by John Vannie
Notre Dame jumped off to a quick 20-3 first quarter lead and coasted to a 39-17 victory over the Air Force Falcons on Saturday. Brady Quinn threw four touchdown passes, three of them in the team’s first three possessions, and Terrail Lambert returned a blocked field goal attempt for a 76-yard score to pace the 9-1 Irish.
It took Quinn and Jeff Samardzija only two plays and 54 seconds to take the opening kickoff 80 yards to paydirt. Passes of 29 and 51 yards were all the Irish needed to take a7-0 lead. After a three and out by the Falcons, Notre Dame marched in for a score, this time covering 56 yards in seven plays. John Carlson’s one yard reception capped the drive and the Irish had yet to face a third down or suffer an incomplete pass.
Air Force answered with a drive of its own, but it stalled on the Notre Dame 15 when Mike Richardson nailed Chad Hall on third down. Zach Sasser came on to boot a 32-yard field goal to put the Falcons on the board. The Irish appeared to be stopped on their next possession, but a roughing the punter penalty gave them new life. Given a second chance, Darius Walker ripped off two big gains and Quinn hit Rhema McKnight for a 24-yard touchdown.
The first quarter ended with Notre Dame ahead 20-3 after a missed extra point, and most everyone believed that the outcome had been decided. Apparently, someone forgot to mention this detail to the Falcons. Air Force dominated the next two quarters, as they kept possession for 25 of the next 30 minutes.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they were outscored 13-7 by the Irish during this time frame due in part to Lambert’s play after Trevor Laws batted down Sasser’s field goal try. Air Force had nothing to show for two second quarter possessions covering 17 and 15 plays, although the fact that Notre Dame’s defense could not get off the field was not lost on anyone.
The teams exchanged scoring drives in the third period. Quinn led his mates on an 87 yard march in just over three minutes, but Walker did most of the heavy lifting before a scoring pass to Marcus Freeman stretched the Irish lead to 33-3. The Falcons answered against the gassed Notre Dame defense despite liberal substitution by the Irish coaching staff. This time, Shaun Carney directed a 16-play, 80-yard march in eight minutes. Carney hit Beau Suder for the final 12 yards as the quarter came to a close.
Notre Dame stretched its lead to 39-10 on the next series. Walker broke off a 40-yard run and ran in for a score three plays later. Carney answered with the games final scoring drive by hitting Jacob Kendrick with a seven yard pass.
The final statistics were not flattering to Notre Dame despite the one-sided score. Showing uncharacteristic balance, Carney passed for 205 yards and the Falcons ran for 200 more. Air Force kept the ball for nearly 39 minutes, but the Irish kept them out of the end zone with key stops in their own territory.
The win proved costly for Notre Dame in that Carlson appears to be lost for the remainder of the regular season with what appeared to be a knee injury. This is obviously a devastating blow to the Irish offense, and certainly more of a concern than the three missed extra points by Carl Gioia.
The Irish return home for their final home game against Army before a trip to USC. Although this team’s flaws are evident regardless of the opponent, Quinn’s extraordinary ability and game management skills are a joy to watch. Fortunately for Notre Dame fans, his biggest and best collegiate performances could still be ahead of him.
John’s Top 20
1. Ohio State
4. Notre Dame
13. West Virginia
15. Georgia Tech
16. Virginia Tech
17. Wake Forest
John’s Bottom Ten
2. (tie) Miami (Fla.) & Florida State
5. San Diego State
8. Big 10 Basement (Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern)
9. North Carolina
10. Iowa State
Dishonorable mention: Colorado, The State of Mississippi, The MAC