By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
Notre Dame finds itself on the road this week, out of the Top 25 in both major polls and trying to regroup as the 2013 season reaches its halfway point.
The Fighting Irish (3-2) are in Arlington, Texas tonight for a matchup with No. 22 Arizona State at AT&T Stadium in the annual Shamrock Series game. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
After starting the season on somewhat of a tear, Notre Dame senior quarternack Tommy Rees is struggling. After opening the 2013 season completing 65-of-107 passes — a 60.7 percent completion rate, averaging 323 yards a game through the first three games — Rees completed just 23 of 58 passes, a 39.7 percent completion rate for 123 yards with three interceptions the past two games.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said Rees will have to adjust to the attention that comes with being the Irish starting quarterback — that attention lately trending negative on social media.
“Look, if you’re the starting quarterback at Notre Dame and you can’t handle those things that are inevitably going to come your way after a loss, then you can’t be the quarterback at Notre Dame,” Kelly said bluntly. “It comes with the business of being the quarterback at Notre Dame. You have to avoid the noise, when it’s good and when it’s bad. And that’s just the nature of it.”
Rees, after last week’s loss to Oklahoma, acknowledged that he has much to work on, but said he was going to put the past few games’ struggles behind him.
“One play at a time. You can’t dwell on what just happened. You have to keep moving forward,” Rees said.
Much is at stake for both teams this week: Arizona State could become the first team to beat Southern California and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks and also solidify its position as a BCS bowl contender.
For Notre Dame, a loss all but eliminates the Irish from BCS bowl consideration and sends them into a midseason bye week on a two-game losing streak with a .500 record and a plethora of questions.
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham walked a fine line earlier this week between recognizing the game’s significance, while also putting it into the proper context of the entire season and the team’s goals.
“It is a great opportunity for us. Each week I am not going to say this that opponent is the most important opponent,” Graham said during his weekly press conference. “Very clearly our priority is being Pac-12 Champions. Period. That is not to de emphasize this game at all. This game is a national game for us, an opportunity for our players. I talked to them yesterday about making history. They can be the first team in college football history to beat USC and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks. That has never happened. I would say that is pretty significant.”
For Kelly’s part, the Shamrock Series game has become a part of the team’s fabric and a chance to expose Notre Dame football to a greater audience.
“It’ll be a great atmosphere for our football team. The Shamrock Series has been a great piece of our schedule over the last few years, enjoying different parts of the country, and it’s a great area for our football alums and our fans, so we’re excited about the venue, and again, another very, very good opponent in Arizona State. Should be a great matchup,”
Notre Dame is 4-0 playing these annual “home games” at neutral sites, winning by an average of 28 points. ... Last season Notre Dame outscored opponents 85-9 in the first quarter during the regular season. So far this season, the Irish are even at 31-31. ... Arizona State running back Marion Grice leads the nation in scoring at 18 points a game. ... Arizona State coach Todd Graham is from the Dallas area and formerly worked as a security guard at Cowboys games. ... While at Tulsa, Graham handed Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly one of his biggest losses when the Golden Hurricane beat the Irish 28-27 in 2010.
Material from the Associated Press was used to compile this story.