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ASU Football: First look at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Irish come to Tempe for the first time since 1998

Rob Carr

The scheduling snafus of this game are in the past, Notre Dame and Arizona State will finally play in Tempe Saturday. At stake is the ability to stay in the hunt for one of four spots in the College Football Playoff. A win for the Sun Devils would hold the maroon and gold in even higher esteem around the country and ensure Arizona State's status as one deserving of first place in the Pac-12 South and national title contender.

Key Notre Dame wins and losses this season

The Fighting Irish got off to a quick start with dominating wins over Rice and Michigan, but quickly ran into trouble at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Fighting Irish had to overcome ejections, injuries and a deficit on the scoreboard too. Danny Etling completed a 19-yard pass to DeAngelo Yancey to put the Boilermakers up 14-10 in the second quarter. Notre Dame then regained the lead on a 15-yard touchdown run right before halftime to give the Fighting Irish the lead back and eventually a 30-14 win. Golson completed 25 of 40 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns and also led the team on the ground with 14 rushes for 56 yards.

Three weeks later Stanford played Notre Dame in South Bend in horrendous monsoon like conditions. The Cardinal took a 14-10 lead with three minutes left on an 11-yard run by Remound Wright. Then with just over a minute left, Golson found tight end Ben Koyack on a 23-yard pass for a touchdown to give the Fighting Irish the 17-14 victory

North Carolina almost took down the Fighting Irish the following week as well. The Tar Heels got out to a 14-0 lead before a 7-yard run for a touchdown by Greg Bryant capped off 21 straight unanswered points to give Notre Dame the lead. UNC got it back 36-35 on a 23-yard pass to Marquise Williams. Tarean Folston put the game away with a 6-yard touchdown run to give Notre Dame a two-score lead 50-36. UNC would score again but the Fighting Irish escaped with a 50-43 victory. William Fuller had seven receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns for the win

The Fighting Irish lost a close and controversial game in primetime to No. 2 Florida State. From the 2-yard line with time waning in the final seconds, Golson completed a touchdown pass to Corey Robinson which was called back with offensive pass interference. The Seminoles won 31-27. Golson stuffed his stat line with 313 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss.

Notre Dame got out to a 28-7 lead against Navy, but the Midshipmen scored 24 unanswered points, capped off by a 4-yard run by Chris Swain 31-28 with 4:09 to play in the third quarter. The Fighting Irish regained control, scoring three fourth quarter touchdowns to win 49-39 as Notre Dame moved to 7-1.

Notre Dame on offense

Under center running Brian Kelly's spread offense will be senior Everett Golson, who has a lot larger dual threat and athletic ability than Tommy Rees. He has 2,311 yards passing this season with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's also the team's second leading rusher with 78 carries for 272 yards and seven touchdowns. Keeping contain on Golson will be crucial for the Sun Devils.

Golson likes to spread the ball around too. Four players have at least 20 catches for the Fighting Irish this season. That group is highlighted by sophomore William Fuller who has 599 yards receiving, 46 receptions and nine touchdowns. Sophomore Corey Robinson adds another threat with 29 receptions for 393 yards and four touchdowns. Notre Dame has five players who average at least 13 yards per catch so they're not afraid stretch the field vertically.

Notre Dame has numerous options in the backfield too. Sophomore Tarean Folston leads the way with 532 yards on 101 carries. Senior Cam McDaniel and sophomore Greg Bryant will also get a few carries. The entire offensive line is juniors and seniors with the exception of  sophomore right guard Steve Elmer. The rest of the line averages 309 pounds across the front, highlighted by Christian Lombard at left guard.

Notre Dame on defense

The Fighting Irish utilize a 4-3 defense in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's first year at the school. Junior Sheldon Day and junior Jarron Jones have combined for 62 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hurries. Sophomore Isaac Rochell has 20 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss. Junior Romeo Okwara leads the team with 3.5 sacks.

The linebackers for Notre Dame will be weaker against Arizona State because leading tackler Joe Schmidt is out for the season with an ankle injury. The next best option is sophomore Jaylon Smith with 59 tackles, two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Also lining up at linebacker is sophomore James Onwualu who will have to step up and freshman Nyles Morgan will step up in Schmidt's place. Morgan has just eight tackles this season, playing in seven games.

Elijah Shumate leads the Fighting Irish in the secondary which is allowing just 21.6 points per game, good for No. 29 in the country. At safety with 42 tackles and an interception. Alongside him is sophomore Max Redfield with 38 tackles and an interception as well. The play at corner is anchored by senior Cody Riggs and sophomore Cole Luke. Cole leads the team in interceptions with three and eight passes defended too.

Special teams

Senior Kyle Brindza handles the kicking, punting and field goals for Notre Dame. He has made 10 of 16 field goals this season, landed 10 of 30 punts inside the 20-yard line and had touchbacks on 36 of 54 kicks. The return game isn't anything special for the Fighting Irish. Cody Riggs is averaging just 7.5 yards per return on 13 punt returns while senior Amir Carlisle returns kicks. He's averaging just 20.5 yards on 13 kickoff returns.