Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Game Preview and Prediction

This is a matchup between two teams moving in opposite directions. Notre Dame dropped out of the top 25 with a 35-21 loss against Oklahoma, while Arizona State moved back in with a convincing 62-41 win over USC.

The Fighting Irish had just 102 passing yards last week, while the Sun Devils racked up 351 passing yards. Arizona State’s offense has been lethal this season, especially through the air. The Sun Devils have thrown for at least 350 yards in all four games and recorded 612 total yards and 62 points on USC last week.

Notre Dame averages just 25.4 points per game, good for one spot below USC at 85th in the nation. Arizona State is 11th in the country, averaging 44.3 points per game. Under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame is 2-12 when allowing an opponent to score 21 or more.

The game will be played at AT&T Stadium, otherwise known as Jerry's World, in Arlington, Texas. This matchup is the fifth edition of the annual Shamrock Series, in which the Fighting Irish get a chance to showcase its football program to fans across the country in a weekend festival of all things Notre Dame. Since its inception in 2009, games have been played in San Antonio, New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. They are 4-0 all-time in these games, outscoring opponents 112-38. The Irish are 2-0 all-time against the Sun Devils, last defeating ASU in 1999 by a score of 48-17.

Three Things to Watch

Notre Dame's Rushing Offense

The Notre Dame ground game has been dismal this year. The Irish has been held to less than 100 rushing yards against Michigan State, Michigan, and Purdue, after finishing last season ranked in the upper half of the FBS in rushing offense. They turned things around last week against Oklahoma, as George Atkinson III rushed for a season-high 148 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Brian Kelly should look to give the Sun Devils a heavy dose of his trio of backs in Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle, and Cam McDaniel as Arizona State currently ranks 78th in the nation in rushing defense. The Sun Devils gave up over 230 yards to both Wisconsin and Stanford this year and are allowing an average of 174 yards per game on the ground. Atkinson III has the type of speed and size that gives Arizona State's defense problems. Additional benefits of a strong rushing performance for Notre Dame are that it keeps the game out of Tommy Rees' hands and serves to keep the high-flying Arizona State offense off the field. Arizona State is one of the quickest tempo teams in the entire nation and keeping them on the sidelines and out of rhythm will be key.

ASU Offensive Line vs. ND Defensive Line

Arizona State has had trouble running the football as well. Aside from last week's 261-yard rushing outburst, the Sun Devils averaged just 83 total rushing yards in their two previous games. The ASU offensive line can be blamed for these numbers as they have struggled in both pass protection and run blocking. They will be facing an extremely talented defensive front for the Irish, led All-American defensive linemen in nose guard Louis Nix III and end Stephon Tuitt.  Both have struggled with consistency this year and appeared to regress a bit. Despite this, both are extremely talented and more than capable of wrecking havoc on the Sun Devils run game, while pressuring quarterback Taylor Kelly.

Turnover Tommy

Tommy Rees has been extremely up-and-down this season. Last week, he was down. His two interceptions on consecutive first quarter drives against Oklahoma set up the Sooners' first two scores. Overall, he threw three interceptions against Oklahoma. In the Notre Dame's two biggest games this year - Oklahoma and Michigan - Rees threw five interceptions and completed just 50 percent of his passes. The last two weeks he has thrown for just 246 yards on 40 percent passing, with one touchdown and three interceptions. If the Irish are to have any chance to match the high-octane Sun Devils' offense, Rees cannot turn the ball over. With an even deadlier offense than Oklahoma, the Sun Devils will waste no time in getting points off of Notre Dame mistakes.

Key Player: Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State

Grice has scored 12 touchdowns from scrimmage this season with eight rushing and four receiving. No other FBS player has more than nine this season. In fact, in the last 10 seasons, that ties the most for any player through his first four games. The focal point of ASU's offense, Grice makes the machine that is Todd Graham's offense go.

Final Analysis

Notre Dame hasn't impressed most experts all that much this year. The defense has been disappointing. The offense looks stagnant, and quarterback Tommy Rees chokes when asked to make big plays. On the other hand, Arizona State is one of the most exciting teams to watch in the nation, with an offensive pace perhaps only second to Oregon. Expect Notre Dame to hang with the Sun Devils until halftime, but like last week, the Sun Devils will open things up with some big third quarter plays. Through five games this season, the Irish have already allowed 10 passing touchdowns. Taylor Kelly will light up the Dallas sky with a big passing game. With a win, Arizona State will become the first school to ever beat USC and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks.

Prediction: Arizona State 37, Notre Dame 21

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