2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 6 - Air Force at Notre Dame
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Oct. 8 at Notre Dame 59 … Air Force 33
CFN Analysis: Finally, that's the Irish offense humming on all cylinders. There weren't any turnovers, the six penalties as a team weren't any big deal, and everything clicked with Tommy Rees completing 23-of-32 passes for 261 yards and four scores, while Andrew Hendrix was fantastic in relief completing all four of his throws for 33 yards and running six times for 111 yards. The defense got gouged by the Air Force running game, and allowed 565 total yards, but the offense wasn't going to let it be a game. This was a dominant performance against a good team, and now the team gets two weeks to rest up and prepare for an interesting stretch against USC, Navy, and at Wake Forest. Unfortunately, though, the Irish might want to keep on playing as hot as it's been over the last two games.
Where's the Air Force secondary that was so terrific over the last few years? The secondary might be undergoing an overhaul, but the result are still way too disastrous considering the team finished second in the nation in pass defense and tenth in pass efficiency defense. This year so far the Falcons are 102nd in the nation in pass efficiency D and dead last against the run. The offense didn't have a problem moving up and down the field on the Irish defense, and the ground game was terrific using 14 different runners, but the defense wasn't even close as the Irish got up 21-3 in the first and was up 49-16 in the third. With San Diego State's Ryan Lindley up next and Boise State to follow, Air Force has to hang on to the ball for very, very long stretches to keep the defense off the field.
(AP) SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame showed just how its spread offense is supposed to work.
Tommy Rees found four different receivers with first-half TD passes and seven Irish players reached the end zone Saturday as Notre Dame scored its most points since the end of the Lou Holtz era 15 years ago and routed Air Force 59-33.
"We have got very good diversity within our offense. We can run and throw it. We are hard to defend right now," coach Brian Kelly said after his team's fourth straight victory.
"We are making the strides. ... We have not arrived. The pieces are starting to come together for us. We are getting there."
Notre Dame (4-2) got TDs on all six of its first-half possessions and led 42-16 at the intermission. The Irish now head into a bye week with a four-game winning streak.
Rees was 19 of 25 for 208 yards in the first half and finished 23 of 32 for 261 yards.
"It's maybe a little bit of everything. Getting in a rhythm and getting in a groove with this offense," Rees said of his improved play, which has included no turnovers the last two games after having nine in the first four.
The wide-open game featured the most combined points ever for a game at Notre Dame Stadium, breaking the previous mark of 90. And the 59 points were the most by Notre Dame since beating Rutgers 62-0 in 1996 -- Holtz's final home game as Irish coach.
The two teams combined for 1,125 yards total offense -- 565 by Air Force and 560 by Notre Dame.
"We want more," said receiver Theo Riddick, who had eight receptions, including a TD catch. "If we could have scored 75, we would have gotten 75. But we're excited with the win regardless if it's one point or 30 points."
Air Force tried everything -- a no-huddle and option offense that ran up big yards, an onside kick the Falcons' didn't recover, a fake punt that resulted in a 19-yard gain. Air Force finished the first half with 311 yards and was 5-for-5 on fourth down conversions in the game.
But the Falcons (3-2) were simply no match physically for the Irish, especially Notre Dame's big offensive front that allowed Rees ample time to find wide open receivers and running backs to dance through huge holes.
"Frankly, when you see them playing live, you're a little bit surprised that the record is not even better and it can be as they go," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said of the Irish.
Two Falcons turnovers, a fumble by Asher Clark on Air Force's first play from scrimmage and an interception, helped send the Irish onto TD drives.
"We put our defense out there with some short fields, absolutely," Calhoun said.
The Irish also showed a new wrinkle and a new weapon in Kelly's attack when sophomore Andrew Hendrix was inserted as a change-of-pace quarterback in place of Rees.
Hendrix completed all four of his passes and broke off a 78-yard run to the 2 in the fourth quarter, showing off his ability and giving a glimpse perhaps of the Irish's future. Hendrix finished with six carries for 111 yards.
"It just creates many more difficulties for a defense, and at the end of the day allows our offense to be very diversified," Kelly said of Hendrix, adding that Dayne Crist is still the backup to Rees. "It just gives you another dimension on our offense that if you're not prepared for it, you can see what happens."
Tim Jefferson's 6-yard TD pass to Ty MacArthur, set up after punter David Baska's 19-yard run and another 30-yard jaunt by Mike DeWitt, got Air Force within 35-16 in the second quarter.
But just as they did all day, the Irish played pitch-and-catch and went right down the field for another score. This time it was Riddick catching a pass over the middle as Rees was hit. Riddick sailed through the defense on a 24-yard play that made it 42-16.
Notre Dame scored on its first drive and kept going.
Michael Floyd leaped high over Air Force's Bobby Watkins III to grab a pass from Rees at the front pylon of the end zone. Initially ruled a touchdown, the play was reviewed -- and even though replays showed that Floyd's left foot appeared on the line -- the score was upheld.
The 34-yard TD pass capped an 81-yard drive, one that took under three minutes and also included a Rees-to-Riddick hookup of 24 yards.
"There was no explanation. ... It was confirmed that it was definitely in. I didn't see it, either," Calhoun said. "When I saw it on the sideline, I thought it was out. But as far as the actual visual, I didn't see it."
Moments later, on the Falcons' first scrimmage play, Clark broke off a 29-yard run but fumbled at the end of it and Robert Blanton recovered for Notre Dame.
A 20-yard run by Jonas Gray, who had two TDs, set up a 5-yard scoring pass from Rees to Tyler Eifert.
After a field goal by Air Force's Parker Herrington, the Irish got a 40-yard kickoff return by George Atkinson III and moved in for another TD in four plays. Hendrix hit Eifert for 22 yards, setting up Rees' 10-yarder to Robby Toma for the score.
The Falcons then used their no-huddle offense to confuse the Irish and move down the field 80 yards. Notre Dame forced a field goal try, but Irish freshman defensive end Aaron Lynch -- starting because of an ankle injury to Ethan Johnson -- was offside on the play, giving the Falcons a first and goal at the 3. Jefferson then carried in for the TD before Darius Fleming blocked the extra point attempt, leaving the score at 21-9.
Air Force tried an onside kick and Notre Dame recovered at the 38, setting up another short drive capped by Gray's 5-yard TD run. Jamoris Slaughter's acrobatic interception of Jefferson sent the Irish on to another TD. This time it was Cierre Wood's turn with an 8-yard touchdown run and it was 35-9.
Air Force (3-1) at Notre Dame (3-2) Oct. 8, 3:30, NBC
Here's The Deal … Air Force vs. Notre Dame hasn't taken on the life of Navy vs. Notre Dame, but it's a good battle through the years that should be terrific this season. The two haven't played since 2007, a 41-24 Air Force blowout, but things have changed a bit since that 3-9 season for the Irish.
On a three game winning streak since the loss to Michigan, Notre Dame has been fantastic (Michigan State), inconsistent (Pitt), and workmanlike (Purdue), but along the way it's proving that things have turned around since the turnover-fest that defined the first two games. There are still red zone mistakes and there are still too many giveaways, but the defense has been terrific and the offense is still finding its way. Everything is there for the rest of the 2011 season to be special, but all the parts have yet to come together at the same time. All that's missing is a little more time and a little more maturity. Air Force doesn't have that problem.
This is a smart, tough, veteran Falcon team that knows exactly what it's doing on offense and always brings the A effort on defense. Led by Tim Jefferson, the school's all-time winningest quarterback, the offense is humming along with the nation's third-ranked rushing attack, and with a win over Navy last week, things are back on track after the loss to TCU.
This is the second of four road games in five weeks, with Boise State coming up soon after a Mountain West date at San Diego State, and it's going to take a flawless effort to come away with the win. The Irish have the talent and the defensive front to give the Falcon offense problems, while the Air Force secondary hasn't been as air tight as it's been over the last few years.
It's not nearly as big as the USC game will be for Notre Dame in two weeks, but it should be just as exciting and just as competitive. It's a step. If the Irish wins, USC becomes really, really big. If Air Force wins, Boise State will be a spotlight battle.
Why Air Force Might Win: Here's how this whole Air Force thing is supposed to work. The running game is supposed to move the chains in a slow, methodical manner, and when defenses load up to stop the run, Jefferson hits on a big third down pass to keep things moving. Third down conversions mean everything, and Air Force is fourth in the nation converting over 59% of the time. Notre Dame is okay at moving the chains, but it's only connecting on 42% of its chances.
Jefferson has been terrific for a passing game that ranks fourth in the nation in efficiency. Air Force might not throw it too often, but when it does, it's ultra-effective. Of course, the running game is the team's bread-and-butter, and few are doing it better with the Falcons rolling up 364.5 yards per game. Notre Dame's defensive front might be talented and productive, but it didn't slow down Denard Robinson, who ran for 108 yards and a score on 16 carries, and now it has to figure out how to stop the multi-faceted Falcon running game that's doing everything right over the first quarter of the season. However …
Why Notre Dame Might Win: Here's the problem. Time of possession doesn't matter for quick-strike teams, but it's a really big deal for the Falcons. Air Force needs to keep the chains moving and it needs to own third down, but the defense is 106h in the nation on third downs allowing teams to convert a whopping 47% of the time. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has been terrific allowing just 22-of-71 conversions (31%), which feeds into Air Force's other problem; it's TERRIBLE at cranking out drives this year. The Falcons are 116th in the nation in time of possession, keeping the ball for under 25 minutes a game, while Notre Dame is solid, hanging on for 31:32 per outing.
Air Force has been stunningly good against the pass in recent years, but the secondary is struggling a bit so far this season despite facing just one team – TCU – with any semblance of a strong passing game. The Falcons are only giving up 182 yards per game through the air, but they're getting picked apart too much on deep ball. If Navy's Kriss Proctor could complete 14-of-24 passes for 132 yards, and Notre Dame offense should be able to throw.
What To Watch Out For: Every team with a great linebacker or two gets a huge game from some defender against Navy, and last week it was Brady Amack who was in on every play for Air Force. The senior made 23 tackles with two tackles for loss and a sack, being all over the field and snuffing out running play after running play. At 6-0 and 225 pounds, he's a smallish, tough player who makes big things happen when they come his way, and he has the quickness to always get around the ball.
Notre Dame has a star linebacker of its own, and junior Manti Te'o is starting to do even more. After making 14 tackles against South Florida and 12 stops against Michigan State, he has turned into even more of a pass rusher with a sack against Pitt and two against Purdue. He's smart, quick, and he's maturing into a better all-around defender after not doing much behind the line last year. By the way, he made 13 stops against Navy last season.
What Will Happen: It's Notre Dame. There will be turnovers. However, there won't be enough of them for Air Force to overcome good, balanced day from the Irish offense and a huge day from Michael Floyd. He might not come up with the 12 catches for 137 yards and a score he had against Purdue, but he'll have his fourth double-digit catch day of the season.
CFN Prediction: Notre Dame 34 … Air Force 16
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Notre Dame -16 O/U: 54.5
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