Arizona State seemed prepared for the national stage that accompanied its Shamrock Series showdown with Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas, but the No. 22 Sun Devils were never able to overcome a slow offensive start and fell to the Fighting Irish 37-34 on Saturday.
ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for 362 yards and three touchdowns on 33-of-47 passing, but threw a pair of interceptions including a pick-six that sealed ASU’s fate with just over a minute left to play.
The Sun Devils (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) had been able to limit their turnovers and overcome their inability to pose a consistent threat in the running game in each of their three wins, but the same problems that cost ASU in its lost to Stanford were issues against Notre Dame (4-2).
Arizona State went just 3 of 12 on third down, and a late decision to attempt a fourth-down conversion rather than punt may have cost the Sun Devils a chance at a win.
ASU managed to stay in the game despite a bevy of mistakes and general lack of momentum – something that was rarely seen from the Dennis Erickson-era Sun Devils.
Despite all of the team’s shortcomings, ASU had two chances to tie or take the lead in the game’s final minutes – a testament to the Sun Devils’ ability to survive when things aren’t going well. But both chances ended with Kelly interceptions.
Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong had another strong performance, and DJ Foster made his first major impact of the season, catching nine passes for 71 yards.
Cornerback Osahon Irabor also came up with a huge play when ASU needed it most, returning an interception 37 yards for a score to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 24-20 early in the fourth quarter, ending a run of 17 unanswered points by Notre Dame.
The Sun Devil defense once again allowed far too many yards by missing tackles.
While the offense didn’t do the defense any favors in the game’s early stages, the ASU defense had plenty of chances to make a stand and salvage some momentum.
Instead, Notre Dame was able to consistently move the ball and didn’t go three-and-out until midway through the third quarter.
The ASU run defense wasn’t a huge issue, but it still allowed the Fighting Irish to gain 145 yards on the ground. But the big play burned the Sun Devils, and Notre Dame had at least five plays of 20 or more yards.
ASU was also unable to run the ball effectively, as running back Marion Grice carried 12 times for 51 yards. The team totaled 65 yards on 23 carries without a score.
Also a notch in the bad, ASU allowed Notre Dame to go on scoring runs of 17 and 10 unanswered points.
WHEN IT WAS OVER
Facing a 4th-and-13 from its own 19-yard line and trailing by three with about two minutes left, ASU elected to go for the first down rather than punt and rely on its defense with three timeouts against a one-dimensional offense.
Instead, Kelly threw an interception, and while the defense quickly got the Sun Devils the ball back, the field position swing was too great for ASU to have any realistic shot at tying the game.
Kelly threw a pick-six on the Sun Devils’ first snap — which came from their own 1-yard line — all but ending ASU’s chances at a win as it trailed by 10 with 1:08 to play.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Strong had the biggest individual impact of any player in the game, though he was a one-man show for the Sun Devil receiving corps. Strong racked up 126 yards and a score on eight catches, and was one of ASU’s three pass-catchers to average more than 10 yards per catch.
ASU’s offense hurt the Sun Devils’ ability to get into a rhythm and build momentum early, and at one point in the first quarter, the Fighting Irish had an 18-to-3 advantage in plays from scrimmage and a more than eight-minute advantage in time of possession.
HE SAID IT
“Our goals are still on the table. To do that we’ve got to correct the mistakes we made tonight.” – ASU head coach Todd Graham
ASU will host downtrodden Colorado at 7 p.m. on Oct. 12 in what should be a lopsided Sun Devil win.