It looked like a tale of two halves, but ended up not being the case.
Everett Golson turned the ball over five times and Arizona State capitalized, scoring 28 points off those turnovers as they rolled 55-31 over Notre Dame in Tempe, effectively ending any hope of Notre Dame reaching the Playoffs.
The first half couldn't have much worse for the Irish. After driving downfield for a field goal, Golson turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions, all resulting in Arizona State touchdowns.
The first was carelessness. Attempting to elude a rushing Sun Devils defender, Golson put the ball on the turf, leading to a highlight reel TD catch by Jalen Strong of Arizona State that would put the Sun Devils up for good.
The second and third were similar. As Golson attempted an outside throw, the passes were tipped and intercepted, one of them being a pick-six by Demarious Randall. The Sun Devils would tack on another touchdown before half, going up 34-10.
The second half started promising as the Irish moved right down the field at will but Golson threw his third pick of the day, ending the drive.
From there, the defense stepped up, shutting down Kelly and the Arizona State offense and mounted a hopeful comeback. Golson relied heavily on Cam McDaniel as the Irish back put the ball into the end zone twice. A touchdown pass to Amir Carlisle closed the deficit to 34-31.
But it ended there. Arizona State moved right down the field and scored to go up 41-31. Then Golson tossed his second pick-six of the day as Corey Robinson couldn't handle a pass and a Irish drive that ended in a sack led to the final points of the day as Taylor Kelly ran in a 4th and Goal touchdown.
Some thoughts below:
What else can I say about turnovers?
Yikes. Take away the 28 points off of them and we have a 31-27 game. But thats putting things in a vacuum. Golson actually was not that bad, going 22-41 for 446 yards and 2 TDs, but yes, 4 interceptions and a lost fumble. Oof. Of all the Golson turnovers though, only the fumble and the first second half were directly his fault. What about the others?
Offensive Line was offensive.
With Arizona State sending blitzes on essentially every down, the Irish offensive line would certainly be tested. And they struggled. Golson was sacked multiple times and against the 81st-ranked Rushing Defense, the Irish ran for a paltry 41 yards. Yes, the Irish were down a lot and passing almost exclusively, but even on the goal line, the Irish struggled to put the ball in the end zone. The O-Line also failed to cut the edge rushers and when they dropped into coverage, they easily tipped Golson's passes.
Arizona State knew the Irish weaknesses and exploited them.
I've already addressed the O-Line above, but specifically on the defense, we were ripe for being hit deep and the Sun Devils picked the Irish apart. Without Joe Schmidt anchoring the middle, D.J. Foster gashed the Irish defense for 120 yards. With Cody Riggs nursing a foot injury, Taylor Kelly went after Devin Butler all afternoon. It was ugly and got ugly fast. Even special teams, who played solid all afternoon, couldn't escape with a miscue, though that wasn't directly related to Arizona State doing anything special. The Irish just couldn't get out of their own way.
This is why you end the series with Navy.
While ABC/ESPN ran the narrative all game about the Irish trying to get out of this game (product of the ACC deal), I'll fling my sour grapes at another opponent of ours and one that I've already waxed poetic on last week. Since 2007, the Irish game results post-Navy have been as follows:
2007: L to Air Force, 41-24
2008: L to Syracuse, 24-23
2009: L to Pitt, 27-22
2010: L to Tulsa, 28-27
2011: W vs. Wake Forest, 24-17
2012: W vs. Purdue, 20-17
2013: L to Pitt, 28-21
2014: L to Arizona State, 55-31
That is 2-6 and that is bad. Call it either fluky stats or call it how I see it: An Irish team that spends a week preparing for gimmicky offense and spends the next week nursing their wounds. I say thank Navy and call it a day. Winning the National Championship requires many things: luck, talent, wins (obviously) but another part is scheduling. If the Irish want to have a chance at the Playoffs, they need to schedule accordingly. They could start by ending the Navy series.