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Pregame Six Pack: Shamrocks and Sun Devils

Oct 4, 2013, 9:25 AM EST

Prince Shembo AP

A Shamrock Series game is usually known for its alternate location and nontraditional uniforms. But when Notre Dame and Arizona State battle in primetime on Saturday night, it might also decide the season. As the Irish take on Todd Graham’s dangerous Sun Devils squad, Notre Dame is likely playing for their BCS lives. A win pushes the Irish to 4-2 heading into their bye week. It’ll likely also reinvigorate the Irish before taking on a wayward USC team, optimistically leading them into a stretch of football games that could get the Irish finally playing up to their potential.

Of course, after watching the Sun Devils blow USC out in the second half, Las Vegas has the Irish as almost a touchdown underdog tomorrow night, leading to the very real possibility that Notre Dame could be .500 after Saturday night, a disappointment at every level, with a bumpy road still ahead.

While the Irish aren’t ranked after two September losses, there are still national implications to Saturday night’s game. It’s time for the pregame six pack. Here are six tidbits, leftovers, fun facts, and miscellaneous musings before the Irish take on the Sun Devils.

***

After two tight games with Todd Graham, Brian Kelly is going to need to bring his best on Saturday night. 

Neither guy wearing the headset is playing the game. (It’s tough to call what Graham wears on the sideline a headset, but you get the idea.) Yet the chess match between Brian Kelly and Todd Graham is one to watch. Both Graham and Kelly are well regarded coaches, with both thought to be incredibly ambitious. That ambition has put both coaches in some tough spaces, with Graham making more than a few eyebrow raising moves in his career, walking away from two head coaching jobs after just a single season on the job. Kelly is equally ambitious, leaving two programs before their season was over and shocking many when he spoke with the Philadelphia Eagles just a day after losing the national championship.

After Graham stole a victory away from Kelly when Tulsa came in and shocked the Irish, Kelly won ugly at Pittsburgh. The rubber match is a game both coaches desperately need, and one that’ll likely define the trajectory of each team’s season.

***

Playing another defense that’s going to challenge him with man coverage, can Tommy Rees get back on track?

It’s been a tough couple weeks for Tommy Rees. No stat has defined that more than his completion percentage, with Rees struggling to even sniff 50 percent passing against Michigan State and Oklahoma. Heading into the season as the school’s most accurate passer in its history, Rees’s numbers just don’t make sense, even when you consider that the Irish have pushed the ball down field more aggressively than they had ever in the past.

On his weekly appearance on SiriusXM’s College Football Playbook with Jack Arute and former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, Kelly was asked pointedly about Rees’s struggles, and he gave this window into the varying reasons.

“It’s all man to man coverage, the last two weeks has been straight man to man. Part of it has been, you’re not getting any cupcake throws,” Kelly told Arute and Neuheisel. “So he’s got to be able to connect at probably a 55 percent completion ratio.

“In our estimation, he missed his last seven in a row late in the game on some basic stuff. He had three of them knocked down,  two of them on poor routes, and one of them where we got pushed back into the pocket. We’re talking about a little bit of everything. Not being accurate enough in man to man coverage. We’re talking about a number of young receivers not getting open in man coverage, not doing a good job of stair stepping or coming off rubs or making tough catches in man to man coverage, and that’s all adding up to a poor completion percentage rating.”

Here’s how Rees has faired against Todd Graham’s defense:

33 of 54 for 334 4 TD, 3 INT
24 of 41 for 215 1 TD, 1 INT

That’s a 60 percent completion number, which falls into the accuracy range Kelly wants for his quarterback. But if Rees is throwing more than 40 times on Saturday night, the Irish are in trouble.

***

Slowing down Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devils offense is key. But keep an eye on the hidden yardage as well. 

In a game where some Sun Devils players thought they could’ve put up 80 points, a big key to Arizona State’s 62-point explosion was field position. Todd Graham’s troops started in plus territory three times against USC, while the Trojans never started on the Sun Devil’s side of the fifty.

There’s a stark contrast in field position for Graham’s squads when it comes to wins and losses. In victories, the average starting field position has been the team’s own 37.4 yard line, while in losses its been their own 23.7.

As Kyle Brindza gets more comfortable handling kickoffs and punts, with Alex Wulfeck working in as a situational punter, forcing the Sun Devils to go the distance on their scoring drives will be key if the Irish are going to keep ASU’s points down.

***

Hidden Yardage is cool and all, but getting off the field is imperative. 

Apologies to Brindza and Wulfeck, but neither guy is getting the game ball this Saturday night for his punting. If the Irish are going to win this football game they’re going to need to get off the field on third down.

Right now, Notre Dame’s defense ranks a wretched 91st in the country on third downs, allowing opponents to convert at better than a 42 percent clip. That’s helped opponents extend drives, score points, and win football games.

Tim Prister of IrishIllustrated.com took a look at one of the big differences between this defense and last year’s edition, with this group already giving up ten touchdown drives of 75-yards or more.

No statistic is more startling than the number of long scoring drives surrendered by the Irish in five games this year. Temple equaled the number of 75-yard touchdown drives from the previous season in the first half of the first game.

Michigan added four more lengthy touchdown drives of 77, 75, 78 and 75 yards. Purdue had a pair of 75-yarders. Michigan State added another. Oklahoma had two, including an 88-yard drive late in the first half.

In 20 quarters of football so far this season, Notre Dame’s defense has allowed 10 – repeat, 10 – touchdown drives of 75 yards or more. Michigan State also had a 15-play, 75-yard field-goal drive and Oklahoma had a nine-play 65-yard field-goal drive.

A lot of factors go into these struggles — pass rush issues, struggles with man coverage, ill-timed blitzes. But Kelly thinks his defense is close. We’ll find out Saturday night if he’s right.

***

As the season rounds into its second act, freshmen are starting to step forward.

Don’t look know, but that heralded recruiting class Notre Dame landed is going to be called on to start helping win some football games. While some expect Brian Kelly to plug and play elite recruits, that just hasn’t been this coaching staff’s m.o. while in South Bend. Yet slowly but surely, a group many thought was among the best in the country on paper have started to make their presence felt on the field as well.

Let’s take a look at the freshmen that’ll likely be playing a key role on Saturday night:

Jaylon Smith — Starting OLB will carry the load for much of the game with Ben Councell suspended for the first half.
Tarean Folston — Atkinson’s breakout was great, but Folston might have moved into the No. 2 role.
Will Fuller — He’s had catches now in back to back games.
Isaac Rochelle — With Sheldon Day still struggling with an ankle injury, Rochelle’s been called into action early.
Cole Luke — The team’s starting nickel back, Luke will be facing a dangerous offense that plays just ten minutes from his Arizona home.
Corey Robinson — Averaging over 16 yards on his four catches. Is a red zone look coming next?
Steve Elmer — Already a versatile substitute on a group with plenty of depth.
James Onwualu — Yet to make his first catch, Onwualu has been physical blocking and on special teams.
Devin Butler — Another freshman that’s climbed the depth chart, Butler’s getting significant reps in coverage packages.
Max Redfield — The fourth safety on the two-deep, Redfield’s close to seeing the field.

***

Stanford supplied the recipe for beating Arizona State. Now the Irish need to try and replicate it. 

Three fourth quarter touchdowns made Arizona State’s 42-28 loss to Stanford look much more respectable. But if you’re looking for a recipe for victory, David Shaw’s team provided it. Now it’ll be up to the Irish to try and pull it off themselves.

Step One: Get off to a good start.

Believe it or not, Stanford didn’t score on their first possession. (They missed a 51-yard field goal.) But they did on their second. And their third. And kept their foot on the gas with four first half touchdowns.

Step Two: Make plays behind the line of scrimmage.

The Cardinal defense had three sacks of Taylor Kelly at the Farm, while also chipping in an absurd ten TFLs. (The Irish have 20 on the season, good for 104th in the country.)

Step Three: Run the football to win the game.

After jumping out to a 29-point halftime lead, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan only threw the ball five times in the second half, milking 19 minutes off the clock. Stanford was one carry away from hitting the 50 mark. If Notre Dame can run the ball 40 times Saturday night, they’ll have won the football game.

Step Four: Get Arizona State to turn the football over.

In addition to getting to the quarterback and making plays behind the line of scrimmage, the Cardinal picked off Kelly twice. The first set up Stanford deep in ASU territory and led to the team’s first touchdown. (The second ended the game.)

Against an offense as explosive as the Sun Devil’s, winning the turnover battle will be key.

 

142 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 1:51 AM

    Smitty,
    I’ll be in Star Suite 641 next to the home team coaches box. We have all the Cowboys games and college games every season so I definitely lucked out when this game showed up on the schedule 3 years ago as I’m the ONLY ND guy in our company. Was at the pep rally in Ft Worth tonight with some fellow alums. We get a kick out of some of the rhetoric that comes from the posters on this blog but I’m one of the very few of us who actually posts here although most of us follow Keith here and on twitter. Some of these posters are just too easy to draw offsides but it’s all in good fun as ND fans are just very passionate about their team.

    It’s going to be fun watching the golden domes on the 180′ wide plasma. Been waiting awhile for this one.

    Go Irish!

  2. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 2:03 AM

    I think it’s pretty clear that TJ Jones and Tommy Rees are related:

    “I don’t think we’re asking him to do too much at all,” receiver TJ Jones said. “Our offense is a lot, but Tommy is in my opinion the smartest quarterback in the nation. You could throw as much as you want at him, and he’s going to be able to take it.

    “It’s more everybody working with Tommy. Some of the mistakes may seem like they’re Tommy’s fault, and they’re the receivers’ fault. It’s everybody fine-tuning everything.”

  3. upthera44 - Oct 5, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    Sorry if this has been asked before. But I’m missing the game due to some plans. Is there a way to see a replay? NBC’s website used to have the game available to re-watch, is that still the case?

  4. nudeman - Oct 5, 2013 at 8:33 AM

    Apologize in advance for the double post.

    But I want to make sure Momma Arnold sees this and votes. Mrs. A – please weigh in

    Up for some light reading today, but if getsome gets his mojo on again, I’ll just go knock off War & Peace.
    Dude – JTCNNT (just the cliff’s notes next time)

    Worse debut: Carl Lewis singing the Anthem or getsome99? I post/You decide

  5. 700levelvet - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    “L”

  6. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    You’re just way too easy.

  7. loadofwash - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    Sun Devils 72
    Golden Homers 17

    • papadec - Oct 5, 2013 at 2:37 PM

      In your (wet) dreams, load, in your dreams.

  8. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    I guess I can’t vote for myself from my phone. Do you really make all your posts from an actual computer? Please tell me it’s a tablet or at least a laptop. Otherwise, it will be pretty easy to determine how much time you actually sit behind a desk blogging about a football program for a school that you didn’t actually attend.

  9. yaketyyacc - Oct 5, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    no, it is not true to say, why wouldn’t coaches play their best players. having attended “every” open practice at ND as a student, sorry to report coaches do play players who are subpar to others. why? favoritism, poor choice, or accepting bad advice. I love tommy Rees, and when the next South Bend cop pursues him will chop block the fat lawman so tommy can make good his escape. still, I wouldn’t start him as my first string quarterback, knowing there is better on the bench.
    ok, so we are going to get our heads handed to us today. still, Notre Dame is MY way of life. Go Irish!

  10. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    OK, not to beat a dead horse but after hearing all the great “opinions” from Nudeman and his multiple personalities about the great Jimmy Clausen and the sorry Tommy Rees, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane with some fun facts regarding the pre-Kelly/Rees era. This is only to further my point that a 5 Star QB is not the end all be all to making a Championship team. (I have also just recently learned that Nudeman is in fact Ronaia Tuiososopo so I will only refer to him as “Catfish” moving forward).

    2009 was an optimistic year for ND Nation. Coming off their 1st bowl win in almost 2 decades, albeit against Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl, expectations were sky high considering the talent coming back from the 2008 squad which only lost David Bruton, Maurice Crum, and David Grimes to the NFL. Granted, there were some key injuries along the way but here’s what the Great Jimmy Clausen had as far as teammates:

    Offensive contributors who made it to some level in the NFL:

    Armando Allen
    Robert Hughes
    Golden Tate
    Michael Floyd
    Kyle Rudolph, Inj?
    Tyler Eifert
    Eric Olsen
    Sam Young
    Trevor Robinson

    Defense (the most shocking list of all):

    Kapron Lewis Moore
    Ian Williams
    Darius Fleming
    Manti Te’o
    Robert Blanton
    Jamoris Slaughter
    Darrin Walls
    Harrison Smith
    Kyle McCarthy
    Sergio Brown
    Brian Smith
    Ethan Johnson

    I may be missing one or two, but I think I listed enough to make my point. 12 defensive players who were NFL quality and there are some who still say Jimmy Clausen’s teams had no talent on defense. Then we have 9 more players on offense who were NFL consideration worthy and we say he had no supporting cast. We all knew this was going to be a do or die season for Charlie Weis, yet he and his QB failed to delver. Including a 2nd loss to Navy and another to…UConn?

    Not only was Clausen not able to win the BIG games, he lost games to easy opponents as well. Syracuse, Navy (twice), UConn, shutout against BC in 2008, etc., etc. All good reasons for Charlie Weis’ firing and for JC to get the hell out of South Bend wearing his mink coat in a stretch limo, right?

    So what happens in 2010?
    Golden Tate and Kyle Rudolph bolt for the NFL
    ND’s #1 recruit tragically passes away before stepping on campus
    5 Star golden boy Dayne Crist turns out to be a bust
    4 star backup Andrew Hendrix falls further down the depth chart
    3 star rubber arm true freshman Tommy Rees takes over and reels off 4 straight win including a big win against Utah and Miami in a bowl game

    This is not to say Tommy Rees can throw the ball farther or harder than Jimmy Clausen. This is just offering PERSPECTIVE for the Rees bashers who like to blame Rees for not delivering the title that we so definitively think we’re entitled to. Maybe he’s just a victim of fan despair caused by the travesty of the 2009 season. All I know is, as bad as he is, Rees has won 3 times the number of games than he has lost.

    Maybe we just need to accept the fact that our beloved Irish as a whole is not amongst the NCAA’s elite just yet. It’s still agonizing to lose to UM and even OU, but it’s nothing compared to what happened in 2009. Regardless of our recent shortcomings on the field, ND football is still very special and if you’re not a part of the experience and the history, you just can’t understand it. Stories like Tommy Rees is what makes it special. Polarized individual, underdog, all the drama, etc and he gets to close his chapter at ND on top by overcoming some serious odds. It’s everything that Notre Dame is about. Jimmy Clausen was the opposite of what ND represents.

    Sorry to have bring up old painful s*** like the 2009 season, but considering where we were and where we are today, my hat goes off to Tommy Rees for bridging us to this point and it should serve as a reminder for those who think wins come easy just by having a big arm 2nd round talent for a QB. Been there done that, no thanks.

    • ndfan33 - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      Your argument that Rees is better than Clausen is laughable.

      In fact, Keith should ban you for even suggesting such, because that my friend is offensive!

      • tony34343434 - Oct 5, 2013 at 5:49 PM

        no one loves the irish more than me but lets not make Clausen into a stud. he ushered one of the worst periods in the history of our program. he had two NFL receivers and an NFL tight end and we lost to everyone. lets not change history. again last week as bad as Rees played we were down by 6 with 8 minutes left and they drove down the field for the score, our season is NOT all on Rees.

  11. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    Notre Dame – 34
    ASU – 23

    If somehow Hendrix or Zaire gets their “shot” and plays lights out for us, I’ll be happy as fork and the first to admit that I was wrong.

    Go Irish!

  12. fnc111 - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    What a waste of money. It’s like 40 degrees in Dallas.

    • papadec - Oct 5, 2013 at 2:42 PM

      If you went for the weather – you should have gone to Florida.

  13. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    When in doubt, just rely on the facts. Ok, Catfish?

    • ndfan33 - Oct 5, 2013 at 1:09 PM

      Hypocrite you are

      Convenient of you to give TR all credit for every win he has ever had as a starter, yet never assign him blame/ make excuses/defend him for any of his obvious losses.
      Yet you are quick to use JC losses to show he was inferior to TR as a starting qb at ND.
      I bet JC would have given his left nut for just half the talent TR has had around him.
      Please tell me you aren’t a Notre Dame grad. Yikes

  14. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    Only outside. Inside the stadium is not so bad and I’m sure the roof will be closed. Besides, we’ll be in a climate controlled box.

    • dickasman - Oct 5, 2013 at 4:25 PM

      The focking nipples of asu whore will be hard son !

  15. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    Quite the opposite of a hypocrite actually. I’m not the one who goes on daily tirades against either QB. I only bring up Clausen in the Rees debate because he is the perfect example of why ND Nation should be more objective before ripping Rees apart. It’s ok to state our opinions as “fans”, “alums”, etc and pontificate on things like “Would Andrew Hendrix gives us a better shot at beating Alabama?” but to constantly beat down and boo an underdog with physical limitations who somehow managed to be a starter for parts of 4 seasons is completely unfair. We tried and tried to give the job to someone else but he’s been resilient and there is something to be said for that. Every other QB in his position TRANSFERRED while he stayed “just in case he was needed”.

    My point all along is the Rees haters never put that much heat and blame on Jimmy Clausen, who was the #1 recruit in the nation with MUCH higher expectations. And I just showed you how much talent Clausen had on defense. They “should” have been much better than the defenses of 2011 and 2013. The Clausen era was the most disappointing era in ND football history. Anyone who defends it is obviously bias towards Jimmy Clausen. You show up on campus in a mink coat and a stretch limo, you better produce and leave with no excuses. We couldn’t even get an 8-5 season out him.

    Perspective.

  16. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    But…I will say that it was NOT all Jimmy Clausen’s fault. It was the lack of discipline and causal approach to the game that was instilled by the Head Coach. They were underachievers as a bunch although more 22-23 of them went to the next level.

    2010 and 2011 didn’t have as much talent. 2012 OVERACHIEVED and 2013 is again UNDERACHIEVING. Rees had a bad game against OU no doubt. But this team as a whole could have picked up their game a little and helped us overcome it. That’s what good team do. You can win big games even if your QB doesn’t play perfect football. Nobody stepped up last Saturday. But go ahead and direct all your angry at Tommy Rees. I’m sure he can handle it.

  17. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    Dammit. Sorry for the grammar errors. Stupid iPhone.

  18. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 1:45 PM

    You have the time to do it so go back and check my posts from 2011 when I squared off with you about Tommy Rees then. My point to you then is the same as it is now. When you whine as hard as you do about the QB, you sound entitled and narcissistic as a fan. Which is ok I guess, but understand you are the reason why ND has so many haters. You bash Tommy Rees with so much aggression as if he ruined your football dynasty when in reality he inherited a 4-5 football team that was 16-21 prior to his arrival. So who is the hypocrite?

  19. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    1st day of true of football weather this year here in the Big D. Too bad the game will be played indoors.

    • nudeman - Oct 5, 2013 at 3:33 PM

      I see you’re still at it

      Me? Worked out, played 18, did some cleaning, listened to a 70s special on WXRT (Dead, Allman Bros, Hendrix, Johnny Winter)
      Have a hell of a fine Saturday, thank you.

      And I come back and you’ve dug yourself in deeper .

      I’m OK with it though. God bless you son

  20. c4evr - Oct 5, 2013 at 3:37 PM

    Keith, just curious, what is your definition of ‘ambitious’?

  21. getsome99 - Oct 5, 2013 at 3:42 PM

    Sounds like a charming life. Got too cold and wet to play golf today. Doing some pregame drinking instead and getting ready to head up to Jerry World so we can watch Tommy Rees light it up against your beloved Sun Devils. I’d invite you up but we probably wouldn’t have enough room for you and all of your aliases, Catfish.

    • dickasman - Oct 5, 2013 at 4:27 PM

      What about cocaine n escorts? Is u down?

  22. dsg1616 - Oct 5, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    ND is unranked, why am I seeing this?

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