Notre Dame: Ground Game Key In Upset Win Over Arizona State

Tommy Rees

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY SPORTS

Notre Dame completed its upset over No. 22 Arizona State on Saturday evening, with little to no help from their senior quarterback Tommy Rees in the fourth quarter. The Fighting Irish can give all the praise to their running back duo and impressive defensive crew — send a huge thank you to running backs Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III, and linebacker Dan Fox.

When it mattered most, in the midst of a tough fought football game in front of a national audience, it was McDaniel and Atkinson that sewed up the victory for Notre Dame offensively. The very first play of the fourth quarter was an interception by Rees on third and 10 into the hands of Osahon Irabor, who returned 37 yards for a Sun Devil touchdown. That was all head coach Brian Kelly needed to see — 14 of the next 19 offensive plays were on the ground. Led by McDaniel and Atkinson, the Fighting Irish were able to take a 30-27 lead with 3:03 left in the game. An interception returned for a touchdown by Fox with 1:16 remaining sealed the 37-34 victory for good.

Rees was 2-for-5 in the fourth quarter, passing for a total of 27 yards and the pick-six. Rees was successful through the first three quarters, with 15-of-31 for 262 yards and three touch downs, but he was silent in the fourth. Notre Dame hoped that the senior would step up and seal the victory himself, but instead he brought the Sun Devils back into the game with his interception to open the fourth, bringing the score to 27 all.

Rees’ name was barely uttered in the fourth, except with negative connotation. With the spotlight shining through its brightest beam, Rees faltered. Giving credit where credit is due, Rees helped put the Fighting Irish into the position to win Saturday’s game, but he couldn’t finish off the victory himself. He needed McDaniel and Atkinson III, and he should be thankful for the dynamic duo, who ran for 84 yards in the final quarter.

If Notre Dame hopes to stay in the top 25, where they should be following this upset victory, they will need a balanced offense from both Rees and the ground crew in all four quarters of the game.

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