ASU vs. Notre Dame: Irish score late, take 14-13 halftime lead

Ronald Martinez

Tommy Rees threw two touchdown passes including one with 16 seconds remaining in the half to give the Fighting Irish a 14-13 lead heading into the break.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Arizona State Sun Devils wasted little time jumping on the board in the second frame against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Zane Gonzalez knocked home a 40-yard field goal to cap off a 12-play, 58-yard drive to give Arizona State a 3-0 lead, but that was just the beginning of a high-scoring quarter that ended with Notre Dame leading 14-13.

After Gonzalez's field goal, George Atkinson III returned the ensuing kickoff to the Irish 40-yard line and Tommy Rees and the Irish resumed their methodical approach. A pass interference call against Alden Darby moved the Irish across the 50-yard line and into Sun Devil territory. But Darby quickly made up for the penalty with stellar pass coverage on a 3rd and 11 play when he handled man coverage across the middle on a dig route and broke up Rees' pass.

An Irish punt gave the Sun Devils the ball on their own 11 yard-line to start their second drive of the quarter. Marion Grice pushed the Sun Devils' out to the 22-yard line before Kelly carried himself for a 16-yard gain. Then, Jaelen Strong struck.

The Sun Devil wide receiver came open on the left side of the field and leapt above a defender to snag a 27-yard reception in his trademark "How did he do that??" fashion. Kelly found freshman wideout Cameron Smith to help the Sun Devils into the Irish red zone and the coaching staff decided to turn things over to Marion Grice. Grice touched the ball on the next three plays, but he couldn't find the end zone.

Taylor Kelly was sacked for a 7-yard loss on a bootleg on third down and Zane Gonzalez came out for a 27-yard field goal attempt. the Texas native gave the Sun Devils a 6-0 lead, but they'll be frustrated with their inability to put the ball in the end zone on a 13-play drive.

Tommy Rees hit Troy Niklas and DaVaris Daniels on two consecutive completions to move the Fighting Irish into Arizona State territory within a minute of opening its next drive. Rees then found T.J. Jones on third down and five on a comeback route to keep the drive alive. On the very next play, backup tight end Ben Koyack caught a 19-yard touchdown pass in the flat to cap off a seven-play, 72-yard scoring drive.

The Sun Devils' red zone inefficiency turned out to haunt them as the Irish took a 7-6 lead with 3:35 remaining in the half. Two receptions from D.J. Foster put the Sun Devils back in business in Notre Dame territory.

A few incompletions stunted the Sun Devils drive, but on fourth down, Taylor Kelly put the ball in the hands of his best receiving threat. Kelly found Jaelen Strong on a 36-yard touchdown pass in man coverage on a seam route to give Arizona State a 13-7 lead.

Strong is a Calvin Johnson look-alike on the field and it's obvious by the way Kelly targets him. Instead of leading him into the open field, Kelly feels comfortable putting a little more loft under his passes when throwing to Strong to allow him to use his body control and make a play. Most times this strategy pays off and this time, it resulted in a critical touchdown pass.

Notre Dame took over with just over 90 seconds remaining and Tommy Rees put together another beautiful drive. Rees hit T.J. Jones on a 35-yard connection and then found Davaris Daniels inside the 10-yard line to give the Irish a fighting chance.

With 16 seconds remaining in the half, Rees went back to the well and found Jones on an out route on the side of the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown. The eight-play, 71-yard drive took just 1:15 and gave the Irish a 14-13 lead heading into halftime.

Rees' ability to move the football against a defense like Arizona State's was in question coming into the game, but his final two drives of the second half showed his value to the Notre Dame offense. The signal-caller was effective in communicating audibles and blitz pickups and that bought him plenty of time to engineer a scoring drive.

The Sun Devils head into halftime with plenty of adjustments to make, especially in the red zone. It's gearing up to be quite the finish in Dallas, so it could come down to coaching and clock management in the fourth quarter.

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