Duranko’s Digest: What did we see against Air Force?

 Oct 26, 2013; Colorado Springs, CO, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver TJ Jones (7) celebrates with former player Kapron Lewis-Moore (left) after Jones scored a touchdown in the third quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Falcon Stadium. Notre Dame won 45-10. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 26, 2013; Colorado Springs, CO, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver TJ Jones (7) celebrates with former player Kapron Lewis-Moore (left) after Jones scored a touchdown in the third quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Falcon Stadium. Notre Dame won 45-10. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Up there in the wild blue yonder, where the air is crisp yet fragrant with alpine firs, Tommy Rees and his sure-handed wingmen went Enola Gay on the Air force Academy, bombing the Falcons by a 45-10 final score.

As expected, it took time for the Nixless Irish defense to adjust to the swirling blur of the Air Force ground game. The Falcons and Calhoun had 16 days to prepare for the Irish, and were successful early. But the Irish figured it out, and when Air Force got a field goal for its 10th point at the 5 minute mark of the second quarter, the Falcons were done scoring. For the last two thirds of the game, the Falcons netted 171 yards on 9 drives, less than 20 yards per sortie. Of course, “career” days by Justin Utopu and Kendall Moore helped the Irish stop troops.

In the season’s first “breather,” the Irish started fast, maintained the pace and relaxed with the game in hand late in the third quarter, when Rees exited gracefully, deferring to Hendrix. Calhoun chose the tactic of jamming the box and letting his secondary go man to man against the Irish corps of receivers. Chris Brown’s touchdown of 15 yards was the shortest, as the Irish pass game faltered only when Martin and Kelly experimented with Rees rolling out.

Steve Elmer, the next man in when Christian Lombard underwent back surgery. got his first start. It will not be his last. Young Steve is no gimmee, and he showed his chops against Leonard Williams in the USC game. Powerful leg drive. There is something else significant when you watch him line up on the right side next to redshirt frosh Ronnie Stanley. You are seeing the prototypes for the offensive lines in Notre Dame’s future.

An important byproduct of the romp was the chance to play the second team offensive linemen. Practice is practice, and experience trumps practice. In 2012 we had no offensive line depth, but we are building that, even with redshirting McGlinchey, McGovern, Montelus and Bivin.

There was only one chunk play (20 or more yards) in the running game by Air Force. And Smith, Rochell, Redfield, Luke and Butler got their first experience against an option game. This will pay dividends against academies in the future, but also against some of the more run-oriented spread teams that we might play in a Bowl game.

Newcomers of the match:

Corey “the Ensign” Robinson and William Fuller – gettting their first touchdowns. They have combined for 10 catches and two touchdowns more than the three catches without scoring that frosh Brown, Ferguson and Neal combined for in 2012,

Isaac Rochell – quick, runs to the ball, and will greatly benefit from a Long winter.

Jaylon Smith – continues with jaw dropping plays.

Tarean Folston – got fed significantly, and he will be significant in the stretch run. Has good vision and “escapability.”



Defensive line – while, normally, one would require depth to the third string to rate a DL unit (depth is MOST important at DL and RB) this high, the remarkable performances of Tuitt and Nix elevate this unit. It is likely that the future is bright for Notre Dame football, but it might be a generation before we see anything like these two guys playing next to each other on our defensive line. The depth hangs on, livin’ on a prayer. Let’s keep everybody healthy for the Stanford game.

Receivers – Jones and Daniels arrived in the Bama game, Jones has elevated this year, and Daniels needs a tad more consistency. Christ Brown is developing as the third option, but our depth (young as it is) is building. Robinson, Fuller, Prosise and Onwualu show glimpses, and this is an area, with players like Floyd, Toma and T.J. Jones where we have delivered annually on “player development.” This area is strong for years to come.

Offensive line – Elmer’s arrival moves this unit up. We now have a “sixth starter” who can play. Frankly, when he lines up next to Stanley on the right side, we are miles ahead of where we were on the right side in 2012. This line has operated under the handicap of not having a qb running game to declog things and has had to protect a quarterback more nimble of mind than of foot. This upgrade is continget on Christ Watt returning to the starting lineup.

Cornerback – shaking off some early season bad plays, Jackson and Russell have settled in, with the latter now the stronger player. Diaco has suggested that KeiVarae Russell could be the best cornerback in the country when he’s a senior, and that seems less far-fetched with each passing game. These two will be crucial against Stanford. If they can survive in man-to-man coverage, Diaco will have flexibility to either load the box or blitz. What solidifies this rating bump is the play of true frosh Cole Luke and Devin Butler. They have pushed Lo Wood out of the rotation. More importantly, the kids can play! We are a long way from the Spring 2012 quartet of Jackson, Wood, Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown.

New Year’s Day Bowl level

Linebackers – have survived the loss of Spond and Grace. Athletic and fluid on the outside, experienced and resolute on the inside with Fox and Calabrese. Jaylon Smith continues to astound. He has played better than his press clippings. There are more athletic inside duos than our two starters, but nobody has more experience at that position in college football. Matchups are tricky, but those two are not a bad matchup with the Cardinal of Stanford.

Tight End – The good news is that Troy Niklas has elevated his game, and now is one short of the record for most touchdown receptions for a Notre Dame tight end (6). Koyack gets more comfortable, both blocking and receiving but Welch is not on pace. Notwithstanding, we can play some effective two TE football.

Running backs – Carlisle, McDaniel, Atkinson and Folston have each had their moments, and their confidence will grow against the weaker portion of the schedule. Their lack of production in the passing game keeps them at this level, as it was expected to be a team strength.. They can all block and they all return in 2014.

Bowl Level

Safety – injuries to Baratti and Shumate have robbed this depth chart of two superior athletes, and Redfield is still not there with the complicated role of the safeties in this defense (remember the complexity is what kept Shumate at cornerback last year.) Collinsworth and Farley are solid and were in their sweet spot against the Air Force. But they will need help against Stanford and a bowl opponent. Shumate and Redfield and Hardy should be up to the task. The good news is that all these guys, as well as Turner, return in 2014.

Quarterback – this is why predictions are absurd. If someone had told you in the Winter of 2010 that Tommy Rees would be 20-6 in 26 starts as the Notre Dame signal-caller, what would you have said-or thought? The offense showed major progress against a tough USC defense, and Rees had hisr way with the AFA stop troops. There are limitations here, but they are coached to their abilities, and have generated wins. If Rees can sharpen the between-the-hash patterns and the running back timing, this unit will be in good shape.

What will we see against Navy?

(1) 50 years ago, Roger Staubach led Navy to a dominating 35-14 win over Hugh Devore’s Irish. Navy man Jack Kennedy was in the White House, Navy snagged the Lambert Trophy, once revered, on the way to playing in a de facto national championship game against Texas in the Cotton Bowl where Darrell Royal’s Longhorns overwhelmed Heisman winner Staubach and the Middies, 28-6. A lot has changed since then. O tempora, O mores!

(2) In a schedule that is beginning to break the Irish way, the serendipity of playing an option-based Academy for the second week in a row. Thus, continuity of defensive preparation and game-planning, albeit against a Navy team that is superior to Air Force. After all they have that signature over Indiana’s Cream and Crimson. Remember, with a first game starting redshirt frosh QB and with KeiVarae Russell being bumfuzzled in his first game and first month playing ND football, we still beat Navy 50-7 in Dublin.

(3) A great opportunity for depth development, with focus on the frosh and the second string offensive line.

(4) Once again, the massive size of the Irish against a much smaller foe. Further, if you are tempted to say that the smaller Middies are swifter than our Irish, please reexamine the Dublin Dash by Stephon Tuitt going yard against the Middies last year.

(5) A chance for Kelly to move to 6-1 against the Academies. Yeah, that one will always be there.


Sink the Navy!
Go Irish!

You may also like


  1. who is the offensive line coach? we need a jerry wampfler for the line and a tom pagna for the backs, our guys have heart but dont seem to be well coached to create holes and hit em

  2. Daniel Smith- out for season
    Greg Bryant, Knee – doubtfull
    Christian Lombard – out for season
    Ishaq Williams – doubtfull
    Louis Nix, Knee / shoulder day to day – doubtfull
    Elijah Shumate, day to day
    Tony Springman – out for season
    Chris Watt, Knee – probable
    Doug Randolph – out for season
    Danny Spond – out for season
    Nicky Bratti – out for season
    Everett Golson – out for season
    Malik Zaire, Illness – available
    Tommy Rees, neck – probable
    TJ Jones, hip – probable
    Sheldon Day, leg – probable

    Yeah, ND should be doing better, but as they say “Shit happends”

  3. Guys, if we had a mobile QB, the running game would improve. Next year, we should rush for way more yards. Having a QB that can run really keeps the D honest.

    I really enjoyed seeing Kappy joining the TD celebrations!

    Go Irish!


    1. That is the biggest croc I have ever heard in my life. I guess that’s why Alabama’s greatly mobile qb can ram it down peoples throat.

      1. With most things, Bama is the exception to the rule. The top 10 rushing offenses in the country all have mobile QB’s who can run outside of Wisconsin.

        Bama is the 27th ranked rushing offense in the country.

      2. The point is if you have lineman who can block and taught how to block correctly and have rb’s who can hit the hole quickly you can have a very good running game. Does a mobile qb help? Sure, but it’s still up to the offensive line and the running backs to make it happen.

  4. Anyone interested in watching an amazingly well coached game plan featuring a wholistic running attack, watch the 1992(?) Sugar Bowl — ND versue Florida.

    You watch the 1st half and you are worried that ND is going to get blown out in the second half. And all of a sudden Florida is tenderized prime rib rolling on the ground while Bettis stomps his way to the endzone. And don’t forget a physical offensive line helped.

    Kelly would not have run the ball more than 5 times after the 1st quarter. But then he also would have had the team playing tentative instead of all out. History buffs might like the analogy, Holtz is to Rommel as Kelly is to Montgomery. OR maybe Holtz is to Patton, either way Holtz did more with less. And didn’t whine about grass. But that’s another story.

    1. I know you are talking about the running game but if this blog existed in 1992 many on here would be pest the defense was ravaged for over 500 yards and ND had 4 fumbles.

      What I’ll remember most about that game was the “Cheerios” joke. For those who don’t remember, during the week leading up to the game the popular joke was ” what is the difference between ND and Cheerios? Cheerios belong in a bowl.” The joke was attributed to a waiter in New Orleans.

      After the game Holtz said, “do you know the difference between a golf pro and Lou Holtz? Lou holtz doesn’t give tips.” Zing!

    2. Well there was a defensive mess because Holtz had just fired Gary Darnell. He rushed two all night against the old ball coach. It was a freaky defense, but combined with the offensive the whole plan worked.

      Holtz’s patience paid off. And you know he told his players what he forsaw so they could just play. Down by 14 at half, they unloaded in the fourth, not with shifty speard passes, but a real blue collar down the middle smash mouth offense. Most of it on the ground.

  5. why cant chuck martin deliver a running offense, this is pathetic, still not rated in the top 25, jerry faust could do better, my god

    “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.” bleacher

    1. How come Wisconsin can just ram it down your throat when you know it is coming without a super dual-threat QB? I know they can’t do it to everyone, but they can to almost everyone outside of the top 10. We can’t do it to Purdue or Air Force. Frustrating.

  6. Ryan Grant had a much better NFL career than college career. Julius Jones had a much better college career than pro. I’d say that Ricky Watters and Jerome Bettis were the last two truly great ND backs at both levels. That’s a long time ago.

  7. C-Dog,

    As usual, solid contribution from you.

    I don’t understand with the quality linemen and backs ND recruits why it seems that no matter what style O we run the run game isn’t explosive. I see teams have explosive running games using the pro set, Pistol, Spread, combinations of these, etc. Also, why is it that every ND RB since what seems like forever seems to always get tripped up or tackled just when it looks like the play may go for big yards? Julius Jones, Armando Allan, Cierre Wood, you name the back, it always seems like they’re getting tripped up, caught from behind, something that prevents a huge run. This has been going on for years in S. Bend.

    People look at the dearth of NFL-quality QBs ND has produced since Joe Montana. But it’s been a long time since ND has also produced a big-time NFL RB. I think J. Bettis may be the last one. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

    1. SFR,
      You are not wrong. You hit the nail on the head.
      Steve Beurlein did a few things but mostly was a quality backup. Mirer was a bust, and Quinn never has gotten a chance in a quality NFL system. Clausen is a punk.
      RB’s? Grant has done well, but not big time. Reggie Brooks had some good years, but not for long.

      Your observation is very interesting, and I’d be interested if the powers that be do an article on it.

      Think about Rocky Bleier, Vegas Ferguson, Allen Pinkett, and then all the guys you mentioned. There are probably some older guys I missed.

      But even with guys that didn’t quite make it in the NFL, ND had always had a strong running attack.

      I still like Stanford’s attack. They slug you in the gut, and then when you are flinching, they put on a little razzle dazzle. It may not be the spread, but it works. Frankly I like a potent offense more than I like any one strategy. I would be more confident in an offense that also had a strong running attack with some heavies in it.

  8. I have no doubts that Cam could be a starter on a lot of teams, not just at ND. This kid was a very successful HS star in Texas. If I recall he was a 3 or 4 star recruit coming out of HS. He’s tough and shows some moves. I think an NFL team will give Cam a look to see if they have a Jeremy Adelman type back in Cam. Having said that, it’s true that he’s not a top-50 NCAA rusher. But I like our future with Forston and Bryant giving ND one of the better one-two punches in the FBS for years to come. They should be as good or better a duo as Wood and Riddick.

    Go Irish!

    1. Cam is fine. I am surprised there is even a debate. He’s not a typical game breaker, but he does run well between the tackles. I would characterize what he does as hugging his blockers. He runs more like a quick fullback, but he isn’t quick heavy enough. So he melds his physique into his style. The average per carry looks good.
      I also don’t fault Amir or GA3 so much. If one back doesn’t get it, it’s the back. If almost none of the backs have truly gotten it, then it’s the coaching. They miss something in practice.

      We need a more classic fullback and a few shifty tailbacks that can catch. I’m not confident a Kelly run offense will ever excel at running the ball. We better get used to a pass happy team.

      1. Very well said, C-Dog. That explained a lot better how I think Cam runs than maybe how I put it before.

      2. Why does it have to be the coaches fault if the running backs aren’t consistent? Seems to me that’s on the running backs.
        Cam is a good but not great natural runner. He does get the job done mostly.
        GAIII might be very fast but he takes too long get up to speed and he dances in the hole.
        Carlyle just hasn’t shown much for all the hype. I’d put him dead last.
        TF has looked good, I’d like to see more of him. He seems a natural runner but quicker than Cam.

    2. I think its time to get GA111 out of there and get the ball to Cam and Folston. This Offense needs a DT QB to excell. Its decent with Rees but its not going to be great.

  9. Cam is a good player, and he is very handsome, but do people really want him to be our featured back? No wonder we are not in the top twenty five if that is the case.

    1. At least he doesn’t lose yards. Look at GAIII and Amir their runs for lost yardage. The only game I saw him lose yards was a goal line sweep againts ASU.

  10. Yeah, Cam just runs into the pile and lacks field vision? Maybe you should get your vision checked, lol. As Chitown C stated, Cam averaged 6 yards a carry vs AFA and 4.6 per carry over the season.

    1. I know you all are obsessed with him, but go back and watch how many holes he misses. He is better than GA3 and Amir, but I see him running right into piles a lot when he could very easily bounce outside for some serious yardage. What is his long run of the season, like 15 yards? And he gets the bulk of the carries. Folston just looks like the most natural running back with the highest skill set of all of them in the short amount of time he has played.

  11. Even after a dominating win, there is still room to be critical of some of the things I’m seeing that I don’t like. This is a very short list though, which is a very good thing!

    1. Why is Corey Robinson on the bench most of the game? After finally having a jump ball thrown to him since dominating the MSU corners, he comes away with an awesome grab and a TD…then he rides the pine for basically the rest of the game. This kid catches anything close to him and draws penalties the rest of the time. I’d really like to see him more involved in the gameplan.

    2. Folston should be the main running back. If Kelly is saying there is no trouble in his blocking game, there is no reason this kid shouldn’t be our #1 RB. He has everything you would want in a #1 RB, catching out of the backfield too. Who cares about spreading out the PT with the other guys!! GA3 has no vision and is clearly just not a natural RB. It seems like Cam runs as hard as he can right into the pile, so I guess lack of vision too or he just loves the contact. And it seems like Amir has been in the doghouse ever since his fumble late in the game early in the season.

    And I just want to say that Jaylon Smith is becoming one of my favorite players on the team.

    1. Cam still managed 6.1 yards per carry against Air Force even if he did run into piles, though I missed the game. Only 10 carries but 60 some odd yards, I’ll take that

    2. Chris, I too am bewildered as to why Corey Robinson doesn’t see the field more often. He has a different impact from the rest of the folks.

      Folston may have arrived on Saturday. My only concern is his ball security.

      ChrisJ, did we have a dialogue about man-to-man
      defense earlier in the season?

      If we did it appears that at least our cornerbacks are getting up to the task.

      1. duranko,

        We sure did. We discussed the D going into more of a zone look because of them getting fried one on one. It does seem to be getting a lot better with the pressure we have ben getting on the QBs. And we agreed that championship defenses must be able to play man. We are heading in the right directon!

    3. Robinson has played plenty. Obviously he isn’t ready to start. You are judging a player on a couple of catches. Wait, maybe you are right, we should fire Kelly for not putting Robinson in over guys who know the offense better and plays better in practice. Ok no, Robinson will get more playing time as the HEAD COACH sees fit. He is spot player at the moment and Kelly has put him in the position to succeed and not fail. It has worked.

      1. BigDan, have you seen anything but good from Robinson every time the ball goes his way? I feel like Kelly sometimes holds kids back when they are younger instead of really turning them loose. Take Golson last year as an example…Kelly didn’t even have him running until the Oklahoma game. The kid is an athlete so turn him loose.

    4. Cam is the best back ND has. His field vision is way better than Atkinson. If he had Atkinson’s speed we would be talking about many more runs for TD’s. Look at the first half with Amir and Atkinson running the ball. One play I watched the entire left side of the Air Force line go backwards about 5 yds and George studdard steps and gets a yard after back side pursuit. You need to hit the hole with authority get up in it and then look to break it outside. Too much tip toeing and not enough running on Atkinson’s part.

      As for Amir he has been a little tenantive since fumbling against Purdue. Cam can be that back that shuts the door in the 3rd anf 4th quarter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button