Rees leads Irish to 37-34 Shamrock win over ASU
Rees threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns, and Notre Dame made it 5 for 5 in the traveling Shamrock Series with a 37-34 victory against No. 22 Arizona State on Saturday night.
Kyle Brindza kicked three second-half field goals, including the go-ahead kick from 25 yards with 3:03 remaining. He tied a Notre Dame record with a 53-yarder that matched the longest in a college game at the $1.2 billion home of the Dallas Cowboys.
It was the second win in Texas in the five-year Shamrock run of home games on the road for the Irish (4-2), starting with a victory over Washington State in San Antonio in 2009.
"It's a big win for us, to get right back on the right track in the bye week and the halfway point of the season," said Rees, who had just nine completions in a loss to Oklahoma last week. "It was kind of a game we understood the importance of and we were really ready to go and had a great week of preparation."
Taylor Kelly threw for 362 yards and three scores for the Sun Devils (3-2), who missed on a chance to become the first team to beat Southern California and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks.
Notre Dame's T.J. Jones had eight catches for 135 yards, including a pair of first-down catches on the drive to the winning field goal. Cam McDaniel, who went to school in nearby Coppell, had four straight carries for 32 yards to get Notre Dame in field goal range. McDaniel finished with a game-high 82 yards.
The Irish clinched the win when Dan Fox, who recovered a fumble to set up a touchdown, returned Kelly's second interception 14 yards for a touchdown with 1:08 remaining.
The Sun Devils pulled within 37-34 on Kelly's third TD — a 16-yarder to Marion Grice with 11 seconds left — but Jones recovered an onside kick.
Notre Dame, one of the best in the country at rushing the passer last year but statistically one of the worst this year, found its form.
The Irish pressured Kelly throughout, and Prince Shembo had three of their six sacks, including one for a 10-yard loss the first play after Brindza's kick that put the Irish ahead for good.
"We all remember what we saw last year defensively salting away games and we feel(asterisk) like our defense is continually getting better," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "We are not there yet."
The Irish led 24-13 after Rees' 21-yard touchdown on a jump ball to 6-foot-7 tight end Troy Niklas, but the Sun Devils got back in it with a 37-yard interception return by Osahon Irabor and Kelly's 21-yard scoring toss to De'Marieya Nelson that made it 27-all.
Rees' scoring toss to Niklas — his third — came two plays after Bennett Jackson stripped ASU receiver Richard Smith on a short pass, with the loose ball bouncing into the arms of Fox.
"I thought that was the play of the game," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "There's 14 points off two plays and guess what, those count. We just did a poor job taking care of the football."
Notre Dame's first regular-season game in the Dallas area since 1958 was technically a home game, and had that feel.
Both end zones were labeled "Notre Dame," with the Texas-themed Shamrock Series logo at midfield. The huge video board constantly showed smiling Notre Dame fans, and any sign of ASU yellow or red was by accident.
Rees finally gave the green-clad bunch something else to get excited about with two touchdown passes in the last 3:35 of the first half.
Ben Koyack scored his first career touchdown for Notre Dame when he caught a pass from Rees on the sideline with nobody around him and ran most of the 19 yards untouched for a 7-6 lead.
Kelly gave ASU the lead back when he took a snap with the play clock at zero and hit Jaelen Strong in stride behind the defense for a 36-yard touchdown on fourth-and-4. Strong had eight catches for 136 yards.
"They beat us in the turnover ratio so that's the biggest thing," Kelly said. "We were winning that and in the second half we lost the turnover ratio, and I think that's where we kind of lost it."
Rees, who had 156 yards passing in the second quarter, put the Irish in scoring range again with a 35-yard pass to Jones, then found Jones in the end zone from 8 yards for a 14-13 lead with 10 seconds left in the first half.
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