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Notre Dame prediction: Game 9 at ASU

11/6/2014

No. 10 at No. 9. What's not to love?

How Notre Dame can win: So much of Notre Dame's defensive success came from the unit's ability to adapt and react so quickly under new coordinator Brian VanGorder. No one was more instrumental to that success than Joe Schmidt, who is now out for the season with a broken left ankle. Nyles Morgan steps in and needs to rise to the challenge quickly. Offensively, Everett Golson needs to protect the ball while his line needs to protect him, as Arizona State loves to bring pressure, recording 16 sacks when sending five or more pass-rushers.

How ASU can win: Jaelen Strong is a handful, and if Taylor Kelly can establish a rhythm early, this offense can really open things up, especially with a backfield threat as versatile as D.J. Foster, who has as many 20-plus yard plays receiving (nine) as he does rushing (nine). His 18 plays of 20 or more yards are the most in the Pac-12, and tied for the third-most in the nation. Like Notre Dame, though, ASU needs to fend off pressure, something the Sun Devils have struggled with in the two games since Kelly's return from a foot injury, giving up 11 sacks.

Breakout player: Morgan. The four-star freshman needs to break out -- or at the very least grow up quickly -- for Notre Dame to keep its playoff hopes alive in Tempe.

Prediction: ASU 34, Notre Dame 27. It is entirely possible that the Irish are the better team, but the timing of this contest could not come at a worse time for them, as it is their first game without their most important defensive player, and their first after playing Navy. (Notre Dame is 2-5 in the past seven years in games after facing Navy, beating just Wake Forest in 2011 and Purdue in 2012 by seven and three points, respectively.)