The Arizona State Sun Devils and Notre Dame Fighting Irish both need a win in their marquee matchup in Dallas this weekend.
Arizona State rolls into Texas having put up record-setting offensive numbers against USC. Although the Sun Devils hold a 3-1 record, their defense has struggled and their run defense, in particular, has put them behind the eight ball many times. A win over the Fighting Irish would allow ASU to catch the nation's eye and show they are for real.
Notre Dame stumbles into AT&T Stadium having already lost two games this year. Just a year ago, the Irish ran the table and went to the BCS National Championship Game only to lose to Alabama. The Fighting Irish have lost both of their meetings with Top 25 teams this year and need a win over ASU to right their ship and gain their confidence back.
Here's the information you need to know about the matchup:
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Place: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Radio: Sun Devil-IMG Sports Network, Notre Dame ISP Sports Network Affiliates
Point Spread: The Sun Devils are favored in Vegas between 5.5-6 points.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from ESPN.com
ASU needs to stop the run against Notre Dame.
Get Pressure on Tommy Rees
Notre Dame was forced to go back to quarterback Tommy Rees this offseason and so far he's had his ups and downs. Rees is coming off a three-interception performance against Oklahoma and hasn't completed more than 42 percent of his passes in his last two games. He isn't particularly mobile, and if ASU can get pressure on him, he will get flustered and make bad throws.
Prevent the Big Run
The Sun Devils haven't been able to stop the run so far this season, and while Notre Dame isn't exactly a power running team, ASU needs to prevent giving up big plays. Head coach Todd Graham told Azcentral.com's Doug Haller this week, that he is confidant the team will be able to fix this issue:
Yeah, we are playing against good people but, still, there are too many mental errors, too many misalignments. Where we are getting hurt is on angle flow and on outside perimeter runs. I do think there are things we can do to fix that. I am encouraged because we are just one or two people away from getting it right.
George Atkinson III is the guy the Sun Devils need to stop. The running back averages 7.1 yards per carry and already has an 80-yard touchdown to his name this year.
Start Out Strong
The last two weeks, ASU has struggled out of the gates. This game is on a national stage and ASU can't afford to rely on their halftime adjustments to win them the game. They need to jump on Notre Dame early and use their quick-pace offense to never let the Irish feel comfortable.
Notre Dame needs to put pressure on Taylor Kelly if they want to win.
Slow Down ASU's Offense
Once ASU's offense got up to full speed in the second half against USC, the Trojans were left catching their breath and shaking their heads. Last season, Notre Dame relied on their defense to win them games and it paid dividends as the Irish went undefeated. That's not the case this year. For Notre Dame to beat ASU, they will need to provide consistent pressure and stall the Sun Devil's drives. The way to beat the Sun Devils is to mix up coverage and provide a consistent presence in their backfield.
Tommy Rees Can't Turn The Ball Over
While Rees isn't solely to blame for the Fighting Irish's loss to Oklahoma, his three interceptions certainly didn't help the cause. There has been some recent grumblings by the Notre Dame faithful who believe Rees should be benched, but his teammates are behind him. Receiver TJ Jones told Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune he stands behind his quarterback:
I don't think we're asking him to do too much at all. Our offense is a lot, but Tommy is in my opinion the smartest quarterback in the nation. You could throw as much as you want at him, and he's going to be able to take it.
Rees needs to put together a solid game to not only silence his doubters but to lead the Irish to victory.
Have to Establish The Run
This shouldn't be hard to do considering how ASU's run defense has fared thus far. Away from Notre Dame stadium, the Irish have averaged 93.5 yards per game, much less than their 162 yards per game at home. If Notre Dame can establish the run they can control the clock and keep ASU's high-powered offense off the field. The run game will also be the Fighting Irish's best bet at scoring big plays and gaining chunks of yards.
Marion Grice has to have a big day for ASU to win.
Grice is a player to watch simply because he can make magic happen when the football is in his hands. The senior is averaging 18 points per game this year and already has accounted for 12 touchdowns. When ASU needs to gain yards they can turn to Grice to make it happen. For ASU to win, Grice needs to put together another multi-touchdown performance.
Bradford is the X-factor on defense for ASU in this game. His ability to apply pressure, stop the run and peel off in coverage should cause fits for Tommy Rees and the Irish. If defensive tackle Will Sutton can play like he did against USC, look for Bradford to reap the benefits and have a huge game.
Tommy Rees needs to limit turnovers and manage the clock for Notre Dame to win.
As stated earlier, Rees could be the deciding factor in whether the Irish beat ASU. He needs to remain cool in the pocket and make good reads to ensure he doesn't turn the ball over. If he makes the same mistakes that plagued him against Oklahoma, it will be a long night for the Irish.
Nix is a guy who will play on Sundays. At 6'3'', 357-pounds, Nix is a large man who could clog the running lanes of Marion Grice, DJ Foster and Deantre Lewis. ESPN (Subscription Required) says Nix is excellent against the run for a number of reasons:
Ideal anchor and rarely gives ground. Comes off with good pad level to get initial surge. Above-average upper-body power. Heavy and active hands to shed blocks and redirect. Range is more than adequate for a man his size. Good instincts to find the ball.
If Nix can utilize those skills, he will be able to wreck some havoc when ASU tries to run their read-option. He also could cause Taylor Kelly to escape the pocket and make throws under duress.
ASU unveiled a new uniform combination for their meeting with the Irish this week, including the new flame helmets you see above. Todd Graham told Doug Haller these new helmets will help ASU to grow their brand:
(But) we want our players to have the best, first class in everything we do. We got a tremendous brand with the fork. If you want to be a champion, you got to look like a champion first.
Graham also emphasized the importance of this game in regards to recruiting to AZFamily.com's Brad Denny:
Our number one recruiting area is right here in Arizona and California. That is our base recruiting area. The next recruiting area is Texas. It has been very productive for us. Obviously we are going there to play and it is a big deal for us.
Like many Notre Dame quarterbacks before him Tommy Rees has felt both sides of things, but what guys like Brady Quinn and Joe Theismann didn't experience while they were at Notre Dame was living in the world of Twitter.
The Sun Devils will celebrate a big win over Notre Dame in Dallas.
ASU 35, Notre Dame 24
As long as ASU can get their offense going early and at least manage their run defense, they will come away with a marquee win in Dallas.
ASU is just too fast and has too many high-skill players for Notre Dame to keep up with. Innately the Sun Devils will give up some big plays defensively, but they will be able to overcome that with their ability to move the ball and score.
Taylor Kelly will be able to pick apart Notre Dames secondary and ASU's pass rush will cause Tommy Rees to turn the ball over.
When it's all said and done, ASU will make history as the only team to beat USC and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks.