Notre Dame moved to 5-2 with a defensive performance for the ages in a 14-10 win over rival USC. Next up for Irish is a trip to Colorado to face Air Force. The Falcons are 1-6 on the season and are struggling mightily. The Irish possess a strength and size advantage at every position so as long as they handle their business it should be a resounding victory on the road. The following are the key matchups Notre Dame needs to control to get the victory:
Carlo Calabrese versus Karson Roberts
Notre Dame’s leading tackler Carlo Calabrese will be tested versus an extremely run heavy Falcons attack. Air Force does pass more often than traditional option attacks which is why Calabrese will need to be alert versus quarterback Karson Roberts. Roberts is fifth on the team with 206 rushing yards while passing for 207 yards and three touchdowns. Calabrese must focus primarily on the run game as the quarterback makes the Air Force rush attack go and if he can slow him down it could mean very limited yardage for the Falcons.
Dan Fox versus Broam Hart
The play of the inside linebackers versus an option attack is essential as the defensive line will be facing cut blocks so the linebackers will need to be in the right position and make the proper run fits. Irish linebacker Dan Fox will need to shutdown Falcons running back and leading rusher Broam Hart. Hart has 386 rush yards on the season and the Texas native is a good balance of speed and power. If Fox can limit the amount of times Hart breaks free for double digit yardage it will force the Falcons to put a full drive together which will significantly slow them down.
Troy Niklas versus Joey Nichol
As mentioned Notre Dame possesses a massive athletic advantage across the board. Tight-end Troy Niklas will be featured in the game plan versus the Falcons as he will need to block well as the Irish could have a confidence building game running the ball as well as being a common target of Tommy Rees or security blanket for Andrew Hendrix if Rees can’t play. Niklas will be matched up against tackling machine Joey Nichol. Nichol has a team leading 68 tackles, 6.5 of which for loss. The Texas native will be in tough against Niklas but must hold him in check for Air Force to have any chance.
T.J. Jones versus Christian Spears
Tommy Rees’s favorite target T.J. Jones is becoming an elite receiver and Christian Spears will be in tough against him. Jones is the Irish’s leading receiver and will have an opportunity to put up huge numbers against a below average secondary. Spears will need to hold Jones in check and eliminate his ability to make 20 plus yard catches. Spears has recorded 52 tackles and two interceptions this season and is easily the Falcons best defensive back and he will have to play like it against the best receiver he has seen this season.