by Mike Coffey
With the rival Trojans behind us, it’s time to talk service academies, with the Zoomies of Air Force first up. My five … er, three questions this week were kindly answered by Ryan Ritter at Her Loyal Sons, and his answers appear below. I was queried by Frank Vitovich over at UHND, and my answers will be appearing there. Meanwhile, the other Faustian-nightmare exchanges can be found at Irish Insider and Strong and True.
The offense without Tommy Rees definitely didn’t look ready for prime time. If Andrew Hendrix has to start against Air Force and continues to look ineffective, do you favor taking the redshirt off Malik Zaire? Why or why not?
I knew Hendrix wasn’t as good as Rees, but what we saw against USC was a nightmare. I’m hoping that it was more of a case of jitters than anything else, but somehow I doubt that would be a serious excuse for what we saw. USC started stacking the box with 8, 9, and even 10 and Hendrix couldn’t take advantage.
That all being said, if Hendrix needs to play against Air Force (and thankfully signs are pointing to no), this would be a great team to get some confidence back again. Some struggles here would be acceptable and I highly doubt Air Force could stop a Hendrix-led rushing attack no matter what they do.
Personally, I’m only lighting the redshirt on fire if the Irish are in danger of losing. Had USC taken the lead, I think there would have been a serious consideration to throw him in. Even though it’s an outside chance, a BCS bowl isn’t out of the question and I’d personally like to see the Irish exorcise that final demon before it goes to pasture.
Outside of the opening drive, the defense looked light years better than we’ve seen them so far this season. What were they able to do against the Trojans that made such a difference?
I think it’s a number of things.
First, the Trojans have no depth. All season long they fall apart in the second half because they are worn down. Add to the fact that a Trojan player was going down seeming every five minutes and that’s a recipe for disaster. Not having to worry about Marqise Lee sure didn’t hurt as well.
Second, the Irish have consistently shown to be a second half team. If we go back to 2012, even the disaster of the title game, the defense always came out firing in the second half. Diaco, I believe, is one of the best in the business at making adjustments at the half to expose mismatches and attack weaknesses.
Finally, and it’s horribly cliche, I think they had a fire lit under them coming out of the locker room. Multiple players cited Tommy’s halftime speech as a serious motivating factor and that’s something that you just never hear in interviews. Mix in that kind of emotion when they are already sky high in playing a rival and I think that gives a bit of an extra boost when you hit the field. When the game fell on their shoulders when that same leader went down, they didn’t blink.
How much do you believe Colorado Springs’ altitude will affect ND’s quality of play Saturday?
The Irish should have enough depth to rotate at just about every position should it be needed. As I said before, Air Force is pretty terrible and the gap between their first team and our second team is still rather large.
My only concern will be if the defense spend the entire game failing to get off the field in short order (giving up more than two first downs on a drive) consistently. That, plus the potential of someone’s knees getting taken out by a chop block does scare me. Should either one of those nightmare situations happen, we’ll likely see some kind of decline as the game wears on.
Even if play declines a bit from the above scenario, it won’t be enough for Air Force to make a game out of this.