In the first half you wondered, How in the world did this Arizona State team possibly allow 62 points and 10 yards a play to UCLA?
And in the second half you realized, Oh yeah, that’s how.
The Sun Devils looked every bit like one of the four best teams in the country in building a 34-3 second quarter lead over the visiting Fighting Irish, and then looked so much like the other Arizona State teams that habitually blew big games at home in allowing Notre Dame to pull within 34-31 with 6:37 to go in the fourth quarter.
First, how Arizona State built its lead. Irish quarterback Everett Golson committed three first-half turnovers, all of which led directly to Arizona State touchdowns – including a 59-yard Damarious Randall interception return for a touchdown. In the span 17 minutes of game action, the Sun Devils ripped off 31 unanswered points.
And then it was Notre Dame’s turn.
Golson hit William Fuller for a nine-yard score with 11 seconds remaining before the half, and notched the only score of the third quarter in the form of a Cam McDaniel one-yard plunge. McDaniel added another one-yard score with 9:12 to go in the fourth quarter, and then the Irish used a two-play, 59-yard drive, capped by a 25-yard scoring toss from Golson to a wide open Amir Carlisle to put Notre Dame within 34-31.
After notching as many turnovers as points allowed over its first seven drives, Arizona State allowed touchdown drives of 68, 56, 50 and 59 yards, aided by a Taylor Kelly interception.
Facing its most important drive of the season and the prospect of an epic desert melt down, Arizona State regrouped and marched 75 yards in five plays to post its first points of the second half, a four-yard pass from Kelly to Demario Richard to push the lead to 41-31 with 3:41 to go.
Arizona State put the game away with – guess what? – another turnover, this time a Golson pass that bounced off Corey Robinson‘s hands and into the arms of Arizona State defender Lloyd Carrington, who took it 58 yards to the house.
A turnover on downs allowed Kelly to add a cosmetic touchdown, his fourth of the day, on a two-yard run.
Goslon hit a number of big plays, stretching his 22 completions on 41 out over 446 yards and two touchdowns, but made just as many big plays for the opponent with a whopping five turnovers. Kelly was a much more controlled 17-of-28 for 224 yards with three scoring strikes and a pick.
In addition to winning the turnovers in a TKO, Arizona State also won the trenches, out-rushing Notre Dame 188-41.
The win will continue to push Arizona State’s stock sky high in the eyes of the committee, moving surely ahead of Auburn and tonight’s TCU-Kansas State loser at a minimum – and possibly higher if LSU knocks off Alabama and/or Ohio State downs Michigan State. Todd Graham‘s crew still has games with at No. 19 Arizona and a presumptive date with No. 4 Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship on the fist weekend of December. This is a team that is very much in control of its destiny. They’ll visit Oregon State next week.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, falls to 7-2 and out of the Playoff picture. They’ll return home to face Northwestern next week.