Notre Dame Football Opponent Preview: Arizona State Offense


In the final stretch of the season, No.10 Notre Dame will face off against No. 9 Arizona State in a battle that will determine who will get closer to making it into the College Football Playoffs.

In the three contests against the Sun Devils, Notre Dame has won all three including one at Arizona State. Despite the Irish’s overall record against them, experts are predicting a loss for Notre Dame. But if the Irish do manage to find a way to beat the leaders of the PAC-12 South, that’ll give them their signature win of the year, which is what many analysts say is missing from the 7-1 Irish. This game is essentially a playoff game with the loser likely out of contending for a spot in the playoffs, which makes this game that much more difficult for Notre Dame to win. The Sun Devils will come at the Irish with everything they have including the support of 71,000 Arizona State fans.

Last season, Notre Dame squeaked out a win against Arizona State in the Shamrock Series 37-34. There’s no doubt that it’ll be just as close this time around as the Irish prepare to face the 22nd best offense in the country.

Offensive Line

Starting from the left side of the line, redshirt senior Jamil Douglas has anchored the line this season at left tackle after switching from left guard. Starting since his sophomore year, Douglas has plenty of experience and is widely known for being a quick, athletic tenacious blocker. Douglas was a preseason candidate for the Lombardi trophy. Last week against Utah, Stephon McCray started at left guard, but Christian Westerman is questionable for the start against Notre Dame. Regardless of who starts, the Irish defense will be dealing with a 300-pound left guard with elite strength. At center, junior Nick Kelly is going through his first full season as a starter, which means that this is probably where the Irish want to attack given Kelly’s inexperience. Right next to Kelly is redshirt junior Vi Teofilo who is an experienced right guard also weighing over 300lbs. At right tackle, redshirt senior Tyler Sulka is another athletic, powerful blocker who makes a living bulldozing defensive linemen on run blocks.

Overall, this line is a pretty experienced line that has three returning starters from last year. The one weakness, as mentioned before, would be at center given that Kelly is in his first season as a starter. If freshman linebacker Nyles Morgan and the rest of the linebacking corp can bring the pressure in the middle, they can disrupt the 23rd ranked passing attack and force the running backs to run outside.

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Running Backs

Unlike last week’s matchup against the option offense, Notre Dame is going to be much more aware of who to stop in the Sun Devil backfield. The featured back for Arizona State is junior D.J Foster who has 72 more carries than any other back on the team. Last season, Foster backed up Marion Grice, who now plays for the Arizona Cardinals, but this season, he’s been by far the most explosive back on the team. In eight games Foster has compiled 701 yards to go along with six scores. In addition to his freakish rushing ability, Foster has shown that he’s a viable option through the air as well catching 38 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns. Foster can run outside the tackles just as well as he can cut it up the middle and deliver contact. It’s going to be tough to bring Foster down, but if the Irish cann manage to contain him, the running game is pretty much non-existent for the Sun Devils.

Wide Receivers 

Jaelen Strong. That’s really the only name you’ll need to know on the Sun Devils’ receiving corp. 57 catches, 821 yards, eight touchdowns. He is by far the number one receiver on the team with the next leading receiver being Foster out of the backfield. Last season, Strong finished with 75 grabs for 1,122 yards and seven scores, so it’s obvious that he’s one of the more consistent receivers in the country when it comes to putting up big numbers. Against the Irish in the Shamrock Series a year ago, Strong torched Notre Dame’s secondary catching eight passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. If Notre Dame wants to have a chance in this game, Cody Riggs is going to have to shut this guy down and force the other receivers on the Arizona State offense to make plays. The next most productive receiver on the team is sophomore Cameron Smith who has 23 catches for 328 yards and three scores.

Taylor Kelly

The redshirt senior quarterback has not played in every game this season due to injury, but he has experience against Notre Dame as he started last year’s game in the Shamrock Series. In the Sun Devils’ loss to the Irish, Kelly threw two interceptions, which was the difference between wining and losing for Notre Dame. In just five games this season, Kelly has thrown for just 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns to two interceptions. In the games Kelly started, only one of them was against a ranked opponent, which was Utah last weekend. So, Kelly is going to be facing probably the best defense he’s played against all season long Saturday against Notre Dame. Ranked 29th in the country in points against, Kelly is going to have to make an impact in the game to keep the game interesting. If he doesn’t throw for more than at least 250 yards, which he hasn’t done yet this season, I don’t think the Sun Devils can beat the Irish.

The key for Notre Dame against this offense will be stopping D.J Foster and forcing Kelly to turn the ball over. If they can’t stop Foster or Strong from making big plays, then Notre Dame is going to have a long day in Tempe, Arizona.

Even though the Irish are on the road, I think they have a solid chance to make this game a statement win for the college football playoff committee to look at.