Notre Dame @ Air Force Preview

Notre Dame @ Air Force
Air Force Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun (center) leads out his players to the field before the start of the game against the Wyoming Cowboys at Falcon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame QB’s: Tommy Rees has been cleared to practice after suffering an injury in the win over the Trojans. He had played a solid game and after being injured in the third quarter, was held out for the remainder of the game. It is likely that he will start at this point. On the season, Rees has completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 1,660 yards with 15 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Andrew Hendrix did not complete a single pass during the time he came in for Tommy Rees against USC and has completed only 1 of 10 passes for 9 yards and has 17 rushing yards on 12 attempts for a 1.4 yard average.

Notre Dame QB’s vs. Air Force Pass Defense: Regardless of who is quarterback for the Irish against the Falcons, they will face a team that is ranked 105th in pass defense that is allowing 267.4 passing yards a game and opponents have been extremely accurate against them as well as Air Force is allowing opponents to complete 73.2 percent of their passes (lowest in Division 1-A) and have allowed 17 passing touchdowns and have only intercepted 4 passes this season. The starting quarterback at this time for the Irish is likely going to remain Tommy Rees with him being cleared to practice Tuesday, and regardless of if he or Hendrix may start, there should have no difficulty against the Air Force pass defense.

Edge: Notre Dame 

Air Force QB’s: The quarterback situation for Air Force has been rather messy with 4 different players getting in playing time. Kale Pearson was injured early in the season and is out for the year, while Jaleel Awini has been kicked off the team. Karson Roberts was in next and was injured early on in their last game, a loss to San Diego State. Nate Romine played the remainder of the game and even receiver Sam Gagliano has thrown 2 passes this season that also were completions on top of that. It is also unknown who could be starting between Roberts and Romine with Roberts having a head injury in the last game. Karson Roberts has completed 14 of 30 passes (46.7 completion percentage) for 207 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. He also has 206 rushing yards on 40 attempts with a 5.2 yard average and 2 touchdowns. Nate Romine has completed 6 of 16 passes (37.5 completion percentage) for 126 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception and most of those passing yards came on a 71 yard pass. Romine has 44 rushing yards on 13 attempts and 1 touchdown with a 3.4 yard average.

Air Force QB’s vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense: The Irish are ranked 84th in pass defense and are allowing 244.9 passing yards per game and for opponents to complete 59.9 percent of their passes. Notre Dame has allowed 13 touchdowns in the air and have 6 interceptions with 3 returned for touchdowns. While the Falcons are a run-based team, they have two players with high catching averages of 19.5 and 24 yards per reception. The quarterback situation is messy for them as well, but the Irish secondary has shown signs of improvement and should be able to hold their own against Air Force.

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame RB’s: George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel have been the main running backs to carry the ball this season for the Irish. George Atkinson III leads with 363 rushing yards on 64 carries with 2 rushing touchdowns and a 5.7 yard average. Cam McDaniel averages 4.3 yards a rush on 81 attempts with 351 yards and 2 touchdowns. Amir Carlisle has 190 rushing yards on 41 attempts and averages 4.6 yards a rush while Tarean Folston has 69 rushing yards on 11 attempts to give him a 6.3 yard average.

Notre Dame RB’s vs. Air Force Rush Defense: Air Force comes into this game ranked 112th in the nation against the run and have allowed opponents to easily move the ball on the ground with the team allowing 221.3 yards per game, 4.9 yards per rush and 20 rushing touchdowns. While Notre Dame hasn’t been great at running the ball, this should easily favor the Irish who have multiple players who can carry the ball and this is a perfect time to get Tarean Folston more carries and experience.

Edge: Notre Dame

Air Force RB’s: The Falcons come in with the 12th ranked rushing offense that averages 268.6 yards per game. While no single player is dominant in terms of yards, they have 4 players with 200 or more yards (technically 5, but one is no longer on team) and 2 players with 300 or more yards. The leading rusher for Air Force is fullback Broam Hart with 386 yards on 89 attempts for an average of 4.3 yards per rush with 3 touchdowns. Jon Lee has 350 yards on 51 carries and averages 6.9 yards per rush with 3 touchdowns as well. Anthony LaCoste has 282 rushing yards on 59 attempts with 3 touchdowns and a 4.8 yard average. Devin Rushing has 114 rushing yards on 22 attempts with a 5.2 yard average per rush and 1 touchdown.

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Air Force RB’s vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense: As in most option-based offenses, the fullback gets the bulk of the carries and stopping Broam Hart is as important as stopping the other backs who get the ball on the ground, and while the rushing yard averages are down compared to recent seasons (Air Force averaged 307, 315, and 316 yards in 2010, 2011, and 2012). The Irish are ranked 24th in the nation in run defense and have allowed 123.3 yards per game, 4 rushing touchdowns, and for opponents to average 3.9 yards per rush. The Irish have done well in the last couple of seasons in handling option-based teams and should be able to keep things up here.

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame WR’s: TJ Jones leads the way for a strong and deep Notre Dame receiving unit and Jones could potentially be the first Notre Dame player to have a 1,000 yard receiving season since Michael Floyd did it in back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011. TJ Jones currently has 37 catches for 527 yards and averages 14.2 yards a catch with 5 touchdowns. DaVaris Daniels has 28 receptions for 429 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns with an average of 15.3 yards per reception. Troy Niklas is continuing to have a strong season as starter at tight end for the Irish with 18 receptions for 308 yards (17.1 yards per catch) and 5 touchdowns. Chris Brown has 8 catches for 133 yards and averages 16.6 yards a reception. Corey Robinson has 4 catches for 66 yards (16.5 per catch), William Fuller has 3 catches for 53 yards (17.7 per reception), and CJ Prosise has 4 receptions for 34 yards with 8.5 yards per catch.

Notre Dame WR’s vs. Air Force DB’s: The play of Notre Dame’s receivers might be impacted on who winds up starting at quarterback for the Irish with the status of Tommy Rees up in the air. Air Force has been weak against the pass defensively this season and have allowed many passing touchdowns as well. While the Irish can lean on the running game too, both can be used for a balanced effort on offense. Regardless of who is quarterback, targeting TJ Jones and Troy Niklas in the end zone especially wise as both have been sure things in catching touchdowns as of late. However, making use of the deep receiving unit also works well too and this is a good time for Corey Robinson and William Fuller to get more playing time as well.

Edge: Notre Dame 

Air Force WR’s: Sam Gagliano leads Air Force with 215 receiving yards on 11 receptions and has 2 touchdowns on a 19.5 yard average, and in terms of rushing yards, he has 119 rushing yards on 13 attempts for a 9.2 yard average. Jalen Robinette has 7 catches for 168 yards with a 24 yard average per reception and 2 touchdowns. Ty MacArthur has 7 catches for 99 yards (14.1 yard average), while Garrett Griffin has 7 catches for 79 yards for a 11.3 yard average.

Air Force WR’s vs. Notre Dame DB’s: The main playmakers for the Irish secondary to account for are Sam Gagliano and Jalen Robinette. Gagliano is versatile with a couple of pass completions, rushing yards and catching the ball. Accounting for him on offense is important, but Robinette is important considering he averages 24 yards per catch. The Irish should be able to contain them both, but being prepared is important and not allow big gains.

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame OL: The offense line has allowed 6 sacks so far this season along with 34 tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hurries as well. They allow for the ground game to average 4.1 yards per rush and 135.3 yards per game. Pass blocking has been the stronger area of the two for the line and having a strong left side always helps as well. However, Christian Lombard has been lost for the season, which will hurt, but Steve Elmer has shown versatility and solid play, which will help get him ready as he will most likely be a multi-year starter in his career with the Irish.

Notre Dame OL vs. Air Force DL: Air Force has been weak in terms of getting to the quarterback this season as they have only 6 sacks and 7 quarterback hurries. Tackles for loss hasn’t been a strong area as well with only 21 in 7 games this season. The Irish should be able to keep whoever at quarterback protected since Air Force has had difficulty in garnering pressure or getting sacks.

Edge: Notre Dame 

Air Force OL: The Falcons have been pretty good at run blocking to allow Air Force to rush for 268.6 yards per game and exactly 5 yards per rush. They haven’t allowed much pressure on their quarterbacks or for them to be sacked either. In total, only 5 sacks have been allowed and 6 quarterback hurries as well. They have let opponents get into the backfield with 32 tackles for loss allowed, however.

Air Force OL vs. Notre Dame DL: The Irish have been pretty impressive this season at quarterback pressure and in the last couple games in particular as well. Notre Dame has 12 sacks, 25 quarterback hurries, and 35 tackles for loss. Stephon Tuitt has been quite dominant lately and has a team-leading 5 sacks and ties for first in quarterback hurries with Prince Shembo at 9 each. Notre Dame has also been able to well against option-based teams the last couple seasons and should be able to contain Air Force. Losing Louis Nix III for this game will hurt the depth for the Irish, but having an experienced player in Kona Schwenke in his place will help, in comparison to an inexperienced player.

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Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame DL: Having Sheldon Day back in the starting lineup was a major benefit to the Irish defensive line that was a key part in the 2nd half shutout of USC. Stephon Tuitt leads all defensive lineman in various categories this season with 25 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 interception (returned for touchdown), 1 pass breakup, 9 quarterback hurries, and 1 forced fumble. Louis Nix III has 22 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 pass breakups this season, but the Irish will be without him due to injury. Sheldon Day has 9 tackles and 2 tackles for loss while Kona Schwenke has 7 tackles and 1 quarterback hurry and will be stepping in for the injured Louis Nix III this week.

Notre Dame DL vs. Air Force OL: The Irish defensive line is a more talented unit that Air Force faces and one being at full strength with Sheldon Day back is a huge boost. While getting to the quarterback is important, they will be tasked even more with stopping the run and not allowing consistent first downs, as Air Force having an impressive 5 yards per rush is important to stop. The Irish have been great at stopping the run this season with the 24th ranked run defense and have made adjustments to preparing for option-based teams the last couple of seasons as well. However, the loss of Louis Nix III will hurt for this game, but having Kona Schwenke who has some experience over the years is at least a plus.

Edge: Notre Dame

Air Force DL: The Falcons have 6 sacks, 7 quarterback hurries, and 21 tackles for loss as a team. Alex Hansen has 21 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 forced fumble. Nick Fitzgerald has 20 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup, and 1 forced fumble. Dana Luebbe has 13 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sacks, while Ryan Watson has 9 tackles and 1 fumble recovery.

Air Force DL vs. Notre Dame OL: Considering that Air Force has had difficulty in getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and bringing them down, the Irish should be able to keep whomever starts at quarterback protected with little difficulty. Getting into the backfield hasn’t happened much with an average of 3 tackles for loss per game, so the Irish should be able to consistently move the ball and avoid plays with lost yards.

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame LB’s: The loss of Jarrett Grace for the season has been a big loss, but the linebackers did a solid job in their first game without him against USC. Carlo Calabrese leads the team in tackles with 48 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup, and 1 fumble recovery. Considering that he his strong against the run, it is likely that he will be used extensively against Air Force. Dan Fox has 41 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 interception (returned for touchdown), and 1 fumble recovery. Jaylon Smith continues to have a great freshman season for Notre Dame and had his first career interception against the Trojans. On the season he has 31 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble. Prince Shembo has been a strong force in the last couple of games and has 23 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 9 quarterback hurries.

Notre Dame LB’s vs. Air Force: The linebackers will be mainly in run support against an option offense, which means that Prince Shembo and Jaylon Smith will be involved heavily in stopping the run game as well. In addition, this appears to be a solid opportunity to get in backups for playing time as well. The loss of Jarrett Grace will likely continue to be noticed, but Carlo Calabrese has been a strong player in stopping the run as well.

Edge: Notre Dame

Air Force LB’s: Joey Nichol has been one of the better players for Air Force with 68 tackles to lead the team. He has been one of the few players to do well at getting into the backfield with 6.5 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 quarterback hurry. Spencer Proctor has 47 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 forced fumble. Reggie Barnes has 35 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, and 1 pass breakup. Kristov George has 20 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 interception.

Air Force LB’s vs. Notre Dame: The Falcons have been pretty solid at linebacker this season with Joey Nichol being the best player in the group, especially at getting into the backfield. Keeping him out of the backfield is important for Notre Dame as well. Air Force will need to worry about tight end Troy Niklas as well, who continues to be a great playmaker for the Irish this season.

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Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame DB’s: Bennett Jackson has been good in run support and coverage for the Irish this season and shows a solid amount of versatility in his play by recording something in nearly every defensive statistical area. He leads the defensive backs in tackles with 42 tackles, 4 tackles for loss (third most on team and leads all defensive backs), 1 sack, 1 interception (returned for touchdown), 2 pass breakups, 1 quarterback hurry, and 1 forced fumble. Matthias Farley has 28 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 interceptions, and 2 pass breakups while KeiVarae Russell has 26 tackles and 5 pass breakups. Elijah Shumate had a hamstring injury and was out against USC and might not be back until after a couple of games to rest that injury. Austin Collinsworth has 19 tackles and 2 quarterback hurries, while Cole Luke has 7 tackles and 1 pass breakup.

Notre Dame DB’s vs. Air Force WR’s: The defensive backs will be used in run support in addition to covering receivers. Accounting for Sam Gagliano and Jalen Robinette will be most important, as both have high yards per catch and Gagliano can make plays in the ground and air. With Bennett Jackson making plays in the backfield and in coverage, expect to see a lot of plays out of him as well.

Edge: Notre Dame

Air Force DB’s: Christian Spears has 52 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups, while Stephon Batts has 48 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and 1 quarterback hurry. Dexter Walker has 44 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 quarterback hurries. Gavin McHenry has 36 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 fumble recovery. Jamal Byrd has 31 tackles, 1 interception, and 1 pass breakup.

Air Force DB’s vs. Notre Dame WR’s: The Falcons have quite a few playmakers to cover in this game. TJ Jones has been quite consistent and is a major target in the end zone as well. In addition to TJ Jones is DaVaris Daniels who has been a big play receiver, and tight end Troy Niklas will easily have to be accounted for as well as he is a matchup nightmare with his height and can make plays in the end zone as well.

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Kicking Game: Kyle Brindza is 8 for 11 on field goals with a long of 53 and is 3 of 4 when it is between 40 and 49 yards. Kyle Brindza also is the primary punter with a 40.4 yard average on 28 punts with a long of 55 yards, 10 fair caught, 4 inside the 20, 5 of 50 or more yards, and 1 blocked punt. Alex Wulfeck also makes appearances at the punting area with 7 punts this season and has an average of 33.7 yards per punt with a long of 49, 1 touchback, 3 fair caught, and 6 inside the 20. Kyle Brindza handles kickoff duties with a 64.3 yard average on 37 kickoffs with 21 touchbacks.

Air Force Kicking Game: Will Conant has been accurate with 9 field goals made out of 11 with a long of 52 and has misses of 44 and 50 yards. David Baska is averaging 41.9 yards per punt on 26 punts with a long of 57 yards, 3 touchbacks, 12 fair caught, and 8 inside the 20. Briceton Cannada is the primary kickoff specialist with a 62.4 yard average on 33 kickoffs with 21 touchdowns.

Stronger Unit: Even

Notre Dame Return Game: George Atkinson III is averaging 26.7 yards per return on 15 returns with a long of 50 yards while Cam McDaniel is averaging 16.6 yards on 5 returns with a long of 22 yards. TJ Jones has 76 punt return yards on 8 punts for an average of 9.5 yards per return with a long of 27 yards.

Air Force Return Game: Anthony Lacoste has 8 returns for 177 yards for an average of 22.1 yards per return with a long of 33. 3 other players have each returned a kickoff with the longest being for 42 yards. Punt Returns are basically a non-factor with a total of 4 returns for 7 yards between 2 players

Stronger Unit: Notre Dame

Everything Else: The Irish are coming off back-to-back wins over a pair of Pac-12 teams and head out west to Colorado to face Air Force for the first time at Air Force since 2006. The Irish last faced Air Force in 2011 and blew out the Falcons 59 to 33. Tommy Rees was injured against USC in the third quarter, but has practiced and should be good to go for Air Force. As Air Force is weak against the pass and run, a balanced effort is an ideal way to go and it is also a great opportunity to play backups like Tarean Folston and the freshmen receivers. Keeping Tommy Rees healthy is quite important along with stopping the option offense of Air Force. Look for the Irish to keep up momentum after winning against Arizona St. and USC.

Prediction: Notre Dame 42, Air Force 14

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7 Comments

  1. Why should ND be on national TV every weekend because there a top 25 team? Yeah not? Nice win and depth being exhibited on the lines, rb and receivers. K, does anyone on Oregon run over a 4.0? Damn they are fast at every position!

  2. Went to a local sports bar to watch the game. Started off typically bad. Down 7-0. But then the O and D kicked in and kicked butt. Nice to see ND win a game big for a change. Navy will be a stiffer test next week, though. The Middies beat Pitt today. So watch out.

    Go Irish!

  3. Amazing,

    BK put in AH early in the 4th and he hit a 46yard strike to Folston and the score is 45 ND 10 AF 12 mins to go!

    GooooooIrish!

    1. Watching game tracker and I don’t have the correct details on AH’s exact yards for the TD to Folston? Yeah, CBS was a flop…they couldn’t carry the load like obamacare!

  4. would love to see ND at all

    this is bullish*t that i can’t watch. stupid cbs

    -im relying on you guys to keep me updated

    go irish!!

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