SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame’s best defense today may be keeping the ball away from Arizona State.
And to do that, the Irish need a rushing performance like they got in last week’s 35-21 loss to No. 11 Oklahoma. Notre Dame ran for 220 yards against the Sooners, the first time it cracked 100 rushing yards since a season-opening win over Temple.
And if the Irish (3-2) have found a running game, it comes at the perfect time against No. 22 Arizona State (3-1).
The Sun Devils enter today’s Shamrock Series game, an off-site Irish home game, at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, giving up 192.3 rushing yards per game.
Obviously, we aren’t doing very well in that regard, Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. I think the inside running game we have made vast improvement. Most of it has been alignment issues on the perimeter. Most of the yards they are making are on perimeter runs. Most of it, we can fix. We have played good people, but still we are giving up plays where we are absolutely misaligned. We had right at 15 plays last week where we were misaligned.
Even though the Sun Devils went 2-1 in their last three games, stopping the run was their most glaring weakness.
Arizona State gave up 210 rushing yards in a controversial 32-30 win over Wisconsin on Sept. 14.
Stanford racked up 240 rushing yards and held the ball for 35:26 in a 42-28 win over Arizona State.
In the Sun Devils’ 62-41 victory over USC last week, the Trojans ran for 247 yards.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said while Arizona State has given up plenty of rushing yards, he doesn’t see the Sun Devils’ defense as weak against the run.
If you really go through the numbers, you’re in a hit-and-miss situation because they bring so much pressure, Kelly said. You have to do a great job of managing the negative plays against them.
If you’re not on in terms of picking up a lot of their pressures, you can be turning the ball over and putting yourself into some negative down-and-distance situations. Those numbers are a bit misleading because a lot of those yards were USC late in the game, the ballgame was over. Again, we have to run the football, there’s no question about it, but we have to solve some of their pressures to be effective running it.
Notre Dame also has to shore up its own defense against the most explosive offense it has seen this season.
Arizona State averages 505 yards and 44.3 points. Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly is averaging 342.5 passing yards per game and has thrown 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Sun Devils are also averaging 146.2 rushing yards.
Notre Dame is giving up 364 yards and 23.8 points per game, and teams are throwing for an average of 230.2 yards and running for 133.8 yards per game.
We’re not happy with ourselves, nose guard Louis Nix III said. We know we can be a better team. We are getting better every week. It might not look like it, but we are. We just got to keep working.