Friday, November 10, 2006

Those Who Fail to Learn Air Force History...

...are doomed to repeat it.

1996 ought to be an example to every Notre Dame follower that Air Force cannot be taken lightly. The Irish have withstood some scares from Army and Navy, but the flyboys had 4 straight wins against ND in the '80s, then stunned the Irish 20-17 in overtime at Notre Dame Stadium in Lou Holtz's final season as coach. In fact, the Air Force game is looked to as the beginning of the end for Lou, which begat Bob Davie, which get the idea.

In 23 years under Fisher DeBerry, Air Force has proven that you can in fact build a consistent-if-not-dominant football program at a service academy, with their unique blend of the triple option often wreaking havoc in the Mountain West and delivering 12 bowl bids and 15 Commander-in-Cheif trophies. Add in that they play fearless: they went into Knoxville this season and played the Volunteers 'til the final whistle, electing to go for two after scoring to get the game to 31-30. The Irish know the history. Time to make it irrelevant.

#9 Notre Dame vs. US Air Force Academy
2:00 PM MDT
Falcon Stadium -- Colorado Springs, CO

Why Air Force Will Win

Shaun Carney and the triple option. The first half against Navy certainly should provide a boost to the Falcons' confidence that Notre Dame won't be able to grasp the option quickly enough. It's one thing to see it in practice - seeing it at game speed tends to knock teams back at first. But the Irish readjusted and clamped the Navy ground game in the second half, allowing only 60 yards rushing.

That's where Carney comes in. He's a versatile QB, and Air Force (no pun intended) feels a lot more comfortable taking flight than the Midshipmen do. They won't call 15 first down pass plays, but first down won't exclusively belong to the halfbacks in this offense. Air Force also utilizes a tight end and multiple formations, even for circumstances when they run the option. It'll be up to Carney to throw enough different looks (and a few timely completions) to keep the Irish defense off-kilter. That's the means by which Air Force pulls the upset.

Why Notre Dame Will Win

Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija. Currently duking it out (kinda) for the ND records in receptions and receiving touchdowns, this game could be akin to the field day Samardzija and Mo Stovall had against BYU last year. Air Force's defense is an aggressive bunch, but that's gotten them only to #106 in pass efficiency defense, #55 overall. They also haven't seen anything resembling Notre Dame's top two pass catchers during their run in the Mountain West conference.

Samardzija becomes the deep threat in this matcup, exploiting his height advantage on every member of the Air Force secondary - the two starting corners stack up at a listed 6-0 and 5-11, far below his lanky 6-5 frame. Charlie Weis' gameplan, particularly against an Air Force unit that is far better this season against the run than last (only 132 ypg this season, down from 171 in '05) will extend the passing game to cover more screens and draws, hoping to let McKnight as well as Darius Walker and TE John Carlson create plays in the open space.

As always, the first couple of drives will dictate the tone for the Irish on both sides of the ball. Air Force has the nation's #3 rush offense and a defense which, physically, doesn't match up along the front trench. The Falcons have three starting D-lineman who weigh in at under 250, while the Irish boast an O-line average near 300 a man. Nobody's expecting anything dominant, but a few early scores to force Air Force to play catch-up with the limited range of the triple option are essential to get the team to 9-1.

The Prediction

Brady Quinn and the Irish assume control of the game with a couple of early scores, but a scrappy Air Force team that has a knack for creating turnovers and taking chances, particularly on special teams, will fight all the way. Ultimately, superior depth and scheming carries the day for the Irish.

Notre Dame 34, Air Force 20

EDITOR'S NOTE - We know we didn't bother recapping Navy or devoting any time to North Carolina. Can you blame us? The Tarheels were 1-7!



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