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Sun Devils fall to the Fighting Irish

(Photo: ASU Athletics)

In a game that didn’t feel like it should’ve been as close as it was, Arizona State lost to Notre Dame, 37-34 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Sun Devils started good, then fell apart in the middle of the game.

Somehow, Arizona State battled back and tied it late, before Notre Dame marched for a field goal. The Fighting Irish then held on in a wild final five minutes.

It was over when: Taylor Kelly threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown with 1:08 remaining. The Sun Devils started at their own 1-yard line after a beautiful 53-yard punt by Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza.  On the first play, with Arizona State trailing by a field goal and one timeout remaining, Kelly faked to Grice, was pressured and threw a strike to Dan Fox, a Notre Dame linebacker. Fox went untouched for a 14-yard return touchdown.

Sure, Arizona State scored another touchdown in the final minute, and yes, they almost recovered an onside kick with ten seconds left, but you can’t rely on fluke plays like an onside kick to win a football game.

The worst part about the interception was the play call.  There is no reason to run a play-action pass, from your own endzone nonetheless, with just over a minute to play while trailing.  Why not throw the back-shoulder fade to Jaelen Strong?  He made big plays all night, but ASU simply forgot about him late.

Player of the Game: Prince Shembo will be in Taylor Kelly’s nightmares tonight. He might be there for a week. Shembo had three of Notre Dame’s six sacks. The Sun Devils’ offensive line had actually held up pretty well all season, including against great fronts at Stanford and last week against USC. But Notre Dame was a different story, and Shembo was a big reason for that.

Biggest Concern: Arizona State still hasn’t proved it can win a big game away from Sun Devil Stadium. Notre Dame is a good team. They aren’t better than Stanford, would probably lose to Wisconsin at a neutral site, and I’d bet USC gives them a run for their money next week. The Sun Devils held Tommy Rees to under 50% completions, held the Irish to under 5 yards per carry, and scored 34 points. And yet here we are; yet another disappointing, late loss, in a game that was winnable.

The Sun Devils failed to convert two good drives into touchdowns early in the game. They turned it over at inopportune times. Rick Smith still can’t hold onto the football, and the Sun Devils still don’t have a punter. The little things will kill you in a game like this. Tonight, they killed Arizona State.

Unsung Hero: Damarious Randall finally got his first start at field safety, and he responded.  Randall led all players with 17 tackles, including 9 unassisted. He had a big stop in the backfield late in the game and made the two biggest hits of the game.

Unfortunately, Randall will probably be remembered for what he didn’t do. Randall dropped an interception on the final drive of the first half.  Rees threw a long, floating ball down the sideline. Randall jumped it and was gone, if he would’ve held onto the ball. Instead, the ball bounced harmlessly to the turf, and the Sun Devils watched as Rees picked them apart, leading the Irish to a touchdown that gave them a 14-13 halftime lead.

Stat of the Game: 0. The Sun Devils had zero sacks. 0. ZERO. Am I making this clear? The Arizona State Sun Devils, with Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Todd Graham’s scheme somehow had no sacks in a game that saw Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees drop back to pass 38 times. 0-for-38 on the night. That is unacceptable, and painful if you root for the Sun Devils.

What’s Next? Arizona State returns home for Colorado, the worst team in the Pac-12. This should be good news for the Sun Devils, who can get some things worked out on both sides of the ball. Freshman wide receiver Cameron Smith, who had two receptions today, should get all of the playing times in place of Rick Smith, who doesn’t deserve to be on the field at this point. On defense, Randall will have another week to learn schemes, and who knows, maybe we see the debut of freshman Marcus Ball, who has warmed up for the games two weeks in a row, but is still in a non-contact jersey at practice. Arizona State needs to shred the Buffaloes in order to regain some confidence and momentum heading into the Washington game.

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