Game grades for ASU's loss to Notre DamePosted: Updated:
It was a very disappointing performance for the Arizona State Sun Devils in their primetime match-up against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. ASU was often their own worst enemy in a mistake-filled performance that knocked the Sun Devils from the Top 25.
Let's take a look at how each of the position groups graded out on Saturday.
We saw both the good Taylor Kelly and the bad Taylor Kelly against the Irish. One one hand, Kelly was able to throw for 362 yards and three touchdowns. He showed the deft passing touch on several throws, including the perfectly tossed touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong. On the other, we saw plenty of the Kelly that is a different quarterback away from home. Kelly appeared to be rattled under pressure, making several horrible decisions, none worse than the two interceptions in the fourth quarter. Much of that was due to the bad offensive line play, but a player with Kelly's experience needs to know better. He also misfired on several open receivers even when he was given time.
Running Back: B+
Like Kelly,'s grade, a lot of the struggles of this group come from the poor offensive line play in front of them, but the backfield duo of Marion Grice and D.J. Foster did all they could. Grice managed just 51 yards on 12 carries but ran hard. With Notre Dame shutting down the run, both Grice and Foster made their biggest impacts as receivers. Foster led the team with a career-high nine catches for 71 yards, while Grice added five catches, including a garbage time touchdown that increased his nation-leading total to 13 on the year.
Wide Receiver & Tight End: B
How many times can we say it? Jaelen Strong was excellent, while the other wide receivers were poor. Strong put together his fourth straight 100-yard game with eight catches for 136 yards and a beautiful 36-yards touchdown reception. He continues to emerge as one of the elite receivers in the nation. Other than Strong, it was average to ugly. Kevin Ozier had his best game of the year with four catches for 63 yards, but two of those catches came when the game was no longer in doubt. Cameron Smith had two nice catches, but the real story was Rick Smith. After being benched earlier in the year due to drops, his lone catch on Saturday ended in a fumble that Notre Dame recovered in the third quarter and later turned into a touchdown.
Things were better at tight end, where both Chris Coyle and De'Marieya Nelson had solid efforts. Both made numerous excellent blocks, especially Nelson, who sprung a few of Grice's longest runs to the edge. Nelson also caught a 21-yard touchdown that tied the game in the fourth quarter.
Offensive Line: F
The ASU offensive line was dominated up front in both facets of the game. On the ground, Notre Dame's front held the Sun Devil rushing attack largely in check, putting the pressure on the passing game. That allowed the Irish pass rushers to tee off. After getting just four sacks in the season's first five games, Notre Dame dropped Kelly six times. Tyler Sulka in particular had a terrible game, as Prince Shembo collected three sacks on the day.
ASU has a bevy of explosive playmakers, but if the offensive line does not improve quickly, the season could be in danger.
Defensive Line: D-
Where have you gone Will Sutton? The 2012 consensus All-American was quiet once again, making just three tackles and being held in check. The absence of Jaxon Hood continues to hurt the run defense, as the Irish managed to run for 145 yards. Davon Coleman had a solid outing in Hood's place, but the interior of the line is clearly struggling with Hood out. The group's biggest failing was in the pass rush, where they were unable to sack Rees at all, nor even get any sustained pressure on the turnover-prone quarterback. That allowed Rees to make several big throws downfield.
ASU blitzed constantly all night, but the linebackers could get nowhere near Rees. Devilbacker Carl Bradford had a tackle for loss and batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage, but could not bring down Kelly. The group missed several tackles throughout the night, allowing Irish ballcarriers to run through weak tackles. They also were frequent victims to overpursuit, allowing big gains through wide open cutback lanes. Salamo Fiso and Steffon Martin led the group with seven tackles each.
When you make Rees look like a polished passer, something is amiss. Rees carved up the secondary for eight completions of over 15 yards, en route to throwing for 279 yards and three touchdowns. Normally reliable Alden Darby had his worst game of the year, being beaten on several passes, including a touchdown by tight end Troy Niklas. Cornerback Osahon Irabor also struggled in coverage for the first time this year and was beaten for a touchdown, but also returned an interception for a touchdown to get ASU back in the game in the fourth quarter. On the flip side, Robert Nelson was terrible, being constantly targeted by Rees and allowing numerous completions in front of him. Safety Damarious Randall made his first career start and tallied an incredible 17 tackles, including nine solo and 1.5 for loss. He also broke up a pass, but dropped a sure interception on a drive that the Irish would later convert for a touchdown. Nevertheless, he flashed more than enough of the skills that made him such a hotly coveted recruit.
Special Teams: D
On a positive note, kicker Zane Gonzalez nailed both of his field goals—from 40 and 29 yards—making it four straight successful attempts.
Other than that, it was another bad night for the special teams.
Alex Garoutte, normally a strong-legged kickoff specialist who had 20 touchbacks on 32 attempts, failed to put any of his six kickoffs against Notre Dame into the endzone, and was a full seven yards below his average. That led to routinely good field position for the Irish.
Punter Matt Haack continued to struggle, and averaged just 38.4 yards on his kicks, also setting up Notre Dame with good field position on numerous occasions.
Robert Nelson's awful night continued as the punt returner. He was bailed out of a turnover when he let a punt bounce that subsequently hit him, but thankfully it clipped a Notre Dame player just prior. Late in the fourth quarter, with ASU down one score, he signaled for a fair catch, only to let it bounce. The Irish were able to down it at the one-yard line, with Kelly throwing an interception on the next play.