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  • Irish Escape With Hard-Fought Win

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame linebacker Dan Fox intercepted a Taylor Kelly pass and returned it for a 14-yard score with just over one minute left and the Irish held on to defeat Arizona State by 37-34 on Saturday night in Dallas. Kyle Brindza had broken a 27-all tie with 3:03 remaining before Fox extended the lead to ten points moments later. The Sun Devils scored with 11 seconds on the clock to account for the final margin, but the issue was not decided until the Irish grabbed an onside kick that ASU might well have recovered. The finish was typical in a game that started slowly, only to see each half end with a flurry of points.

    The teams did not score until Zane Gonzalez kicked a pair of second quarter field goals to stake Arizona State to a 6-0 lead. Tommy Rees finally warmed up for the Irish after severall early misses to lead his team down the field for a score with 3:35 left in the first half. Tight end Ben Koyack was the recipient of a 19-yard scoring strike and Notre Dame registered a 7-6 lead.

    It did not last very long, however, as Kelly directed a 78-yard march capped by a 36-yard touchdown pass to Jaelon Strong in just two minutes. This left Rees just enough time to answer, and the senior responded by hitting T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels downfield to set up an eight yard toss to Jones for a 14-13 halftime advantage.

    Notre Dame appeared to take control in the second half as Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt lead a defensive charge that shut down the run and brought pressure to Kelly. Brindza blasted a 53-yard field goal and Troy Niklas caught a touchdown pass to give the Irish a 10-0 third quarter and a 24-13 lead entering the final period. Rees threw his only errant pass of the night moments later, and Sun Devil cornerback Osahon Irabor returned it for a 37-yard score. After Brindza responded with another short field goal, Kelly tied the game at 27 with a scoring pass with 8 minutes remaining.

    Shembo, Tuitt and Matthias Farley stepped up for the defense once Brindza put Notre Dame ahead to stay. Farley’s interception appeared to ice the victory, but ASU Coach Todd Graham used his timeouts and an inexplicable third down incompletion by Notre Dame to extend the game. Fox came through moments later, but the Sun Devils were still not finished. Kelly burned the Irish secondary one last time to bring his team within 37-34, but the onside kick ended up with Notre Dame after rolling around for a few anxious moments.

    The final statistics tell the story of the evening, and even suggest that Notre Dame should have won by a more comfortable margin. The Irish were almost evenly balanced from a run/pass standpoint, while ASU’s Kelly threw 47 passes and was sacked five times against 20 actual running plays for only 51 yards. Let’s review the pregame questions for additional insights.

    Which team will best capitalize on its scoring chances? Both teams had a pick-six on defense and scored numerous points, but ASU could only muster two field goals in the early going when the Irish were struggling with another slow start.

    Will the Irish set up play action passes or telegraph Rees’ throws out of an empty backfield? A little bit of both, but Rees did have a more productive running game to take the pressure off. He was not sacked during the game.

    Can Notre Dame’s offensive line limit ASU’s ability to create negative plays? After a couple of early miscues, the line did a respectable job against the blitz-happy Sun Devils.

    Will Atkinson or Grice have the biggest impact on the outcome? Both had similar numbers, but Cam McDaniel stole the show for Notre Dame on the ground and should get a game ball.

    Can the Irish cover the Sun Devil backs and short zone receivers? They did enough to stop a few drives, but those matchups still cause problems for the Irish who may have to move forward without Jarret Grace.

    Which team will win the turnover battle? Rees had a costly interception but Kelly returned the favor twice over in the last three minutes of the game.

    How ‘bout them Cowboys? I think they’re in big trouble against Peyton Manning this week.

    Notre Dame now has a week off to regroup and prepare for USC. The Irish stand at 4-2 and fans have a point when they suggest the team could be undefeated, but the fact remains they have not made enough winning plays to deserve a better record. The best hope for the season resides in the remaining schedule, which sets up well for a winning streak until the final game showdown with Stanford on November 30. This team can’t afford to look that far ahead, but their situation is significantly better than sitting at 3-3 with two straight losses. When the Irish look back on this game, it could be regarded as a turnng point in what has been a string of shaky performances to date.

    36 Responses to “Irish Escape With Hard-Fought Win”

    1. it was a very important win for the irish against a ranked team after coming off a disappointing loss to a team that we were better than. it was good to see the irish come out without being completely flat and it was good to see the defense start well. It was also nice to see a few sacks and interceptions.
      Still troubling is the really poor coaching and lack of consistency. I really have not see Kelly do a good job yet this year. a win is a win but we could easily have won that game by 17 –not three. I really question a lot of the offensive decisions and the very poor consistency offensively. we really seem to struggle once we get into the red zone. we constantly abandon the running game for deep out pass patterns. Tommy has zero arm strength. he is going to get his receivers hurt with the weak quails that he lofts up. we still a ton of work to do to be good and to play up to our potential

    2. I’m shocked that Notre Dame won! Happy though of course. I thought the defense looked significantly better, more explosive faster like we expected them to this season. Other than the last drive of the game the defense stepped up and played to its potential and got pressure on qb. Nice win lets keep it up. George Atkinson’s ball carry vision isn’t very good sometimes. I like Cam McDaniel back there better

    3. Shaky performance at best. Appreciated and celebrated even with lingering apprehension.

    4. marleyman says:

      Horribly slow start, exciting finish. Positives: Cam McDaniel is electric; defense looked relentless toward the end of the contest with great pressure and sacks; special team improvement. Negatives: Despite 3 TD passes, Rees is one dimensional and play calling is totally predictable. I am still waiting for Atkinson to dominate as he should. He is underwhelming.

    5. Nice summary, accurate assessment. Kelly is still in love with the no-back set and that remains a problem.

    6. Even more inexplicable than an incomplete pass to give ASU more time at the end of the game is Farley’s decision to intercept a fourth down pass instead of batting it down or out of bounds. If he does, ND gets the ball much further upfield, gets at least a field goal out of that possession. I’ll never understand why players do that or why coaches don’t do a better job of teaching it. It’s just not a smart play.

    7. mjhollerich says:

      take another victory lap, John. Didn’t you get this score almost perfectly? Does this make you 6-0 on predictions for the season?

    8. Scoring on Fox’s interception was also problematic. If he goes down, the game is over. ASU has one time out. 3 kneeldowns and time expires. By scoring, ASU got the ball, a TD and nearly recovered its kickoff. None of which was necessary. It is instinctive to run to the endzone, but it was not necessarily the BEST play.

      • scotmick2 says:

        Easy to criticize Fox on his interception (why didn’t he take a knee, or just bat the ball down)…..but if you are in a game situation, and you are on defense, and that ball is suddenly in you hands, you go all out and score, you don’t have time to stop and consider the situation. I’m very disappointed that the defense didn’t stop ASUs’ last drive.

    9. stonesstein says:

      INCREDIBLE that no one is mentioning the holes in our pass coverage that let ASU get back in the game. Moreover, Tommy Rees once again did NOT complete even 50% of his passes. NO DOUBT the kid has the brains, but he simply does not have the wheels or the arm to elevate this team above a 8-4 or 9-3 club. Also, did anyone count how many times Rees changed the play AFTER the huddle break and the team was already in formation? He cost us at least one delay of game and 2 timeouts that way.

      I LOVE this team, and I pray each week they will win. I am tired, however, of an underperforming George Atkinson, Carlo Calabrese’s pass coverage, and Tommy Rees inconsistencies.

      We need to use these next few games to open up the playing time to guys whose redshirts have already been burned AND to guys who have demonstrated that they, too, deserve a shot. Andrew Hendrix, Folston, and some of the FR receivers come to mind immediately. Cam McDaniel needs to start and run the ball 20 times.

    10. Don’t understand the tactics with 3 min. to go at all. Why not run the ball on 3rd down and make ASU use their last time out. Also, we have a good pass rush going. Why go to the prevent and give them an easy touchdown. If the got that on side kick I think we lose.

    11. That’s the FIGHT I want to see!!! Especially from the DEFENSE!!! Nice to see Shimbo, Tuitt, and some of Nix resurface last night!!!! Loved how they made keys plays (sacks, fumbles, and ints) when we needed it!!!

      I’m still baffled by the OFFENSE though. 1.) Who the HELL is the leader on Offense!?! 2.) Consistency needs to get better!!! 3.) Why is McDaniels the only player at RB getting alot of carries?! You mean to tell me GAIII or Carlilse not getting it done?!?!

      Build on this win ND and play like that on both sides of the ball(when we were “ON”) then we should have alot more wins under our belt this season!!!

    12. Notre Dame is suffering this season because of poor coaching. The play with Isahq dropping back into pass coverage is beyond comprehension. Worse than that is the fact Jaylon Smith basically plays safety, fans get mad about players making mistakes but they are out of position before the ball is snapped. The bend but don’t break philosophy is the worst ever, its hard for me to watch, 3rd and 24 what a joke.

      On the offensive side of the ball why does a severely limited QB throw the ball that much it just shouldn’t happen. Also I like Cam McDaniel but Amir or GA3 should dominate carries. Why couldn’t GA3 pick that hole correctly, because he doesn’t get a chance to run the ball enough.


      • Jim Kress says:

        Because GA3 has made it clear he will do virtually anything to avoid taking a big hit. Certainly in this game he avoided cutting to the inside on numerous plays, where he would have made large gains, because he would have had to faced being tackled by a linebacker. He bounced the play outside, for small gains, and avoided any significant hits by ASU.

        If he doesn’t want to play with the big boys he should be benched. McDaniel is the tough runner we need and GA3 should emulate. If GA3 want’s to be a dancer, he should participate in ballet, not football.

    13. What a horribly coached team…Defense was a bit better , but a touchdown on 4th and 4 after a time out? A 31 yard gain on 3rd down after a time out, is that our dime package? Totally on Diaco
      Kelly continues to try and reinvent the game of football on the offensive side. His decisions alone cost this team at least 14 points.
      How many illegal procedure penalties were called? Anyone else think a smart play would have been for either Farley or Fox to take a knee after their interceptions?
      Kids play hard, but seem horribly coached. What a waste of talent

      • Are you kidding? Fox should have taken a knee rather than going untouched into the end zone?

        You have very little clue about coaching and remind me of a contingent of ND fans who have complained about EVERY coach including Rockne during the 1928 season.

        • ND Chicago says:

          Besides the interceptions, where I agree it would be almost impossible to expect a player in the heat of battle to do something as against the grain as taking a knee, what criticism about the coaching was unfair? You don’t have to have coaching experience at the collegiate level to figure out that with less than a couple minutes left in the game, facing a third and long and the other team down to their last time out you run the ball and force them to use that last time out. (We’ll never know if that would have mattered because Fox let Kelly off the hook by intercepting the ball a couple plays later.) Instead, Kelly called for a pass that fell incomplete which allowed them to preserve the time out and stop the clock. Again, it comes back to putting Rees and, more importantly, the team in a position to succeed; that’s what coaching is all about. Rees is not the type of QB who you want throwing the ball forty times a game, it’s asking for trouble and consistently leads to him turning the ball over so why in the world have him throw in such a crucial situation? He had already thrown one int returned for a TD, why risk the game by throwing it in that situation? Why not run the ball, force ASU to use their last time out, and put the game in the hands of your defense which had played pretty well up to that point? Also, why is McDaniel not starting? He’s the only kid who has shown any consistency and produces when he’s given carries. I see the potential of GAIII and Carlisle just like everyone else, but they’ve been given more opportunities than McDaniel and haven’t done anything (besides GAIII’s big game against OK). Everyone who comments on this blog wants to see ND back in the NCG and competing for championships, but when a coach (no matter who) consistently makes bad decisions you better believe he’s going to get criticized. Some of the same coaching blunders that have occurred this year happened last year, but winning is a great deodorant so it wasn’t talked about as much. I’m always happy when ND wins, but let’s not pretend ND football is back to a level they were under Holtz which is what we’ve all been waiting for the last 15-20 years.

          • Kevin Welsh says:

            ND Chicago: the issue isn’t whether your or anybody else’s criticism is fair or valid. The bigger question is whether it’s relevant. Unless you have a pipeline into Jack Swarbrick and his evaluation of the the head coach then your after the fact criticism of decisions made on a few plays out of the 160 or so plays that take place in a football game are irrelevant, highly irrelevant as a matter of fact. Your motivation in writing, in all likelihood, is to feel good about your own acumen and/or impress others with your opinions. I would offer that very few people care, probably none that matter. One one hand we have self-appointed experts such as yourself and your irrelevant crticisms. On the other side of the coin you can include the ND administration who awarded Kelly with a 5 year extension on August 31st, the AP writers who voted him Coach of the Year in 2012 and Philadelphia Eagles who interviewed BK for an NFL head coaching position in January. I believe the perspective that escapes many is that if you dissect anyone’s performance, my own included (I am a Distribution Director for a large newsaper company) you can always find, especially after the fact, instances where their level of performance was not up to snuff and can be questioned. If you are someone who feels compelled to criticize somebody who is obviously at or near the top of his profession about the 8 or 10 pct part of his performance that didn’t meet whatever expectation, then you are probably trying to compensate for things in life that you feel inadequate about.

            • ND Chicago says:

              Please take your ND blinders off and put down the ND Kool Aid. The whole purpose of any blog is for people to give their opinion, I could care less whether you agree with it or not. I don’t agree with every opinion here and obviously not everyone agrees with me; that’s OK. What’s not OK is you telling me if my opinion is different than yours it’s somehow irrelevant. What makes your opinion more relevant than mine or anyone else’s? Nothing. As a matter of fact, your manifesto shows how clueless you really are. Wasn’t Charlie Weis given an extension (even bigger than Kelly’s)? Wasn’t he the OC for some New England teams that won the Superbowl? How did that work out? Just because Kelly was given an extension or given an award doesn’t mean a damn thing. Does that mean he’s infallible? Every person who has a job is constantly under evaluation, it’s part of life. If you’re not doing the job properly then they find someone else. The head football coach at ND is no different. Most people who comment on this blog realize that we are not the decision maker in terms of his evaluation, but that does not mean we can’t have an opinion about his performance and it doesn’t mean we’re not right. I guess you’re one of those guys that feels everyone should get a trophy and schools should do away with grades because it may hurt someone’s feelings if someone else gets a better grade. I think the person with the inadequacy issues is you Mr. I’m a paper boy at a large newspaper. Who cares!!! Talk about irrelevant.

        • Well, he’s actually exactly right that Fox should have taken a knee. If he does then the game is over and we avoid the angst of the last minute. I don’t blame the kid for scoring, but you do end the game with a kneel down. Also, Farley was foolish to intercept rather than bat the ball down. He could have given us thirty yards more of field position and avoid the possibility of a fumble while he is foolishly running all over the field.

      • Clock management is critical in tight games and these were some major gaffes. The D. surely practice signals and subs back to back. In the defensive TO’s you mention you may have squared with your players the exact strategy but you also gave the opponent a chance to regroup. Organization is more important on the offensive side…intensity and instincts more on the defensive side. It’s fundamental…so these defensive TO’s are totally baffling. I don’t agree with horrible, Weis was horrible. But this is definitely not great coaching.

    14. Can someone define what pass interference is? What was the official watching late in the game with the no call in the end zone?

    15. This team could be 6-0, really? We could be 1-5 as well. But no complaints out of me today. I’m very proud of the fight the team showed last night, in winning an exciting, hard fought ball game. This game reminded me a little bit of exciting Notre Dame games from past decades. I like the one, two punch of Cam and GA3. They are so different stylistically but there is a place for both. GA3 is a talented speedster but sometimes gets a little too dancey. That 3rd and inches play where he missed the hole clearly would’ve been a Cam play if he hadn’t got his clock rung just prior. At QB Rees characteristically missed a few throws but he also made some really big throws when it counted. I thought the play where he scrambled and threw a jump ball to Niklas in the end zone was awesome. The TD toss to Jones on the edge of the end zone was perfectly placed as well. A little surprised we didn’t see more wildcat with Hendrix but all in all Rees got the job done.

      The Defensive, especially the line, was Awesome! More like what has been expected of them this year. for most of the night Arizona St’s high octane offense, which is sort of comparable to Oregon’s, was kept in check. Tis is the same team that scored 9 touchdowns on an albeit weakened Southern Cal the week before. If you don’t count the late TD when we were in a prevent and basically handed them the score the D only gave up 20 points to a top 20 offense.

      Oh, and one last thing: Brindza is the man! I know he hooked one early but the 53 yarder was super impressive. He made 3 in a row when we needed him. Not to mention his kick offs were terrific all night, and that late punt to put them on the 1 totally helped us win the game. What a leg on that kid.

      Well, after last nights cardiac kind of game we will have a well deserved rest to get ready for USC. USC maybe be in a slump right now but make no mistake they will bout for blood in South Bend. So let’s enjoy this win and have a great couple of weeks! God Bless.

      • Kevin Welsh says:

        You are the man. You can watch an ND win and appreciate that the positives outweighed the negatives. I agree with everything you said.

    16. Mark napierkowski says:

      Cam is our best, most reliable RB. The fact that we have four guys (five, including the injured Bryant) that can run the ball is a bonus. Cam’s not spectacular, just very consistent, runs with a good instinctive forward lean, makes defenders work hard to tackle him. The “problem” of carry distribution is a good problem to have. I think BK in the second half of the season will figure out a way to use each guy appropriately. We all know rees’s limitations, but the kid has 13 TD’s and 6 picks. So turnover frequency is not the issue. it’s the bad timing and pick-sixes he’s been resoonsible for in the past two games. It’s got to be some kind of ND record – three straight games at sub-50% passing. The arm weakness and inaccuracy work together to make him that much more of a problem. I agree that the 3rd and 9 call was poor. I get that we’re trying for the first down to finish the game, but there is a risk-reward problem with it, and it went against us.

    17. Fox has to take the TD but the other should have been batted down to give the Irish field position. Run three plays to force ASU to use its timeouts. Kick the figgie to force ASU to go the length of the field with no TO’s. But instead we end up out of FG range, throw on 3rd down (what the h-e-double hockey sticks went into that call?) and kept them in the game until Fox seemingly sealed it. Yet they still had a TO. Not smart on anyone’s part.

    18. Yea I agree, if you get an Int like that and have a chance to return it. I want the points. I do not want to give the ball back to Tommy Rees to potentially turn it over again. Not only that but an Int for a touchdown is a huge momentum swing, and not to mention 7 more points. Our defense should be good enough to hold them from scoring that quickly anyways. Since our defense played well most of the night I have no problem with taking it in for a score. That’s what the good teams do. They do not look to down the ball as soon as they Intercept it. That is not the mindset we need as a football team. We need to score and score and score. Be on the offensive and not play not to lose, but play to win.

    19. The good: 1. A win
      2. Cam McDaniel
      3. Prince Shembo
      4. Jaylon Smith

      The bad: 1. Rees continually locking in on one receiver and throwing into coverage on out or curl patterns when the TE is running wide open down the seam with no one within 10 yards of him. Happened several times during game.
      2. The fact that Rees doesn’t even give a second thought to running the ball and would rather throw a crap pass into coverage when he could scramble and gain at least a little positive yardage. I honestly think he’s afraid of getting hit.
      3. The fact that every play is checked at the line of scrimmage. It gets boring and old and besides that was the cause of more than one false start penalty and routes run wrong by receivers.

      The ugly: 1. The pick six.
      2. ND’s pass coverage
      3. Play calling. Although you can’t blame everything on the OC since Rees changes the play pretty much everytime.
      4. Rees not completing 50% of his passes for the second week in a row.
      5. GAIII bouncing out of holes when he doesn’t have to.
      6. Brindza missed field goal

      • Kevin Welsh says:

        You are going to be critical of Brindza by calling his missed FG attempt “the ugly”? 3 for 4 including a 53 yarder and a field position changing punt that limited ASU’s playbook and led to the interception sealing the deal. Your not so cute analogy of the Clint Eastwood classic would have us buy into 4 good things about ND’s play and 9 bad or ugly. Hardly the kind of perspective this game called for. Blame and whine. Blame and whine.

    20. I bet on the IRISH to win outright. Paid my Mortgage. Thanks, John

    21. Jim Kress says:

      The Irish did not win this game. ASU lost it. We just happened to score more points.

      This Irish team continues to disappoint. Rees continues to show his massive ability to panic and throw interceptions. The defense vanished in the last few minutes of the game and was intermittently present during the rest of it.

      Whoever called the pass play on 3rd down at the end of the game should be fired. Memories of the loss to Tulsa (where we eschewed the certainty of a win via field goal vs a stupid pass play the guaranteed a loss) flashed through my brain when they ran that idiotic play against ASU.

      The only bright spot is the performance of Cam McDaniel. He actually WANTS to win and sacrifices himself on every play to accomplish this. The rest of the team just doesn’t seem to be motivated in the same way.

    22. I know that we always want to pin things on Tommy Boy, but I was at the game and with a full 11 on 11 view I can tell you that there were several times where Tommy and the receiver weren’t on the same page. A few of those were with Daniels, a guy who really has no excuse not being on the same page as Tommy. If you read the lips of BK when Daniels was coming to the sideline after one such instance BK told Daniels to shut up after he gave some excuse. Not every one of those near picks or throws to nowhere were on Tommy.

      I also agree with the comment about GAIII not wanting contact, as there were a few times where we needed a couple of yards and the lanes up the middle were open for about that many yards, maybe a couple more. He would bounce to an outer gap or to the edge and meet up with a defender for no gain. To his credit, however, he did seem to do better at first contact in this game and actually kept his legs moving for some extra yards. He was decent overall, just not sharp on some of those “smart running” shorter yardage situations.

      It was great seeing some pressure on the opposing QB finally, and Smith was great in pursuit. Without a mobile quarterback, however, the defenses we are facing are pinning their ears back and trying to collapse the pocket while stacking the box because they have no fear of Tommy running the ball and we don’t have any big stud receivers that demand double coverage, save for our tight ends who actually played quite well on Saturday both in the blocking game and passing game.