Final Review: Notre Dame v. Air Force ’06

Special teams up and down again
The Notre Dame special teams units had another up and down came this week. The Irish blocked a field goal which Terrail Lambert returned for a touchdown, but also allowed two Carl Gioia extra points to be blocked before Gioia missed a third on his own. These inconsistent performances on special teams don’t make much of a difference when the Irish are playing the likes of Air Force and Army, but when November 25th rolls around, such inconsistencies could spell disaster for Notre Dame.

Walker showed a good burst
It’s amazing how much faster Darius Walker looks when there are giant holes opened up by the offensive line. Walker sliced and diced the Air Force defense to the tune of a 10+ yards per carry average. The junior half back ran for 153 yards and didn’t have a negative run on the day. One run where Walker did show the “lack of top end speed” moniker, however, was on his 39 yard burst in the second half. Walker got caught from behind by an Air Force defender on a play he probably should have scored on. That one play shouldn’t overshadow an otherwise stellar day for Walker.

N’Dukwe was everywhere
Saying senior safety Chinedum N’Dukwe was everywhere might be an under statement. “Nedu” recorded 22 tackles, third most in Notre Dame history, and he now has the team lead in tackles this season with 79. Nedu was the outside contain on the option runs of Air Force and Shaun Carney pitched much more frequently than he kept it which led to plenty of opportunities for tackles – and he capitalized on all of them.

Pass coverage was a bit suspect
In the second half, Shaun Carney was able to tear up the Notre Dame secondary. Air Force is not a particularly good passing team, but the Falcons were able to march down the field through the air in the second half. Part of Air Force’s success could have been because the Irish were so intent on running the ball, but there were definitely instances where Notre Dame defensive backs had chances to make plays and didn’t. Unlike last week when the Irish were in position but got beat, Notre Dame defensive backs were often out of position this week. Again, this won’t hurt the Irish against Air Force, but it will be deadly against the Trojans next week.

Toryan Smith and John Ryan are future stars on defense
Weis got a couple of freshman defenders – middle linebacker Toryan Smith and defensive end John Ryan – in the game early against Air Force and both showed some promise. Ryan was surprisingly strong against the run when he was in the game, and Smith showed he can bring it. Smith ended the game with two solo tackles while Ryan ended with two tackles (1 solo, 1 assisted) including a tackle for a loss. Both freshman could see themselves starting next year which makes getting meaningful playing time very important for these two.

Quinn was his normal spectacular self
Brady Quinn had limited opportunities on Saturday, but he made the most of the ones he got. Quinn completed 14 of 19 passes for 205 yards and four touchdowns and didn’t throw an interception for the sixth straight game. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – we are really getting spoiled having a quarterback like Quinn behind center. Brady will be sorely missed next year. Enjoy these last three games Quinn has leading the Irish.

Landri is the Defensive MVP so far this year
Derek Landri continues to impress me this year. He added some weight in the off-season and did not lose any of his quickness off the line. Landri added 11 tackles with two for loss this week and now has 55 tackles with 10.5 of them going for a loss this year. Landri is playing his way up the draft boards this year.

Samardzija’s coming on down the stretch
After a slow start to the season, Samardzija now has three 100 yard performances in the past four games after a six play, 108 yard outing against Air Force. Samardzija started the game off with a bang – two catches for 80 yards and a touchdown in the first 54 seconds of the game. Samardzija’s yards per catch average has risen over the last few games, and with 792 yards, he’s got a good shot of reaching 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season.

Offensive Line
For the first time this year, the offensive line really dominated a game. Notre Dame was able to run the ball whenever they wanted. The line opened huge holes for both Darius Walker and freshman James Aldridge. The line also gave Quinn plenty of time to pass despite allowing two sacks. Good downfield coverage was more of the problem on the two Air Force sacks than poor blocking.

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