A lot went right for the Sun Devils Saturday, but a lot also almost went very wrong. Arizona State was just three points away from losing what was the 31-point lead in the first half. Taylor Kelly, Demario Richard and D.J. Foster all came to the rescue on the next drive to seal the win for the maroon and gold. Keeping all this in mind, here are our positional grades for the Sun Devils:
It's hard to argue with the performance Taylor Kelly was able to put together Saturday. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 224 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also had 18 yards on the ground with another touchdown. Among his highlights were a 43-yard pass that landed right in the arms of Cameron Smith. He also had an awful decision to throw back across his body moving toward the sidelines in his only interception. He missed a couple of throws and took a sack, but used his feet well when necessary to pick up yards. It was one of Kelly's best performances of the season. That interception nearly cost the Sun Devils the game though.
Running backs: A-
Arizona State continued to run the ball throughout, sticking to the game plan which paid off in the end. Demario Richard and D.J. Foster combined for 170 yards on 34 carries in the best rushing effort since the Colorado game. Richard's physicality showed through on many occasions bowling over the Fighting Irish and cutting well too. Foster found the edge multiple times, gaining seven and eight yard chunks.
Offensive line: B+
Taylor Kelly was only sacked once and had plenty of time to throw in the pocket. While the holes weren't gaping for Foster or Richard, they easy enough to find. The Fighting Irish weren't really known this season for their ability to sack the quarterback but when pressure did come, the Sun Devils were able to identify it and pick it up. They were stagnant for most of the second half, but they were also trying to chew clock and Notre Dame knew what was coming. Good, solid effort by this group.
Wide receivers: B
Tight end Brandon Landman dropped a touchdown in the end zone and Cameron Smith dropped a deep ball in the third quarter, but it's hard to think up any true costly mistakes by this group. They worked for each other to get open and made some incredible grabs, highlighted by Jaelen Strong's touchdown catch. Strong finished with five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown while Smith added four receptions for 67 yards and touchdown. There wasn't anything overtly special about this group, but they got the job done when they were called upon a majority of the time.
Defensive line: A
Tashon Smallwood, Marcus Hardison and Viliami Latu all had a sack. Hardison also had a tipped pass that led to an interception as well as an interception himself. Smallwood had a strip sack and fumble recovery on the same play too. If it weren't for these turnovers early paired with the offense's ability to take advantage, it could have been a different game. This is probably the biggest impact the defensive line has had on a game all season. They also stifled the abilities of the Fighting Irish on the ground, giving up only 41 yards.
It was hardly the linebacking corps biggest game of the season, but performed well when called upon. Laiu Moeakiola, Antonio Longino and Salamo Fiso combined for 18 tackles and five tackles for loss. Moeakiola and Longino also recorded sacks. They were, however, part of the coverage units that let up 446 yards passing to Everett Golson, which is why this grade gets knocked down slightly. It's easy to overplay these numbers against other groups of linebackers because of how much Todd Graham likes to blitz, but overall it was another solid performance from this group.
This was absolutely the hardest grade to give out. Giving up 446 yards passing earns this group somewhere below a "C" and returning two interceptions for touchdowns puts them somewhere a lot closer to an "A" so a "C+" is a little less than the average of those two. Jordan Simone and Lloyd Carrington led the team with nine and eight tackles respectively, however the Notre Dame receiving corps averaged 20.3 yards per catch. Damarious Randall whiffed badly on another near interception, which cost the Sun Devils when C.J. Prosise took it another 59 yards deep into Arizona State territory.
William Fuller had six receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown on absolutely miserable coverage by Kweishi Brown, but Brown also had a crucial interception near the goal line. Amir Carlisle had the other touchdown for Notre Dame with three receptions for 95 yards. This group excelled in some areas but fell flat in others and it nearly cost Arizona State the game. I came to the conclusion that the three interceptions outweighed the importance of the passing yards which is why they land on the high side of the "C" range.
Special teams: B
Arizona State really seems to have found their stride on special teams over the last four games. Matt Haack's per punt average of 39.3 on six punts wasn't too desirable, but only two were returned a total of just three yards. Zane Gonzalez hit both his field goals, including one from 47 yards and made all seven of his extra points. The return game was nonexistent on punts, but Kyle Middlebrooks and Deantre Lewis each returned one of Kyle Brindza's four punts for 15 and 18 yards respectively. Nothing wrong with this performance from the special teams.