.
“We have been in this position multiple times this year,” ASU running back D.J. Foster said. “When it gets toward the end of the game and when we are in a rough patch, we need to get things going. Our leaders, team and coaches knew what we had to do.”
Graham said that the team’s multiple close games earlier in the year provided the team with the experience and maturity to deal with the situation. He admitted the second half momentum swing had him nervous, though.
“I don’t want to say panic, but yeah I think I might’ve been a little panicked,” Graham said. “I kept saying ‘Hey, we’re winning. They’re not winning, we’re winning. We’re still ahead by 10 points.’ I kept saying that because I wanted to make sure they understood that we were ahead because you can feel it.”
Perhaps the only player who said he wasn’t feeling the pressure was Kelly, who remained his unflappable self after the victory.
“Nobody flinched,” Kelly said. “Our defense had our backs and we had theirs. On the sidelines, our coaches (say) keep doing what we’re doing, trust your eyes, trust your fundamentals and our leaders stepped up and made some big plays when we needed to.”
Up next for the ASU offense is a trip to the play the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, Ore. The Beavers entered the weekend ranked 83rd in points allowed, so an offensive lull would be especially concerning from the ASU offense if it happens again. But for now, it’s a fault that the Sun Devils offense has lived with.
You can reach Adam Stites on Twitter @AdamStitesASU or by email firstname.lastname@example.org