Notre Dame Football: Arizona State Sun Devils

Notebook: IMG 7v7 Championship 

June, 23, 2014
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The IMG 7v7 National Championship held at IMG Academy over the weekend featured some of the top 7-on-7 teams from all over the country and even a few teams from Canada. The event, which included 12 prospects ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN 300, showcased some of the best talent you will find in a single tournament. Led by Alabama verbal commits Calvin Ridley and Shawn Burgess-Becker, the Florida Fire from South Florida defeated Tampa’s Unsigned Preps 20-18 in the championship game to take home the title.

Quarterbacks shine

There were several high-profile quarterbacks in attendance, and they lived up to the hype for the most part. Deondre Francois, who recently transferred to IMG Academy, made numerous impressive throws. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound signal-caller has a top three of Oregon, Auburn and Florida State and is planning to make his decision at the end of July.

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The 2015 quarterback class in California not only has a chance to shape the recruiting rankings in February, but also has an opportunity to shift college football's national landscape for the next few years. While the Golden State has produced more than its share of quarterbacks over the years, not in recent memory has there been a group as deep and talented as the 2015 crop. The Pac-12 is looking to capitalize on the array of talent at the position, but programs from across the country are looking to pry a few of the signal-callers out of the area.

Here are the ESPN 300 quarterbacks from the state:

Josh Rosen -- No. 1 pocket passer -- 6-4, 200 -- committed to UCLA

Rosen was an early lean to Stanford and gave significant looks to Cal and Michigan before selecting the Bruins in late March. Rosen led his high school to an undefeated season and state championship as a junior, one year after breaking onto the national recruiting scene as a sophomore. As the top-ranked quarterback in the nation, Rosen's commitment to UCLA was huge for the Bruins as he has quickly become one of the top recruiters in this class.


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States of strength: Texas RBs 

May, 15, 2014
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When it comes to running backs, the state of Texas is loaded. Ten running backs represent the Lone Star State in the ESPN 300. Of those 10, five are committed. A total of seven running backs in the state have reported FBS commitments.

ESPN 300 RBs from the state:

No. 50 Ronald Jones II: Ranked the nation’s No. 3 running back, Jones is an explosive, game-changing back who -- as scary as it might sound -- will only get better. Jones committed to Oklahoma State on April 6 and finished his junior season with more than 2,400 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns.


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Five things: ASU-Notre Dame

October, 5, 2013
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Notre Dame "hosts" No. 22 Arizona State at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight in the latest edition of the Shamrock Series, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Here are five things to keep an eye on from the Irish when they take the field at Jerry World.

Ball security: More often that not, this is what it comes down to for Notre Dame. Tommy Rees threw interceptions on consecutive passes during the Irish's first two drives last weekend against Oklahoma, which gladly took the 14-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest. His other pick led to seven more Sooners points. Not all of that was on Rees, though, as his offensive line did him no favors on one pick, and his receivers were not-so-sharp in their route-running on another. Still, Brian Kelly is 12-0 at Notre Dame when his team does not turn the ball over, and that cannot be stressed enough coming out of last week's 35-21 loss.

[+] Enlarge George Atkinson III
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe ASU defense has struggled against the run, which could make George Atkinson III a key factor.
Ground game: We harp on the run game again in this space, this time for different reasons. Notre Dame finally broke out of its shell in the backfield last weekend and piled up a season-best 220 yards on the ground, marking just its second 100-plus-yard rushing output through the season's first five games. George Atkinson III had a career-best 148 yards on 14 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run. ASU has shown some vulnerability against the run, so it is imperative for the Irish to establish that attack early against a defense that is giving up 192.3 rushing yards per game.

Defensive line play: Back in the summer, many looked at this game as a potential showcase between arguably the two-best interior linemen in the country in Louis Nix III and ASU's Will Sutton. But with the Irish's two September losses, there are bigger things to worry about -- mainly, if their defensive line can be effective against an offense that likes to spread the field and keep the opposition on its toes. The Sun Devils run 80.75 plays per game, tied for 13th-most nationally, and they have the weapons, like Marion Grice that can expose holes in any defense. Notre Dame has notched just three sacks on the season and has been burned for several big plays because of missed tackles. The Irish will need to be better in both departments against ASU. Notre Dame also is expected to have Sheldon Day back after he missed two games with a sprained ankle.

QB packages: Rees is still the starter, and that might not be changing anytime soon unless Andrew Hendrix has something to say about it. Hendrix saw extended meaningful action last week for the first time this season, as the Irish implemented some zone-read packages for the versatile redshirt junior. Kelly said earlier this week that Hendrix needs to perform better in those situations before he can be considered as a viable Rees replacement, but the coach said Thursday that Hendrix was much more engaged in practice this week. Expect to see more of him, in one fashion or another, against ASU.

Little things: Kelly showed his team clips this week of last year's tight wins against Purdue, BYU and Pitt. It is easy to forget just how close Notre Dame was to not running the regular-season table last year, and why even coming close to doing it again this year after suffering some key personnel losses is a challenge. But those three games are great illustrations why. Kelly said the team needs to do the little things better, citing the margin for error as "razor thin." The Irish treaded that line lightly last year, protected the ball and bunkered down on defense in the season's tightest moments. With a 3-2 start, such a film session should shake the players into shape and convince them that they are not as bad as their record says they are. We'll know more later tonight, as ASU provides little room for some of the mental lapses that have plagued the Irish so far.
Can the Irish avoid falling to .500?

When Arizona State has the ball: The Sun Devils have the nation's No. 7 passing attack. More impressively, they have the nation's touchdown leader coming out of the backfield in Marion Grice, who has reached the end zone 12 times. The 6-foot, 207-pound senior is shifty, able to take a handoff or a short pass from Taylor Kelly and turn it into a big gain. Kelly and the offense will look to strike fast, strike hard and strike quickly against the Irish defense, and they will likely attack the perimeter as well and minimize the potential impact of Notre Dame's defensive front.

When Notre Dame has the ball: Don't overlook the silver lining from the Oklahoma loss, which was that Notre Dame appeared to have finally established a ground game. George Atkinson III rushed for a career-best 148 yards, the Irish tallied a team-best 220 rushing yards and they look to finally have jelled in the other aspect of offensive football. Running the ball will be crucial against an ASU defense surrendering 192.3 rushing yards per game. It will keep the ball out of the Sun Devils' hands, give Notre Dame's defense a break and open things up in the passing attack for Tommy Rees & Co. Of course, protecting the football and running better routes are every bit as important to do this time around, too.

Intangible: The venue, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will technically be Notre Dame's home. Both teams are breaking out fancy uniforms. Brian Kelly showed his players highlights this week from last year's Purdue, BYU and Pitt games to show them the little differences between wins and losses the last two years. Do the ordinary things better, the Irish stressed, and wins will follow.

Prediction: ASU 34, Notre Dame 24. The Sun Devils remain one step quicker than an Irish team that has shown little indication through five games that it can keep up in a shootout.

Irish lunch links

October, 4, 2013
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Enjoy the weekend, gang.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Cole Luke is a true freshman from Arizona. Corey Robinson is a rookie from Texas. Both have seen extended playing time in their first five games at Notre Dame, and both will be part of reunions of sorts on Saturday when the Irish face Arizona State in Arlington, Texas, though both have tempered any excitement about the familiarity of the weekend.

[+] EnlargeCorey Robinson
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCorey Robinson returns to his home state of Texas when Notre Dame plays Arizona State in Arlington on Saturday.
"Honestly, I'm going to treat it like every other game," Luke said. "Trying to do the regular stuff that I do against any other team -- Oklahoma, Michigan State, so it doesn't really matter who I play, I'm just going to do the same stuff that I always do."

That role has increased for Luke in recent weeks, with the 5-foot-11, 184-pounder jumping from nickelback to the next-guy-in at corner behind starters Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell, tallying three tackles, one break-up and one pass defended in the process.

Luke, who will face a pair of buddies in Sun Devil starters D.J. Foster and Jaxon Hood — the latter of whom was his prep teammate at Chandler High — never really gave ASU much consideration because he was set on leaving the state.

Robinson, the Irish offense's 6-4.5, 205-pound target, had more hesitation leaving Texas, though the academics, tradition and "mystique" of Notre Dame convinced him to get out of the Lone Star State.

"My older brother goes to [Texas], so I was thinking about staying in Texas, being around my family going to see Spurs games," said Robinson, the son of former NBA great David Robinson. "That's a really big thing for me. My whole life I grew up in the stadium and in the arena."

Robinson has four catches for 66 yards this season. He is also a skilled ukulele player, as he and defensive linemen Kona Schwenke demonstrated after interviews Wednesday for television cameras in town to film a special on the Irish program.

The San Antonio native enrolled this past January, allowing him to adapt to the learning curve and get thrown into the fire early.

"Before it was just like a whole new playbook, and then they'll just throw you right in, especially coming in the winter, so it was just trying to stay alive," Robinson said. "And then now it's like actually understanding some of this stuff. Before it was just like: 'What is it? What is it? What is it?' And now it's kind of slowing down and I'll be like, 'Oh, that makes sense now,' because it's conceptual and I'm starting to understand everything."

Irish lunch links

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
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Poor Cleveland.

Irish lunch links

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
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That scene in Pittsburgh looked surreal.
Not to get Biblical on you, but the Arizona State Sun Devils -- Devils! -- are embracing their sinister side for their showdown Saturday against Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium.

The Sun Devils will don black uniforms with helmets decorated with wild-looking flames -- hellfire? -- against the Fighting Irish, who will be wearing angelic white.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezArizona State signal-caller Taylor Kelly has thrown for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.
Of course, this isn't a battle of good and evil. It's just two teams embracing the marketplace ideology of branding in college football.

"We wanted to do something unique obviously to Arizona State, so the flames we thought were pretty cool and we put the flames on the back, we obviously want to use our brand," said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, who was involved in the design and noted that every helmet will be different.

The Sun Devils are, er, on fire after a blowout win over USC, while Notre Dame is coming off a loss to Oklahoma and is a disappointing 3-2 after going unbeaten and playing for the national title a season ago. If the Sun Devils can pull off the win and start 4-1 against a rugged early slate, they will enter the meat of the Pac-12 schedule with plenty of momentum and confidence.

Moreover, they can make history. No team has ever beaten USC and Notre Dame, two of the nation's most storied programs, back-to-back.

But while Graham is glad to talk about attention-grabbing uniforms and history, neither is his central focus. There have been two downers so far this year for Arizona State: (1) The first half at Stanford; (2) The Sun Devils' run defense, which ranks 11th in the conference, yielding 192 yards per game.

When asked about what the problems were against the run, Graham, not known for being laconic in any event, went on with a nearly 500-word answer during his Monday news conference. This story is just over 732 words.

"I am answering long because this is the number one thing that we have to do to win a championship," he said. "This has got to get better and I think it can. That is our number one focus."

Graham said that the chief problem was players getting out of position. He said there were 15 misalignments for the defense against the Trojans, who rushed for 247 yards on Saturday. He also said the biggest plays are coming on the perimeter, not up the middle. Part of the problem against USC was noseguard Jaxon Hood being out. He's questionable-to-doubtful for the Notre Dame game.

The good news for that run defense, however, is the Fighting Irish's struggles on offense. They rank 85th in the nation in scoring (25.4 points per game) and 93rd in rushing offense (135.5 yards per game).

But even the Irish's vaunted defense has been only mediocre. It has yielded 23.8 points and 364 yards per game, numbers that rank 46th and 53rd in the nation.

It's worth noting that both teams have played tough opponents, so the early-season statistics might be slightly skewed. But in the preseason, the Sun Devils looked like underdogs for this game. Now they are 5 1/2-point favorites.

This game also will be another test for the Sun Devils learning to play better on the road, most particularly QB Taylor Kelly. Though this game is technically being played at a neutral site, Irish fans will far outnumber the ASU loyalists. The Sun Devils are 3-4 on the road under Graham, and two of the 2012 road wins were over woeful California and Colorado. The lone quality road win was at rival Arizona last year.

Further, Kelly is a decidedly better QB at home. His rating this season is 156.6 at home and 121.3 on the road (at Stanford, perhaps the Pac-12's best defense). Last season, he was 198.7 at home and 127.6 on the road.

"You could probably take any quarterback and they would have the same stats," Graham said before adding, "If you want to win a championship you have got to win on the road."

Graham was quick to point out that the Pac-12 schedule has more importance for the Sun Devils. But he also knows that lining up opposite Notre Dame means you'll be performing in front of a lot of eyeballs.

Winning is the most important part of branding.

"Is it more important than the Pac-12 games? No, it is not," Graham said. "That is how we emphasize it to our players. But it is very important to our fan base, very important to our football program."

Irish lunchtime links

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
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Go Pirates.

Irish lunch links

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
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Thoughts on Breaking Bad?

Irish lunch links

August, 5, 2013
8/05/13
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Well played.

Adidas unveils Shamrock Series unis

August, 5, 2013
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Best Shamrock Series uniforms yet?

That's at least the early vibe circulating social media, which, as always with these things, was the outlet for a sneak peek at the gear Notre Dame will be wearing two months from now when it faces Arizona State in Arlington, Texas.

(And, in the Notre Dame blog's opinion, an appropriate vibe.)

The jerseys are very similar to last year's, with all-white everything apparently the theme this time around — a slightly different look considering that the Oct. 5 tilt is technically a home game, the fifth in the new tradition.

We all remember last year, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick and an Adidas rep revealed the multi-colored helmet and navy jersey at preseason media day, with Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert doing their best runway impressions and the college football corner of the social media world collectively exploding.

Complaints seem few and far between so far with the 2013 uniforms, though the video showing a No. 5 with a strikingly similar frame to that of a certain former Irish quarterback could irk a few.

For now, kudos to Mr. Swarbrick and adidas.

Players to watch: Arizona State

July, 15, 2013
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The Shamrock Series is taking over Jerry World this year, with the Irish "hosting" Arizona State in Arlington, Texas, in Todd Graham's second year in charge of the Sun Devils. Graham beat the Irish with Tulsa in 2010 and came awfully close to repeating the feat with Pitt in 2011. Can he pull off the upset on Oct. 5?

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Taylor Kelly, QB. Kelly is one of the more underrated quarterbacks returning to college football in 2013, as he is coming off a season in which he set a school-record 67.1 completion percentage, throwing for 3,039 yards and 29 touchdowns to go with just nine picks. He added 516 yards and another score on the ground, and the redshirt junior returns his top three pass-catchers from last season. ASU appears to be one of the dark horses in the Pac-12 and on Notre Dame's schedule this fall.

Defense: Will Sutton, DT. This game will be fascinating if for no other reason than to see how the game's two-best interior defensive linemen fare on the same field: Louis Nix and Sutton. The reigning consensus All-American finished 2012 with 63 total tackles, including 23.5 tackles for loss (fourth nationally) and 13 sacks. Sutton was named the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts. The 6-foot-1, 288-pound redshirt senior is on the watch lists for both the Bednarik and Maxwell awards, one of just six defensive players to be named to the latter list. (Nix and Stephon Tuitt are two of the others.)

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