ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dan Fox vaulted himself into the end zone late in the fourth quarter, an unnecessary leap but one that carried some symbolism as he flew over the goal line.
A Notre Dame team that had been outplayed when it counted in its first five games finally made more plays than its opponent on Saturday at AT&T Stadium, beating a top-25 Arizona State team, 37-34.
Fox's pick-six -- the graduate student's first touchdown of his career -- all but sealed the win. Along with a few other key offensive and defensive plays over the course of Saturday evening, it was the kind of play Notre Dame had lacked in losses to Michigan and Oklahoma.
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"I wouldn't say he had to dive into the end zone," wide receiver T.J. Jones laughed. "But as a receiver a lot of times you want to dive into the end zone just to do it, just to kind of, I guess, enjoy the touchdown.
"So seeing him do it, it was funny, it was kind of relieving at that point with him scoring that touchdown in that situation. And we definitely enjoyed it."
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Jones made a number of plays, reeling in eight passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. Jaylon Smith led Notre Dame with eight tackles. Bennett Jackson forced a fumble, which Tommy Rees and Troy Niklas converted into a touchdown. Prince Shembo had three sacks, after having none through five games. Ben Koyack caught his first career touchdown.
The list goes on and on, and while Notre Dame hardly played a flawless game it was by far the team's best effort of the season.
Jackson attributed some of that success to a different feel in the locker room -- the kind of energy and swagger the team had last fall.
"That's something that we've been trying to push," Jackson said. "That's something that last year that was just great -- we came out hot, everybody was flying around. And you're energetic, and when you have all that momentum going you're playing at another level. So It's definitely something we've been pushing towards."
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Not only did Notre Dame make plays, but the offense and defense made plays after taking punches from its opponent.
With 90 seconds left in the first half, Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly found receiver Jaelen Strong for a 36-yard touchdown on fourth-and-four. Replays showed Kelly didn't get the snap off before the play clock ran out, but it went uncalled.
Instead being resigned to a six-point halftime deficit, Rees engineered an impressive march downfield that ended with an eight-yard touchdown toss to Jones with 10 seconds left.
In the second half, it was the defense's turn to step up. Rees opened the fourth quarter by throwing a pick-six, and Notre Dame's offense later sputtered in the red zone and managed only a pair of field goals when it could've buried Arizona State.
But Shembo, who looked unblockable at times, came up with a clutch sack -- his third and final of the game -- on Arizona State's first play on a crucial drive late in the fourth. Stephon Tuitt later pressured Kelly, and on fourth down the Sun Devils quarterback was picked off by Matthias Farley.
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"Sometimes in our two losses I think that was one of the things that really made it tough, is we weren't able to answer the call at times," running back Cam McDaniel, who gained 82 yards on 15 carries, said. "And I think that just shows us maturing a bit as a football team, as we're able to come back and not be rattled but keep our composure."
Notre Dame heads into its first bye week at 4-2, with a far sunnier outlook than it had as an underdog heading into Saturday's game. It won't erase the previous two losses, but in playing its best game of the season in the palatial glitz of AT&T Stadium, Notre Dame finally has some momentum on its side.
"We knew that this game was important to us, and we were tired of letting close games slip away from us," Jackson said. "We knew we had to go out and make plays."