Around Arizona State football, these weekly “statement” games are starting to become old hat. During the last month, the Sun Devils have faced three of the nation’s college gridiron heavyweights: Wisconsin, Stanford and USC.
ASU snuck by the Badgers, fell hard to the Cardinal and blew out the Trojans. Toss in an easy win against Sacramento State in the season opener, and Coach Todd Graham’s troops now stand at 3-1 (1-1).
Not bad for a team that’s had trouble gaining respect on the national stage.
The final bout of the Sun Devils’ four-round early-season slugfest is set for Saturday, as they go down to Dallas to take on “America’s College Football Team” — Notre Dame.
We believe ASU will knock out the Irish, and here’s why:
Reason #1: QB Tommy Rees isn’t getting it done through the air
You have to believe ASU defensive coordinator Paul Randolph, at some point, has challenged his players: Make Tommy Rees beat us!
After the Fighting Irish lost to Oklahoma, dropped to 3-2 and fell out of the national rankings, their senior starting quarterback became the popular scapegoat in South Bend.
Rees has connected on less than 40 percent of his pass attempts (23 of 58) in his last two games (a win over Michigan State and the loss to the Sooners), and he has now completed just 53.5 percent of his passes through the first five games of the season (also throwing five interceptions to go with his 10 touchdowns).
Rees had a horrible outing against OU, completing a mere nine of his 24 pass attempts and serving up three picks. Can he handle the pressure of ASU’s aggressive defensive schemes? Not likely.
Reason #2: The Irish defense may be good, but it’s under-performing
Notre Dame has a reputation for fielding ferocious defenses. However, this year’s squad — anchored by All-American linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III — has not lived up to expectations.
On Saturday, the Fighting Irish defenders will be faced with stopping ASU’s improving, multi-faceted ground attack, led by Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and Deantre Lewis.
Add in the fact that Arizona State’s offensive line is starting to jell (as evidenced by its dominating performance against USC last week), and the scales may be tipped in the Sun Devils’ favor when they’re in possession of the ball.
Reason #3: Notre Dame hasn’t recovered from last season’s humiliation
Dismiss it all you want, but there’s got to be some residual effect from the annihilation the Fight Irish suffered at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide in last year’s BCS National Championship Game.
And the whole “Manti Te’o fake girlfriend” thing really hasn’t gone away, either.
The Golden Domers may have won three games so far this season (Temple, Purdue and Michigan State), but they weren’t particularly impressive in those victories. Many Irish fans have a sense that something is off-kilter with their storied program.
Advantage: To Be Determined