Notre Dame 45, Air Force 10 – 5 Things I Didn’t Like

Notre Dame 45, Air Force 10
Air Force Falcons wide receiver Colton Huntsman (14) scores a touchdown in the first quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Falcon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to find things to like in a blowout win like the one Notre Dame had on Saturday against Air Force – and we did just that last night.  It’s a bit more challenging to find things to not like in those games, but despite the rout, there were a few things the Irish could have done better and will need to do better in future games this season to keep their three game winning streak going.

Notre Dame’s first half running game

Notre Dame came out firing int he first half and Tommy Rees ripped apart the Air Force secondary which is good because the Irish running game was completely grounded by Air Force in the first half.  Air Force did, understandably, key on the run early but that really shouldn’t matter when you have the type of size advantage that Notre Dame has over Air Force.  They should have been able to run the football.

The futility of the Notre Dame running game was highlighted on the first drive of the game when facing a 3rd and 1 on their first drive, George Atkinson was tackled in the backfield for a loss.  That simply should not happen against a team like Air Force and unfortunately it was a sign of things to come for Notre Dame with Atkinson picking up just 18 yards on 6 carries and Amir Carlisle gaining 3 yards on 3 carries.

Notre Dame was able to pick it up a little on the ground in the second half with Cam McDaniel and Tarean Folston, but they couldn’t do anything running wise for the first thirty minutes.  It might be time to give freshman Tarean Folston more looks with the starting offense because the frosh back ran with more power and authority than any other Notre Dame running back I’ve seen this year.

Notre Dame’s first quarter defense

If the Notre Dame rushing offense was tough to watch, the first quarter defense was even more frustrating as Air Force marched down the field on the first drive to score.  Air Force ran the ball 12 times for 101 yards in the first half with the Irish unable to set the perimeter o the defense and allowing the pitch option to eat them alive early on.  Jaylon Smith had a little trouble adjusting to the option early on but he also didn’t have a whole lot of help on the edge of the defense either.

The defense eventually adjusted but Air Force was able to move the ball well at times throughout and at times really only stopped themselves such as at the end of the first half when they were marching towards another touchdown only to turn the ball over on an unforced fumble on a pitch.  The option can be tough to defend when you aren’t used to to it and the altitude likely played a role in Notre Dame’s early struggles, but after a dominating performance last week the first quarter defense was a bit disappointing.

Another long opening drive resulting in ZERO points

The last three weeks Notre Dame has opened games with long drives of at least 10 plays that have resulted in a grand total of ZERO points for the Irish.  Against Arizona State the Irish ate up over eight minutes of clock on 14 plays only to miss a field goal.  Last week Notre Dame marched to the USC 1 yard line and on the 12th play of the drive, Cam McDaniel was stuffed in the backfield on 4th down.  Today Notre Dame drove 12 plays again to start the game with their opening drive ending in a blocked field goal by Air Force.

Notre Dame is starting games off with long drives that should be gaining them the momentum and taking a lot of steam out of the opposing defense but instead they’ve given all of the momentum back to their opponents.  Is it any surprise that the only touchdowns the defense has given up the past two weeks have come on the heels of Notre Dame failing to score on their opening drive after moving the ball well and getting in scoring range?

Jaylon Smith’s stolen touchdown

Notre Dame’s highly touted freshman linebacker has been making big plays for the last few weeks but had perhaps his biggest play of his young career thus far negated because of what could only be described as a truly awful call by the officials.   On Air Force’s first drive of the second half, Falcon quarterback Nate Romine was flushed from the pocket and put the ball on the turf when he had his arm hit by Ben Councell.  Smith was in right place at the right time and picked up the ball with nothing between him his first career touchdown but 62 yards of wide open turf.

Instead of Smith scoring the first touchdown of his career, however, the play was blown dead because the ruling on the field was an incomplete pass.  How on earth any official with two fully functional eye balls could rule the play an incomplete pass is beyond me.  Romine’s arm was no where near anything close to a throwing motion.  There are bad calls and there are baaaaad calls and this one was one of the worst I can remember in a long time.  It would have been one thing if he ruled Romine down.  That would at least have been somewhat understandable.  An incomplete pass though?  Horrible.

Notre Dame’s final drives of both halves

At the end of the first half Notre Dame was given a gift turnover on a bad pitch by Air Force after it looked like they were going to cut into Notre Dame’s 14 point lead.  The Irish got the ball with just over a minute remaining in the half and a timeout remaining.  At that point Tommy Rees already had three passing touchdowns and Air Force had no answer for the Notre Dame air attack.  Instead of taking a chance at moving the ball and adding to their lead, however, Notre Dame ran once and then kneeled on the ball.

In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter since Notre Dame came out in the second half and put Air Force away.  Given how much success Notre Dame had moving the ball in the air though, I would have liked to see Brian Kelly show a little more faith in the offense and let them take a couple chances.

At the end of the second half, Notre Dame’s last drive ended pretty unceremoniously.  The Irish got the ball with a little over five minutes left and Air Force had no interest in using their timeouts to stop the clock so it would have been nice to see the Irish be able to close out the game by running out the final five minutes against a weak defense.  Instead the Irish went three and out.  Granted, Notre Dame had in its entire second string, but at the same time, they weren’t getting Air Force’s best at that point either.  Notre Dame should be able to run out a clock in that situation.   It may seem minor given they won the game by 35 points, but for this team to get back to where it wants to be, it as to close out games more times than not in those situations.

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  1. It makes me sad to see people say that they hope we can end up in the top 25. We’re Notre Dame!! We should be near the top. Are we not getting enough good high-school football players? Do we not have the money to recruit? Do we not have the money for good football equipment of facilities? Can we not recruit great qb’s. What is the problem? Let’s get it together coach, because one title game every 20 years pretty much sucks. If you need some advice, go talk to Lou Holtz. That is one man who knows how to win at football and at life. Go and listen to him. It would be worth your time.

  2. It may be too early to say this–
    but we can go bowling this year.
    As I see it,
    who would it be?
    Cotton Bowl?
    Lower tiered SEC team? ( is there such a thing? LOL)
    Florida? Not having a great year–but It would bring $$$$$$$$$$$$$$ –just thinking/wondering

    Independence bowl?
    Hawaii Bowl?
    Music City Bowl?

    Somebody from Big 12?
    Pac 12 thoughts?—-:
    Rematch Arizona State?
    Oregon State?
    Just thinking at this pointg some possibilities
    Lots can happen–

    Just hope over our heads is not in the picture—
    I wouldn’t mind a deflated Nebraska team –23 last week and not so good.
    Could be Irish first victory over huskers and THAT would bring a crowd too —
    show the money $$$$$$$$$$$$$ but not at expense of getting blown out AGAIN!

      1. RB,

        I can live with this. The key is to beat whatever team the Irish play in this NYC bowl. Keep recruiting momentum going. Hopefully finish in the top 25.

      2. I partially agree. MY realist side like yours just wants wins. Then hope for a reasonable ranking.

        My side that remembers what ND once was, wants a decent bowl with a decent opponent, perhaps even one that is ranked higher. But a good matchup.

        Either way, they just need to win.

  3. Kelly needs to pick 2 runners and rotate those 2. This running by committee is so inconsistent. If Cam McDaniel gets the carries he will be a 1000 yd rusher. Atkinson is so hot and cold but does have HR capability. Carlisle seems out of the mix. Folston looks to have a bright future.

  4. Our running backs seem to be satisfied with short gains and going down almost untouched. We simply put do not have a rb who wants to break it and take it to the house. They will say they will. Get Folston some more touches and for God’s sake get Mahone in there. We will be putty in the hands of BYU and Stanford and probably even Pitt. Our whole offensive scheme looked good Saturday due to the lack of any defense. Kelly and the OC ought to be taken out and given a good whipping. WE SUCK. Any time your best back is a ball control back you are doomed to fail.

    1. Thank you for also noticing our offensive shortcomings. Do we really have to have a magical season again in order to play for the title? We have enough talent that we should be in the top 5 every year.

      1. Or at least –as I’ve said a few times before –Top 5 MOST years–top 25 every year but one in a decade and a half.
        I would love to see ND where we were 88-93.
        Perfect? No.
        Motivated, moving, traditional and simultaneously refining? YES.
        I don’t care how “cool” the Wildcat or West Coast Offense is–Good FB is GOOD FB and what worked before can work again–option, speed, good special teams. It’s not rocket science.
        I believe that is realistic and still shooting for the stars.
        I don’t believe the play calling sometimes and the consistent shortcomings of this unit or that.
        I DO Believe in what ND CAN DO–and we COULD get there.
        Again, I don’t care who the competition is–it isn’t rocket science!

  5. Coach is not improving the players as much as many other coaches are. We have all the 4 and 5 star talent a great coach would need. We have a terrible o-line for running the ball, and really, Rees is no better than he was a few years ago. If we play a top-notch team, we will get destroyed. Last season against Alabama really showed what coach Kelly is all about. We had plenty of time to prepare for them, but we were totally out-played and out-coached.

  6. So The Irish established a multi receiver passing threat. Good. Now they need to establish any kind of running threat. McDaniel is really tough but not one to carry the running attack. Timing is terrible. As everyone says, the backs need to hit the holes. But really, before yesterday, I haven’t seen consistent holes opening up. Bad scheme and poor teaching. So navy gives them a chance to clean that up. After that they need to execute it.

    Hendrix long pass would have been intercepted by a decent defense. It was way under thrown. I would rather see him in run pass situations where the pass option is a short to mid range throw. Teach him to throw crisp short touch passes to a spot. With a tebow like run threat he might get away with it. He would be better as a situation QB rather than a true. 2nd stringer.

    Take care of the next 3 and Stanford starts to look juicy. This team has potential.

  7. Unfortunately didn’t get to see the game (CBS Sports Network is in the next highest tear on my cable system). But glad to see they took care of business the way they did. Glad to see Hendrix with a long throw and touchdown. Hopefully that would boost his confidence a bit so if he has to go into a game if Rees is knocked out, he can be a reliable backup.

    Here’s something I don’t understand. How is Arizona State ranked higher than ND in the AP Poll??? Same record and ND beat Arizona State pretty handily.

    1. I agree. Both ASU and MSU are ahead of us. I think someone figures both will lose before the end of the season. Maybe. But realize the coaches are not only voting for their team, but also their conference. Consider another reason for mega conferences. It helps your voting bias. Sad but that is it. Someday you’ll see shameless coaches voting their own team number one regardless of record or reality. Integrity is trending downward.

      1. I can live with MSU being ahead since they have a better record right now (7-1). But ASU being ahead is just mind blowing. Not only are they 6-2 and ND beat them handily, but correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t ND’s schedule tougher? And this is the AP and Harris’ Polls (I think ND might actually be ahead on the Coach’s poll). I understand filling out a poll can be challenging sometimes when comparing records of teams that don’t play each other. But in this case, it seems clear to me. Same head to head record, team A beat team B in a dominant fashion, team A should be ranked higher.

      2. We beat ASU handily?

        What fantasy world do you live in, seriously, I want to live there.

        We beat them by 3 points, with a failed onside kick attempt at the end.

      3. Handily was a poor choice of words for the last quarter. Our defense held them impressively for 3 quarters, but they did allow ASU back in the game in the last quarter.

        However, my main point still remains. ND and ASU have the same record and ND beat ASU in a head to head match up. Hopefully this is a moot point by the end of the year.

    2. The Irish have an opportunity to gain two spots as Michigan and Michigan state play each other. ASU will drop another game. After that it gets tougher. This is hard to swallow but only 4 loss SEC teams are guaranteed to be lower than a 2 loss Irish. Too many unbeatens out there. ND of course needs to win out. And even then, things will be tough for a good bowl matchup.

      Consider if you are Brian Kelly to make your players feel cheated but then give them a chip to prove themselves. IF and this is a big If,the Irish win out including the bowl game. They will get sympathy and an advantage in next year’s polls. I only wonder about this idea as a motivator for the team.

  8. The running game in the first half was plagued by backs not hitting holes. Atkinson is always looking to bounce it outside. He didn’t run with authority and wasn’t hitting the holes created. The second half had Cam and Folston in the game. They are North/South runners not East/West like Atkinson and Carlisle. When Cam is in the game the run game is better. The kid reads holes better than any other back on the roster.

  9. The opening drive failure, lack of a running game against a poor team,
    and the HC’s lacke of faith in his own offense point to deeper problems that unfortunately do not bode well for 2014 and beyond. I think the high water mark for the Kelly era was the victory over USC last year. Since then mediocrity has been the rule.

    1. I hope you are wrong. However, I think you are right It is frustrating to see a high year or two followed by a decade of play that is mediocre. The talent is there, I guess.
      I did not like the kneel on the ball before half. We had nothing to lose–and time outs called utilizing a quick “2 minute offense” could have been attempted. A LOT of things could be attempted. Some testosterone pills with caffeine as the team comes out at home or on the road would be nice. 6-2 is still 6-2 but I pray that we do not get placed in ANY bowl over our heads. Money or not–we need the win and a good match–not to be overmatched. After watching the Florida State and Oregon and Alabama –we have a LONG way to go, Love the Irish–but am a realist. I WISH we could get near the top and competitively STAY there!

      1. I’ve been extremely critical all year of Kelly and TR. But I have to say that having gone through the offseason that we did going 9-3 or 10-2 will be a huge accomplishment. If you would have told me that after the OU game we would still be 6-2 I would have called BS. Couldn’t be happier with the way we have played! Go Irish!

  10. I’m just so thankful the internet didn’t exist when Ara was coach so he didn’t have to listen to shit like this the day after a dominating win.

  11. The running game: the blocks took to long, and when the openings occured, the running backs were not ready. This plagued the CW era. With a yard to go, the OC sent in a play that took to long to develop resulting GA thrown for a loss. The hole was there, no ball carrier to run into it.

  12. Why do ND running backs receive the handoff deep in the backfield? It seems like that takes their momentum away, makes the linemen hold their blocks for a long time and gives the defensive a chance to fills the holes that may have opened. I am not sure if that would not be a problem if we used a fullback and lined up in the eye. ND doesn’t use a fullback though. Does anyone else wonder about that?

    1. the backs receive the ball so deep in the backfield so that they are able to see all of the gaps in zone blocking sceme, allowing them to chose the best hole to run attack. it actually gives them more momentum, as they have a 7 yard head start before reaching the line of scrimmage (LOS). ND does not use a fullback, because OC, Chuck Martin, has never used one; i played against him when he was the head coach at grand valley state in the late 2000’s, and he is an inside zone, outside zone oriented coach. they do motion H-backs around and pull the backside guard (a la stanford) often, but their primary run philosophy is zone blocking. the use of a FB limits a team in that where the fullback goes, usually a run play will go as well. as a former college linebacker, it was WAY easier to defend FB oriented teams than it was zone teams, bc a zone run can hit any gap, whereas a FB lead block run does not.

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