Arizona State vs. Notre Dame: Game ball awards

Ronald Martinez

So...apparently we have to hand out game balls for last night's embarrassing loss to Notre Dame. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Let's be honest: no one on Arizona State truly deserves a game ball after Saturday's 37-34 loss to Notre Dame and the players would be the first to tell you that. Bottle the fans' disappointment, multiply it by ten, throw in a few literal bruises and that's what the Sun Devil football team is dealing with.

But now that we've had a night to sleep on the loss, it's time to reassess the damage. This isn't going to hamper Arizona State's ultimate goal of making the Pac-12 Championship. While that's still very much in reach, anyone watching could tell you that Arizona State looked like anything but a Rose Bowl-worthy contender.

The final score doesn't tell half the tale; Arizona State was out-manned, out-coached and overpowered in every aspect Saturday. If we were really forced to hand out game balls, they'd probably go to Tommy Rees, Prince Shembo and the entire Irish offensive line. But since that's not how this column works, let's try to find three Arizona State players worthy of consideration:

Osahon Irabor, Cornerback

Let's make this clear first; the secondary, as a whole, played their worst game of the 2013 season and arguably their worst game in the Todd Graham era. But in one memorable play, Irabor tried his best to put the momentum back in Arizona State's corner. And he succeeded in at least making a game of it.

Trailing 24-13, Irabor chose an ideal time to register his first career pick-six. During his 37-yard return, he showcased more shiftiness than Marion Grice had in his 12 rushes combined.

Irabor also finished the evening with three tackles (including 0.5 for loss) and two pass breakups. He certainly could have had more tackles for loss and maybe a few sacks though with how much he asked to blitz. But each time Irabor had his number called, Rees and the offensive line was more than aware. That usually meant a quick audible or flipping the run away from his direction.

De'Marieya Nelson, Tight End

Nelson's final box score reads two catches for 23 yards including a 21-yard touchdown catch that made it a 27-27 tie game with 8:18 remaining. Unfortunately, the box score can't display where he Nelson made his impact felt most: in the blocking department.

Nelson sprung Grice on a handful of blocks thanks to some extraordinary effort and timing. And those blocks were even more valuable when you consider how Notre Dame's defense manhandled Arizona State's offensive line all game.

All things considered, Nelson also did fumble his first reception but he at least recovered it (unlike Richard Smith). Outside of that recovered fumble, Nelson's other three catches this season have either gone for first down or a touchdown. Talk about efficiency.

Jaelen Strong, Wide Receiver

Even with things not going Arizona State's way on the big stage, it's impossible to not be happy for Strong. For the fourth straight game, Strong cleared 100 yards, finishing the night with eight catches for 136 yards and one touchdown.

Strong went over the top of Notre Dame defenders on multiple occasions and still maintained that back shoulder chemistry with Taylor Kelly. Strong was the only thing consistently working for ASU's offense all game long, much like he's been throughout 2013. While it's no secret to Sun Devil nation, it seems that Arizona State's No. 1 target is finally being recognized as one of the finest pass catchers in the nation after proving his unstoppable ability for a national audience.

Last but not least it's time to hand out our Cones of Shame. Think of it as the not-so-honorable mentions: Head coach Todd Graham, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, defensive back Robert Nelson, wide receiver Richard Smith and Arizona State's offensive line

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