No. 8 (No. 10 CFP) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-1) vs. No. 11 (No. 9 CFP) Arizona State Sun Devils (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12)
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. MT/3:30 p.m. ET
Television: ABC (Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, Todd McShay)
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM/Sirus 91 (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Doug Franz)
Weather: Saturday's forecast calls for a high of 86 degrees and sunny skies. Temperatures should be around the mid-80's for most of the game.
What to Wear: The Sun Devils will debut their new "Desert Fuel" uniforms featuring a copper tone and charcoal/grey uniforms. The athletic department is asking for fans to be wear gold.
Series History with Notre Dame: The two teams have only met three times, with the Irish winning all three. Notre Dame and Arizona State last met in in 2013 in Dallas with the Irish beating the Sun Devils 37-34. The only time Notre Dame came to Tempe, they were victorious 28-9 in 1998.
Notre Dame's Season to Date: This has been a difficult team to figure out. The Irish are 7-1, with convincing victories over Michigan, Rice, Syracuse and Purdue. However, they allowed 43 points in a victory against North Carolina at home and 39 points last week against Navy.
That being said, the Irish went into Tallahassee and No. 2 Florida State all it could handle. Losing by just four points and having a victory potentially taken away after an offensive pass interference call late in the 4th quarter. Notre Dame is 7-1, yet the Irish do not have a victory over a current top 25 team. Their only victory over a ranked team was on Oct. 4 against Stanford.
Arizona State on offense: While it was not pretty against Utah, the Sun Devils found a way to win. Even though Arizona State won by just three points in overtime, they outgained Utah by over 200 yards on offense. The Sun Devils gained 20 first downs to Utah's 13 and even outrushed Utah 239-184.
A major force in that running game against the Utes was Demario Richard. The true freshman set a career-high with 116 rushing yards on 14 carries. Richard is a very physical runner who is not afraid to run between the tackles and also has great burst in the open field.
"They are really talented young backs, I have said that all year long. They allow us to diversify offensively even more," said Arizona State head coach Todd Graham about Richard and fellow freshman Kalen Ballage. "I think those two young men (Richard and Ballage) are special. D.J. Foster is the most impressive running back that I have had and those two are right in there with him."
The emergence of Richard and senior Deantre Lewis has allowed Foster to take a larger roll in the passing game. Foster has recorded a catch in all 35 games he has played at Arizona State. The junior led Arizona State with six receptions against Utah.
Taylor Kelly continues to shake off some rust, after missing six weeks with a broken foot. It was learned this week, that Kelly did in fact have surgery to repair that foot. The offensive timing has been a bit off since Kelly's return. However, Graham would like to point something out.
"He's undefeated," said Graham. "He's a winner, he's getting better every rep and we have to do a better job protecting him. He is not our team, he is a part of our team, so we just have to get prepared and get better."
The Arizona State offensive line has allowed 11 sacks in the past two games, including seven two weeks ago against Washington. The Sun Devils will have their hands full with the experienced defensive line of the Irish. All four of Notre Dame's starting defensive lineman have started all eight games this season.
"We're getting pressure like most teams in the country," said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. "We're adding another guy to the pass rush. Arizona State is adding two guys to their pass rush. You know, I think that's really where we want to go is that, look, whether it's the NFL or college football, I think we all hear this: If you can pressure them in four downs you're in good shape."
One player who will keep Kelly and his staff up at night is Jaelen Strong. The wide receiver caught eight passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in last year's meeting with the Irish.
"Yeah, we certainly have played players of his caliber, but he's a unique blend of speed and size that I don't know that we've quite seen, but clearly we know what we need to do," said Kelly. "We saw him last year too, and he's an outstanding player."
Just a reminder that at the beginning of the season, Notre Dame suspended five players due to violations of their code of conduct. Those players include starting cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Isaiah Williams and receiver DaVaris Daniels.
WR Jaelen Strong vs. CB Cole Luke: We mentioned above how Strong dominated Notre Dame last year, he was uncoverable in Dallas. The assignment this year will likely fall on sophomore Cole Luke. Arizona football fans may recognize Luke's name, has he starred at Hamilton High School for three seasons.
Luke has started all eight games for the Irish, he leads the team in both interceptions (3) and pass breakups (5). Florida transfer Cody Riggs may also see some time against Strong, who is the favorite target of Taylor Kelly.
OT Jamil Douglas/Tyler Sulka vs. DL Sheldon Day/Romeo Okwara: While Notre Dame only has 15 sacks as a team through eight games, Graham mentioned he believes their offensive and defensive lines are the best that Arizona State has played this year.
Okwara leads the team with 3.5 sacks and Day made the preseason Outland Award Watch List. Part of the reason Kelly has looked pedestrian since returning is that the offensive line has been very poor in pass protection. Winning the line of scrimmage will be very important on Saturday.
Arizona State on defense: The Sun Devils have shown vast improvement since the disastrous loss to UCLA in late September. Arizona State allowed just 10 points to Stanford and Washington and 16 points to Utah. Their scoring defense now ranks fourth in the conference.
There have been a few changes along the way that have yielded positive results. Antonio Longino has been a force at WILL linebacker and the Sun Devils have adopted a more conventional 4-3 scheme. We will see if that sticks against the spread offense of Notre Dame.
The Sun Devils send five or more rushers 55-percent of the time on defense, the average for Power 5 conference teams is 27-percent. The Sun Devils do a nice job of tacking in one-on-one situations and in the open field.
"I think that there's a better recongnition and understanding of the scheme," said Brian Kelly about the Sun Devil defense. "There's eight new players on that defense, so you could see that they're understanding what they're doing a lot better and what Coach Graham wants them to do. (They are) Tackling better. I think when we broke down the film, I think USC had three plays for 256 yards. I think they've eradicated some of those catastrophe type plays out there on defense."
The Sun Devils will be without defensive lineman Jaxon Hood, who will miss Saturday's game for an undisclosed reason. Ami Latu and Mo Latu will start along the interior of the defensive line with Tashon Smallwood rotating in.
The key for Arizona State will be containing Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, who did not play in last year's meeting in Dallas. Golson has already thrown for 22 touchdowns and 2,311 yards this season, adding 382 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. However, Golson has thrown seven interceptions in his last five games.
"The way he extends plays is the main issue he presents," said Graham about the Notre Dame signal caller. "He hurts people a lot on critical downs. He is the key to their whole offense and what he makes it work. We must do a great job containing him."
Graham mentioned that like a lot of scrambling quarterbacks, Golson is most dangerous when plays break down and he is making plays in the open field.
QB Everett Golson vs. ASU Secondary: Golson scored six touchdowns last week against Navy, however he has thrown seven interceptions in his last five games. Golson is dangerous when he is extending plays so the secondary holding to their assignments is going to be important. Tacking and avoiding big plays will be important if the Sun Devils are going to pull out a victory over Notre Dame.
TE Ben Koyack vs. LB Laiu Moeakiola: The Sun Devils have not faced a great a tight end yet this season, while Koyack is Notre Dame's fourth leading receiver, he is a Mackey Award Candidate for the nation's best tight end. Koyack, along with WilL Fuller will be the top targets for Golson today.
Statistically, the Irish are not elite in any phase. The team ranks 29th in the nation in scoring offense and 28th in scoring defense. Defensively, Notre Dame is 31st nationally against the run, 64th against the pass and 41st in total defense.
If the Sun Devils can protect Taylor Kelly, they should have success in the vertical passing game. The Irish will be without their leading tackle Joe Schmidt, who is lost for the season and their defensive line has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback when they just rush four.
Prediction: Arizona State 31, Notre Dame 28