Eds: This is our instant recap published immediately after the game, written with the second half first and the first half after. Stay tuned to House of Sparky for full postgame coverage with analysis, insights and quotes.
The second half didn't start any better for the Fighting Irish, but quickly turned around. Quarterback Everett Golson completed passes of 21 and 44 yards to get Notre Dame the doorstep of its second touchdown, but then Jordan Simone hit Golson in the back during the throw, leading to a Kweishi Brown interception in the end zone, the Sun Devils' fourth takeaway of the day. Arizona State was unable to get anything on the ensuing drive, and punted it away after three plays.
Notre Dame's offensive line did not do Golson any favors. Even when he wasn't getting sacked, he was hurried on seemingly every play, and Notre Dame couldn't get a first down when it got the ball in good field position in the third. Finally, about halfway through the third quarter, Notre Dame got it together. Golson found Amir Carlisle for a 31-yard pickup and four plays later, on a 4th-and-goal, Cam McDaniel scored to bring the game to 34-17. At that point the Irish had scored the game's last 14 points.
Whatever coach Brian Kelly said to Notre Dame in the locker room worked. The Irish were clearly the superior team in the third quarter, scoring all seven points in the frame, out-gaining the Sun Devils in yards 198-32 and holding the ball for 9:36. At the end of 45 minutes, Arizona State led 34-17, but the Fighting Irish were driving.
A botched snap on a filed goal attempt turned the tide back in the Sun Devils's favor. Arizona State was moving, seemingly with ease, until Taylor Kelly made a bad decision to throw across his body and into the arms of Notre Dame's Matthias Farley. Notre Dame used the field position to manufacture another touchdown with 9:12 left. The Sun Devil team that once led by 31 only led 34-24.
It just kept rolling for the Irish. They stopped Arizona State's next drive, with the Sun Devils choosing to punt on 4th-and-inches. When Notre Dame got the ball back, it only took Golson two passes o find the end zone again, and it brought his team within three with 6:37 left. The student section, loud and raucous for most of the game, sat in a stoned silence.
DJ Foster and Damario Richard took it upon themselves to wake the crowd up. Arizona State used five plays to get back its two-possession lead. Foster rushed three times for 31 yards, then Kelly found a streaking Richard for 40 yards to get to the Notre Dame 4-yard line. Kelly went back to Richard to finish the job, and the Sun Devils were up 41-31 with 4:29 left.
And just as soon as it looked like Notre Dame was going to come back, it was over. Arizona State got its second pick-six of the game, this time Lloyd Carrington the beneficiary of a tipped pass. With 3:41 left in the game, the Sun Devils led 48-31, and Sun Devil faithful could breathe a sigh of relief. When Viliami Latu sacked Golson on a 4th-and-10, it indeed was over.
Arizona State added a Taylor Kelly keeper on fourth down for a touchdown with 52 seconds left to bring the score to 55-31, where that would become the final score.
Thanks to suffocating defense and opportunistic offense, Arizona State jumped out to a commanding 34-3 lead at halftime.
The Sun Devils won the coin toss and opted to receive, starting their first drive of the game at the 9-yard line following a block in the back on Deantre Lewis' kickoff return. Taylor Kelly and the offense quickly made its presence felt, as true freshman Demario Richard rushed for an early 12-yard gain and Jaelen Strong hauled in a 12-yard reception. But the drive stalled at Arizona State's 41-yard line, and Matt Haack punted away to the Irish.
Notre Dame sustained a long drive on its first possession, but the Arizona State defense that has been playing lights out as of late made a couple of big plays to force a Fighting Irish field goal. Lloyd Carrington and Marcus Hardison recorded sacks of Irish quarterback Everett Golson to escape with just a field goal allowed.
The Sun Devils took over possession with just over six minutes left in the first quarter, and sustained their first scoring drive of the afternoon. A pair of Kelly home run throws fell incomplete, but D.J. Foster rushed for a couple of first downs to set up a Zane Gonzalez 47-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3.
Arizona State's defense then took over, making two game-changing plays against the Irish offense. True freshman Tashon Smallwood sacked Golson deep in Irish territory, stripped the Notre Dame signal caller and picked up the ball, giving Arizona State possession at the Irish 13-yard line. The sack and fumble recovery were the first of Smallwood's career. Arizona State needed only one offensive play to capitalize on the turnover, as Kelly's 13-yard pass to the right pylon was pulled in with one hand by Strong for the first touchdown of the game. Gonzalez's extra point followed and the Sun Devils lead 10-3.
On Notre Dame's next offensive drive, the Sun Devil defense made another game-altering play. This time, defensive lineman Demetrious Cherry batted a Golson pass up and Marcus Hardison corralled it, setting up the offense with another great opportunity at the Irish 23-yard line. A 14-yard run by Richard set the Sun Devils up at the goal line, and the freshman punched it in with a 1-yard touchdown run as Arizona State held a 17-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The huge game from the Arizona State defense continued into the second quarter, as the Sun Devils came up with yet another turnover, their third in a row. Hardison tipped a Golson pass up in the air, and safety Damarious Randall jumped on it with an open field ahead, scampering 59 yards for a Sun Devil touchdown, padding the lead to a now-commanding 24-3 advantage.
After another strong defensive series by Arizona State forced a Notre Dame punt, the Sun Devil offense returned to the field, and subsequently put up another scoring drive. A Foster run for 11 yards set Arizona State up in Notre Dame territory, and Kelly made the best pass he's made since returning from injury, finding Cameron Smith in stride in the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown. With the touchdown catch, Arizona State took a 31-3 lead with more than ten minutes remaining in the half.
The Sun Devils and Irish traded punts, but Arizona State tacked on another Gonzalez field goal before the half, taking a eye-popping 34-3 advantage. The Fighting Irish managed a touchdown right before the second quarter ended, and Sun Devils went into the locker room up 34-10.