After one of the biggest victories in the recent history of Arizona State football, there is much to discuss. The Sun Devils were unstoppable in the first half, couldn't pick up a first down in the third quarter and once again pulled out a victory thanks to crucial plays in the fourth quarter.
At the end of the day, Arizona State controls its destiny. Not only for the Pac-12 Championship, but for a national championship. If Arizona State wins out, they will be in the College Football Playoff. Let that sink in while you read some of my takeaways from Arizona State's victory over Notre Dame.
1. This team is mentally tough: It was not a easy victory for the Sun Devils, despite leading by as many as 31 points and taking a 34-10 lead into halftime, Notre Dame gave Arizona State all it could handle. At one point in the second half, Notre Dame scored 28 unanswered points and trimmed the Sun Devil lead to just three points.
That is when the Sun Devil offense went to work. After punting on four of their five second half drives, the Arizona State offense marched 75 yards on five plays into the endzone to take a 41-31 lead. The Sun Devils then closed out the Irish on the Lloyd Carrington pick-6.
Arizona State continues to find a way to win big games. Their best players step up in key situations and at this point it is not a fluke. Say what you want about the victory over USC, but the hail mary was not a fluke play. Closing out Utah, Washington and Notre Dame proves this team is extremely tough mentally.
2. The Sun Devils are a blitzing team: This one has been known for a few games now, but it was reinforced against the Irish. Arizona State struggled early in the season to get pressure on the opposing quarterback. Against Notre Dame, the defense collected seven sacks and ten tackles for loss against an offense that had given up just 14 sacks on the season.
The Sun Devils rarely get pressure with just four rushers, so what the do they do? They blitz, Todd Graham and company brought the blitz on 73-percent of Golson's dropbacks, the result was five turnovers and a 45-percent completion percentage.
The following players recorded a sack against Notre Dame: Jordan Simone, Lloyd Carrington, Laiu Moeakiola, Antonio Longino, Tashon Smallwood, Marcus Hardison and Villiami Latu. The Sun Devils do a great job bring rushers from the secondary, especially the corner blitz. Arizona State will bring anybody, anytime and they do a nice job disguising the blitzes.
3. The Sun Devil offense is stagnant without Jaelen Strong: The junior wide receiver started the first half much like he played against Notre Dame last year, when he caught eight passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. Strong made one of his finest catches as a Sun Devil on a 13-yard pass from Taylor Kelly to give Arizona State a 10-3 lead. He caught five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
However, in the second half, Strong was suffereing from cramps and was in-and-out of the lineup. He was targeted just one time in the second half and did not record a catch. That was a reason why the offense had a hard time moving the football, there was almost no deep threat and no threat on the outside.
4. The Sun Devils may have the best running backs conference: When people think of running backs in the Pac-12, they tend to think Oregon. They always had the most feared backs in the conference. That may be changing.
D.J. Foster and Demario Richard combined for 170 yards on 38 carries. What makes the duo so special is they are opposites of each other. While Foster has proven he can run in between the tackles and get tough yardage, that is not his specialty. Foster likes the ball on the outside and in space, where he can use his speed.
Richard runs people over and will never shy away from contact. Combined those two with Kalen Bellage and Deantre Lewis and the Sun Devils boast one of the top backfields in the Pac-12.
5. Taylor Kelly is back: Graham admitted the Kelly had surgery to repair his broken foot and that the quarterback has not been at full strength in the three games since his return. Kelly looked to be back in his old form Saturday afternoon against the Irish. Sure, he missed a few throws, every quarterback misses a throw here and there.
Kelly was an efficient 17 of 28 for 224 yards and three touchdowns. He did throw a bad interception where he misplaced a throw to the sideline on the run. Kelly should have thrown the ball to the boundary, where only his receiver could make a play on it. Instead he lofted a pass behind his intended receiver and it was picked by Matthias Farley.
Kelly ran the offense very well against Notre Dame, especially in the first half. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and Kelly took advantage of the time to throw.