The Arizona State Sun Devils won’t soon forget the last seven days. A week that started with the thought of becoming the first team ever to beat USC and Notre Dame back to back ended with a collective sigh as quarterback Taylor Kelly threw the game ending “pick six” against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Arlington, Texas.
Arizona State held out hope of a victory until the waning seconds of Saturday night’s contest. The Sun Devils made a critical defensive stop on third-and-nine to get the ball back with 3:00 to go and three timeouts remaining, trailing 30-27. After failing to convert on fourth down, their offense got another shot following a curious play call by Notre Dame. Instead of running the ball on third down and forcing ASU to call its last timeout, Irish QB Tommy Rees threw the ball and stopped the clock. Kelly and his teammates trotted back onto the field with game-winning aspirations, having a little over one minute to go and a timeout gifted by the Golden Domers.
However, with the ball on the ASU one yard line after a great kick by Irish punter Kyle Brindza, Kelly was given little time by Notre Dame’s ferocious pass rush and forced into an interception, which was returned for a touchdown—killing the Sun Devils’ hopes and putting the game out of reach at 37-24.
The Notre Dame offensive and defensive lines were dominant and caused ASU problems almost identical to Stanford two weeks ago. The Irish rushed for 145 yards compared to ASU’s 54 and only turned the ball over once. Otherwise, ASU’s third down efficiency, passing yardage, first downs, and penalties were all either better or similar to the Irish.
The difference between the two teams was most easily seen in the time the two quarterbacks had to throw. Rees seemed to have all day in the pocket, throwing for 279 yards on 17 completions and never getting sacked. Kelly threw for 361 yards on 33 completions, but was sacked four times and ran for his life almost the entire game.
Wide receiver Jaelen Strong continued to be a bright spot for the ASU offense, catching eight balls for 136 yards and one touchdown.
RB Marion Grice scored on a pass from Kelly with 11 seconds remaining, leaving the score settled at 37-34 after a failed onside kick attempt.
It was a difficult ending to a night that began with so much excitement; a game played in Dallas at AT&T Stadium under the bright lights of primetime television. The implications seemed to be felt by both coaches, who knew the winner would gain precious traction in the fruitful recruiting ground of the Lone Star State.
Overall, Arizona State is 3-2 at this point, losing to two of the top five teams from last season and coming out of one of the toughest stretches of any BCS team. The Devils should keep their heads up knowing they have all their goals still in front of them, and will get to face one of the Pac-12’s weakest teams in Colorado next week at home.