by Mike Coffey
GarbagePlate follows up on his pre-game take by reviewing the Fighting Irish’s performance against Air Force.
Air Force may have an impressive fleet of aircraft and weaponry, but the Cadets were rendered helpless yesterday by an Irish aerial attack led by Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees and his vast fleet of able receivers. Rees (17-22, 284 yards and 5 TD) dropped bombs all over an undermanned Falcon secondary as the Irish cruised to a 45-10 victory on a beautiful Saturday in Colorado Springs. With the win, the Irish improved to 6-2, while Air Force fell to a disappointing 1-7, which ensures that they will not be playing in a bowl game for the first time in Troy Calhoun’s tenure.
Notre Dame, in keeping with its modus operandi, stumbled out of the gate as the offense failed to reach the end zone on the opening drive and Kyle Brindza’s 46 yard field goal attempt was blocked. On the subsequent possession, the Falcons sliced through the Notre Dame defense on the ground and punctuated the drive with a 10 yard touchdown jaunt from Colton Huntsman. With the Falcons thinking upset, Rees answered quickly with a long touchdown pass to freshman Corey Robinson, who notched his first career score with a beautiful catch. After an Air Force punt, Rees found a wide open Will Fuller for an easy 45 day touchdown to put the Irish ahead 14-7. Like Robinson, the touchdown was a career first for Fuller.
Air Force closed within four points with a field goal midway through the second quarter, but the Irish responded swiftly with a three play touchdown drive capped by a Rees touchdown pass to tight end Ben Koyack to give Notre Dame a 21-10 lead. The Irish would tack on a Kyle Brindza field goal to increase their lead to 24-10 and KeiVarae Russell recovered an Air Force fumble deep in Irish territory to preserve the two touchdown edge at the half.
The Falcons marched into Notre Dame territory to start the second half, but freshman quarterback Nate Romine fumbled into the hands of Jaylon Smith, who scooped up the loose ball and sprinted to the end zone for an apparent touchdown. Bizarrely, the referees initially ruled that the fumble was an incomplete pass, although the play was overturned on review. Since the referees had blown the play dead, however, the Irish were forced to take possession at the spot of the fumble, thereby denying Smith the opportunity to join his fellow freshman in the first touchdown club. Members of the Notre Dame equipment staff were seen quietly rejoicing on the sidelines because they only had enough room for two souvenir balls on the truck. Despite this unfortunate ruling, Notre Dame stormed down the field with five Cam McDaniel runs and finished the drive with a 30 yard touchdown pass from Rees to T.J. Jones to take a 31-10. On the ensuing drive, Air Force went three and out and Rees went right back to work with a long touchdown to Chris Brown. At that point, the rout was on as the Irish emptied the bench and allowed Andrew Hendrix to finish the game under center (“under center” being a term of art with this Irish offense).
With his five touchdown tosses, Rees became the fourth Notre Dame quarterback to throw 50 or more TDs, joining Ron Powlus (52), Jimmy Clausen (60) and Brady Quinn (95). On the ground, the Irish were led by Cam McDaniel (10 carries for 61 yards) and freshman Tarean Folston (11 for 47). TJ Jones led the way with seven receptions, including his aforementioned touchdown, and Notre Dame totaled 466 yards of total offense. For the Falcons, Romine made a surprise start for the injured Karson Roberts and played reasonably well with 21 carries for 76 yards, although his passing numbers were pedestrian. Air Force gained 339 yards in defeat, 290 of which were on the ground. We also learned that Broam Hart’s first name is actually polysyllabic (rhymes with “pro-am”), which was neat.
Time to revisit the key questions posed in the preview:
1. Will Air Force be rusty after an extended layoff? Not in the least. The Falcons jumped to an early 7-0 lead with a defensive stop and a crisp opening drive. Unfortunately for Air Force fans, the Irish were able to wear down the Falcons.
2. Will the Irish crack the 200 yard mark on the ground? Of course not. In my preview, I offered a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Brian Kelly would not be able to suppress his urge to pass the ball against a weak Air Force secondary. This proved to be true, as the Irish took to the air early and often. Notre Dame averaged 3.6 yards per carry against an undersized and undermanned front seven. C’est la vie.
3. Will the Notre Dame defensive backs tackle effectively in run support? Yes. KeiVarae Russell delivered a superb effort from his cornerback spot with sound tackling against the option. Russell will have another opportunity to shine next week against Navy. Also worth noting: freshman Cole Luke had 6 tackles yesterday and he is emerging as a key contributor for Notre Dame.
4. Can Air Force hit some big plays over the top in play action? No. The Irish stifled the Air Force passing game, though the Falcons had a key drop in the first half.
5. Will Andrew Hendrix bounce back from a rough evening? Sort of. Hendrix played fine and scored a touchdown, but it was in garbage time (not to be confused with garbage plate time, which you, the reader, are on right now).
6. Will the altitude affect Notre Dame? Not significantly. In fact, one Irish player was heard to remark to another, “I thought the Rocky Mountains would be a lot rockier than this. That John Denver’s full of [excrement], man!”
7. Will Air Force take any cheap shots at the Irish? Yes. Kendall Moore was the recipient of an ugly cheap shot from an Air Force lineman. All was apparently forgiven when the Irish continued the ridiculous tradition of joining Air Force for their alma mater in an effort to maintain the appearance of being “classy.”
8. How much will I drink throughout the day? Estimated tally: 14 drinks. I drank two 22 ounce beers (Hoppin’ Frog Double Pumpkin (8.4% ABV) and Bruery Autumn Maple (10.0% ABV)), along with two Southern Tier Harvest Ales during the afternoon, which we’ll count as six. Thereafter, my wife and I split three bottles of wine over the course of the evening, so I’ll count that as eight more. The two main conclusions that can be drawn from this experience: (1) Saturdays are awesome and (2) candy corn will not be replacing lamb as a classic pairing with Cabernet Sauvignon.
At 6-2, the Irish return home next week to face Navy, followed by a road tilt at Pittsburgh, an off week, Senior Day against BYU and a Thanksgiving trip to Stanford. Although Notre Dame should handle the Midshipmen with ease, one can expect difficult games against a BYU team that has quietly been playing solid football and a Pitt team that, despite losing to Navy, is better than the 2012 outfit that came within a missed field goal of winning at Notre Dame. Consequently, anyone who is expecting a cake walk on the road to Palo Alto would do well to recalibrate his or her expectations.