Where is this game being played?
Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
4:30 PM (PT) on NBC.
Arizona State is favored by six points (-6)
What should I watch for when Arizona State has the ball?
The key for Arizona State will be giving Taylor Kelly enough time to deliver the ball because once ASU gets the ball in the air they should be able to score some points. Now, Notre Dame's defense is no joke featuring one of the best defensive fronts in the nation led by future first round picks Louis Nix III and and Stephon Tuitt. Notre Dame has made a living in recent years on controlling the line of scrimmage and having all other levels of the defense feed off their line. The weak spot in Notre Dame's defense is their secondary that plays the ball atrociously in the air. The one thing Notre Dame has consistently struggled with is their defensive backs constantly playing the receiver instead of the ball and giving up long completions and/or pass interference penalties on deep jump balls. This is particularly bad news for Notre Dame this week as they prepare to face Jaelen Strong. At 6'3'' and 210 pounds with explosive athleticism, Strong is a mismatch against any opposing secondary but especially against the Irish.
Notre Dame's best cover corner is sophomore KeiVarae Russell who will likely garner the match up against Strong. Russell is generously listed at 5'11'' and will be giving up at least four inches and 20 pounds to Strong so it will be critical for Russell to be able to jam him and slow him up at the line at least a little bit and for Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to have a safety over the top against Strong at all times. The hope for Notre Dame lies in their defensive front and their ability to make ASU one dimensional. As much of a mismatch as Strong is, it's a lot easier to play him on 3rd and 10 with a safety covering him deep. Arizona State's offensive line needs to step up and handle Nix and Tuitt as well as linebackers Carlo Calabrese and Prince Shembo.
Whether or not Arizona State's offensive line can hold up is unforeseeable. So far this year the Sun Devils were manhandled up front by a premier defensive line in the form of Stanford but controlled the game for 60 minutes against USC's vaunted front line. Will the O-line that got embarrassed by Stanford or the one that pushed around USC show up on Saturday? We will have to wait to find out but the answer to that question is the key factor that will decide the outcome of this game. As great a tailback as Marion Grice is he can't run without any holes up front and Kelly can't deliver the ball to Strong or any receivers for that matter if he's flat on his back. If the Sun Devils can get 1st and 2nd down yards from Grice and allow Kelly to stand in the pocket unharrassed on 3rd down, they will win this game.
The reason Notre Dame needs its defensive line to succeed is because their offense is nowhere near good enough to keep pace if they don't. Offense has been an enormous struggle for Notre Dame in recent years especially in the passing game. QB Tommy Rees is a below average passer at best who is erratic with his accuracy, possesses merely average arm strength, and has an unfortunate tendency to force ill-advised passes into coverage at very inopportune moments in games. Notre Dame needs to prevent Tommy Rees from beating them and they do that by not letting him beat the Sun Devils. Notre Dame is a running team anyway but on Saturday they need to call a run/pass ratio that's more in line with Georgia tech or Air Force than it is with Notre Dame.
Running the ball is the identity of Notre Dame's offense and defending the run has been the bane of ASU's existence. The Sun Devils have allowed 231, 240, and 247 yards on the ground in their past three games. The Sun Devils are still without their best run stopper in DT Jaxon Hood and that means Notre Dame has a big opportunity. Notre Dame does not have any tailbacks who have proven to be as dynamic as Melvin Gordon or Tre Madden but they are good enough to run on the Sun Devils. The Irish need to run, run, run, and run some more. When they seem tired of running, they should keep running and if they think about passing they should stop thinking that way and keep running.
If Notre Dame gets possessed into thinking they should pass or if they struggle to run they are screwed. ASU loves obvious passing situations where Will Sutton and Carl Bradford can collapse the pocket. This is particularly dangerous against a QB like Rees who will throw soft passes into coverage when pressured for Alden Darby and company to intercept.
Ty Hildenbrandt of the Solid Verbal, a boisterous Notre Dame fan said on his show this week that ASU is at least 10-14 points better than Notre Dame on a neutral field right now and he tends to have a very good feel for his favorite team. Hildenbrandt is right because the Sun Devils should be able to go back to the well with Jaelen Strong over and over again. Even though Notre Dame's running attack should be productive in moving both the ball and the clock but constant running and no passing is not the way to keep up with an explosive ASU offense even if it is Notre Dame's only chance. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is 2-12 at Notre Dame when opposing teams score at least 21 points. Whether it's scoring himself or hauling a long pass to eventually set up a score for someone else, the Strong mismatch alone should be good for at least three touchdowns. Go ahead and lay the points as Arizona State wins this one 35-24.