ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALL

Fork Report: ASU survives scare, topples Notre Dame

Nov 9, 2014, 1:25 AM | Updated: 1:25 am

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What more can be said about the Arizona State defense?

Needing to replace nine starters, the unit was much scrutinized at the start of the season, but since the calendar flipped past September, the Sun Devils have flipped perception.

Just ask Notre Dame.

On the strength of its defense, ninth-ranked ASU (8-1) jumped in front of the 10th-ranked Fighting Irish 34-3 in the first half and held on for a 55-31 victory Saturday at a sold-out Sun Devil Stadium.

“What an atmosphere. Was that not awesome?” head coach Todd Graham asked. “I apologize we made it close.”

It was the Sun Devils’ first win in four all-time meetings against Notre Dame (7-2).

ASU forced an Irish turnover on three straight first half possessions, converting each takeaway into a touchdown.

Taylor Kelly passed for a score, while Demario Richard rushed for another after the first two turnovers. Then, the defense took matters into its own hands, as Damarious Randall returned an interception 59 yards for a score and a 24-3 Sun Devil advantage at 14:20 of the second quarter.

In a four-minute span, ASU scored 21 points while running just four offensive plays.

When all was said and done, Arizona State finished with five takeaways, scoring touchdowns on four of the turnovers — including another pick-six, a 58-yard return by Lloyd Carrington that sealed the Sun Devils’ fifth straight win, four of which have come against ranked opponents.

THE GOOD

The Sun Devils accomplished something that only Alabama and Florida State have been able to do: beat quarterback Everett Golson, who is now 17-3 as a starter. He was harassed pretty much all game long. After completing his first five pass attempts, Golson had a six-play stretch in which he was sacked three times, fumbled twice (one lost) and intercepted.

Back-to-back sacks by Carrington and Marcus Hardison forced Notre Dame to settle for a field goal on its first possession. For Hardison, it was his team-high sixth sack of the season. Carrington’s sack was his third of the year. As a team, the Sun Devils sacked Golson seven times, setting a new season-high.

Foster, who extended his streak of at least one reception to 36 straight games, had his best rushing performance since facing Colorado. He gained 120 yards on 21 carries, coming up with 14- and 15-yard runs when it mattered most, on a 5-play, 75-yard scoring drive to put the Sun Devils up 41-31 with 4:29 remaining.

Despite being limited due to cramps, Jaelen Strong had a team-best five receptions, including a touchdown reception for the fifth game in a row.

The pick-sixes by Randall and Carrington were the 10th and 11th interceptions returned for a touchdown since Graham’s arrival in Tempe.

Kelly, 17-of-28 for 224 yards, tied a season-high with three touchdown passes.

THE BAD

There was a questionable first-quarter play call on third-and-four at the Notre Dame 30: With Kelly lined up as a receiver, the Sun Devils ran a ‘wildcat,’ snapping the ball to Foster, who rushed for no gain, thus stalling a drive — one in which Foster carried the ball five times for 36 yards leading to Zane Gonzalez’s 47-yard field to tie the game at 3.

Looking for one last touchdown before the half, Kelly overthrew receiver Cam Smith and then had tight end Brendan Landman drop a pass in the end zone. Either play would have resulted in the Sun Devils’ fourth touchdown of the first half. Instead, Gonzalez kicked his second field goal, a 28-yarder which gave ASU a 34-3 lead.

Bad gamble by Randall on Notre Dame’s final possession of the half: He jumped the route, looking for a second pick-six, but instead the pass was completed to C.J. Prosise for a 59-yard gain. Three players later, Golson hooked up with Will Fuller for a nine-yard touchdown.

After taking a 34-3 lead, the Sun Devils gave up 10 plays of 20 or more yards, allowing Notre Dame to pull to within a field goal, 34-31 at 6:37 of the fourth quarter. The Irish totaled 314 yards in the second half, outgaining ASU for the game, 487-412.

The Sun Devils offense disappeared in the third quarter, gaining 32 yards on 12 plays. Twice in three possessions they went three-and-out.

STAT OF THE GAME

28: The number of points off turnovers scored by the Sun Devils, who improved to 7-3 in the past 10 games against ranked opponents under Graham

HE SAID IT

“I’m feeling good right now. We got the ‘W’. We came through. Brotherhood forever,” Hardison said after planting the ceremonial pitchfork.

NOTED

– An ACC crew officiated the game.

– Joining the Sun Devil captains was Senator John McCain, who handled the pregame coin toss at midfield.

– The game marked the highest-ranked Sun Devil team to host a top-10 opponent since Nov. 1, 1986, when seventh-ranked ASU beat sixth-ranked Washington, 34-21.

– Bowl representatives from the Alamo and Fiesta, plus scouts from seven NFL teams (Bills, Colts, Cowboys, Panthers, Patriots, Rams and Vikings) were in attendance.

– Starting defensive tackle Jaxon Hood did not play, missing his first game of the season for what was described as “personal issues.” The team did welcome back starting left guard Christian Westerman (injury) and defensive end Demetrius Cherry (suspension), who both sat out last week’s matchup with Utah.

UP NEXT

After two straight home games, the Sun Devils head out on the road for the one and only road game this month. ASU will take on Oregon State on Saturday, Nov. 15. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:45 p.m., with pregame coverage beginning two hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

Last season, the Sun Devils beat Oregon State 30-17, but they have not won at Reser Stadium since 2005, losing their last four games in Corvalis.

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