Arizona State notched a signature win Saturday, beating No. 10 Notre Dame 55-31 to improve its case for the College Football Playoff. In their win over the Irish, the Sun Devils put together a complete performance minus some faults in the second half. Unselfish play on offense and opportunistic defense paced Arizona State to a monumental victory for the program, but the game was not without its stars. Here are our game balls from Saturday's win.
D.J. Foster and Demario Richard
You can't mention the contributions of one of these two running backs without mentioning the other, as Foster and Richard continued to develop as a potent 1-2 punch for Arizona State on Saturday. Foster, whose rushing totals have dipped significantly since Taylor Kelly's injury Sept. 13 at Colorado, recorded his first 100-yard rushing game since then, racking up 120 yards on the ground against the Fighting Irish. Foster looked much more decisive in his cuts, and the offensive line did a great job of opening up holes for the speedster from Scottsdale.
While such performance from Foster has become a common sight, Tempe is still familiarizing itself with true freshman Demario Richard. But with how Richard has been playing as of late, he's on his way to becoming a household name. Richard, who turns 18 in December, toted the ball 13 times on Saturday, totaling 50 yards on the ground. Richard's first-quarter touchdown plunge from the 1-yard line gave Arizona State a double-digit lead at 17-3. But it was Richard's play out of the backfield that really helped the Sun Devils. His 40-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter helped to answer a Notre Dame touchdown and quell the panic in Sun Devil Stadium. On the next play, he caught a 4-yard dumpoff from Kelly and waltzed into the end zone for the clinching touchdown. With Foster and Richard playing well behind a healthy Kelly, the rushing offense has never been more lethal for Arizona State.
After the game, Foster dubbed Richard as "the yin to my yang." With three conference games separating them from a return trip to the Pac-12 title game, Arizona State will be relying on their yin and yang.
The Defensive Line
Many of Notre Dame's struggles against Arizona State came against the steadily-improving Sun Devil defense, and the Irish's five turnovers were a product of constant pressure from Todd Graham's Devils. Graham sent five or more men on 73% of Arizona State's defensive snaps, but it was the big guys up front who rush every down that made the game-changing plays.
Tied 3-3 in the middle of the first quarter, true freshman Tashon Smallwood sacked Everett Golson deep in Notre Dame territory, stripped the Irish quarterback and fell on the ball to set up the first Sun Devil touchdown. The next drive, Demetrious Cherry tipped a Golson pass and Marcus Hardison corralled it, setting up another Arizona State touchdown as the Sun Devils ran rampant. Hardison and the defense totaled seven sacks of Golson along with two forced fumbles.
Hardison's contributions weren't limited to the sack and interception. On Notre Dame's following drive after the two turnovers and subsequent Arizona State touchdowns, Hardison read the eyes of Golson, timed his jump right and batted at the Irish quarterback's pass. The tipped ball fell right in front of safety Damarious Randall, who snatched it and ran 59 yards to the house for a 21-point lead.
Sure, the blitzkrieg of scoring in the first half and the eventual 24-point win over the Irish was a lot of fun for the Sun Devils, it wasn't without its moments of tension. After trailing 34-10 at halftime, Notre Dame stormed back to within three points at 34-31 on Amir Carlisle's touchdown reception.
Needing a score to quell the Irish momentum and avoid the worst collapse in program history, Taylor Kelly and the offense orchestrated its best drive of the afternoon. The senior captain drove his team 75 yards down the field in just over two minutes, capping off the five play drive with Richard's second touchdown of the game. The touchdown re-upped Arizona State's lead back to ten points at 41-31, and the Irish comeback attempt faltered from there. Kelly totaled 224 yards on 17-28 passing, but it was his performance on the climatic drive that saved the Sun Devils
Because of Arizona State's ball-hawking defense Kelly and the offense were afforded many scoring opportunities with great field position. But the 75-yard drive was not among them, and Kelly stepped up to keep the Irish at bay.