Redshirt junior Taylor Kelly was spectacular against USC, throwing for 351 yards and three touchdowns while adding 79 yards on the ground. Kelly has played at a lot better at home in his career, though, so his challenge Saturday will be maintaining that production in an unfamiliar stadium.
Senior Tommy Rees has struggled recently and the Notre Dame loss to Oklahoma last Saturday was the apex. Rees completed just nine of his 24 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns to go along with three interceptions. Rees has only completed 53.3 percent of his passes through the first five games this season.
Senior Marion Grice isn’t putting up spectacular rushing numbers (3.9 yards per carry) but is consistently finding the end zone, totaling eight touchdowns on the ground through four games. Redshirt junior Deantre Lewis and sophomore D.J. Foster combined for 115 yards against USC and the Sun Devils ran for a season-high 261 yards.
Junior George Atkinson III had the Fighting Irish’s best rushing performance of the season last Saturday rushing for 150 yards, which included an 80-yard touchdown run. Atkinson III was only the third-leading Fighting Irish carrier before Saturday, but he should start this week and pose a threat to the vulnerable ASU defensive line.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Redshirt sophomore Jaelen Strong continues to be the Sun Devils’ No. 1 receiver, bringing in seven catches for 103 yards against USC. Senior tight end Chris Coyle had his strongest game of the season against the Trojans, catching five passes for 87 yards. The running backs continue to be a force in the passing game as Foster caught a 74-yard touchdown pass and Grice added two receiving touchdowns against the Trojans.
Senior T.J. Jones and junior DaVaris Daniels have combined for 664 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. Junior tight end Troy Niklas has 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns, which includes a 30-yard touchdown reception last Saturday. That’s three legitimate receiving options for the Fighting Irish if Rees can get them the ball.
Kelly was so pleased with the offensive line against USC that he brought all five of them to the postgame press conference. They had their best game of the season against the Trojans, springing the offense for 612 yards of total offense without allowing a sack.
The Fighting Irish offensive line has allowed six sacks on the season, including one against Oklahoma. The line hasn’t been terribly effective all year as the Fighting Irish are only averaging 25.4 points per game, good for 87th in the FBS.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Senior Will Sutton had his best game of the season against the Trojans, recording his first sack of the season on the first play of the game and finished with two tackles for loss. The Trojans were able to run right through the line, though, amassing 247 rushing yards. If sophomore Jaxon Hood (leg) is able to return this week, that would be a big boost to the line.
Junior Stephon Tuitt is helping anchor a line that’s allowing only 133.8 rushing yards per game. Tuitt has added three tackles for loss, which includes two sacks, and a sack on the season. Senior Louis Nix III (19 tackles) is also a force in the center of the defensive line at 357 pounds.
Senior Chris Young quietly continues to lead the Sun Devil defense with 29 tackles, nine more than any other defender. Senior Steffon Martin had his best game of the season (seven tackles) against the Trojans after being replaced at SAM linebacker by redshirt freshman Salamo Fiso two weeks ago.
Junior Jarrett Grace leads the Fighting Irish with 37 tackles and senior Carlo Calabrese leads them with four tackles for loss. Senior Dan Fox has added three tackles for loss.
Senior safety Alden Darby had a career game against USC, picking off Trojans’ quarterback Cody Kessler twice, including one for 46-yards and a touchdown. Darby also forced and recovered a fumble and senior cornerback Osahon Irabor added an interception against the Trojans.
Senior cornerback Bennett Jackson is third on the team with 31 tackles and has added three TFL’s and an interception on the season. Junior safety Matthias Farley has 24 tackles, an interception and a TFL. However, the Fighting Irish have allowed 244.8 passing yards per game this season.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Senior Alex Garoutte handled the punting duties against USC, and was the third punter in four weeks for the Sun Devils. Garoutte averaged 38 yards per punt and didn’t have any blocked or mishandled, which is a step up compared to the last two weeks. Freshman Zane Gonzalez hit his two field goals against the Trojans and is now 6-9 on the season.
Junior Kyle Brindza does it all for the Fighting Irish. He’s averaging 40.6 yards per punt and has hit on five of his seven field goal attempts this season, with a long of 44 yards.
Overall EDGE: ASU
This is the game Sun Devil nation has been waiting for all season. Fresh off a dominating win over USC, the Sun Devils are 3-1 and playing with a lot of confidence. Notre Dame enters Saturday’s contest with two losses, the most recent coming last Saturday at home to Oklahoma. Both teams will be hyped to play in Cowboys Stadium, it’s just a matter of who handles the pressure better. Both teams have big-game experience this season; one team doesn’t have Taylor Kelly, though. If Kelly is able to move the offense and play like he does at Sun Devil Stadium, the Sun Devils will improve to 4-1 and finish 3-1 in their highly anticipated and daunting four-game stretch to begin the season.
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