Oct 9, 2011, 4:00 PM EDT
The offensive fireworks ruled the day yesterday afternoon in Notre Dame Stadium, with both teams moving the football, but the Irish doing so with incredible efficiency in a 59-33 victory. Notre Dame’s 560 yards were the most for the Irish since they beat Washington State in San Antonio in 2009, and continues a promising trend forward for a unit that is hitting its stride at the right time.
The Irish have now gone over 500 yards in four of their six games. To put that into perspective, the 2009 Irish, led by Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate, only went for 500 yards in four games the entire season, when they finished 8th in the country in total offense.
Of course, it wasn’t all gumdrops and lollipops for Notre Dame, who also gave up their most yards from scrimmage on the year. Let’s take a look at the good, bad and ugly in the Irish’s dominant 59-33 victory.
In a game like this, we’ll go with bullet-points:
* Tommy Rees — Two straight games, he’s played turnover free football. Yesterday, he played mistake free football. Distributing the ball to nearly all of the Irish weapons, he’s continued maturing while winning football games.
* Andrew Hendrix — Add another legitimate weapon to the Irish’s offensive arsenal. Against a hobbled and undermanned Air Force defense, Hendrix got his first game experience, much needed before Southern Cal comes to town.
* Michael Floyd — Add another highlight to a career filled with them. Floyd’s 34-yard touchdown catch down the sideline opened the game with a bang, and even if his foot might have been out of bounds, it was a thing of beauty.
* Theo Riddick — Forced into the game plan early, Riddick responded with his best game of the season.
* Cierre Wood & Jonas Gray — Both running backs are embracing their roles as a two-headed monster. Gray’s averaging a ridiculous 8.4 yards a carry. Wood is averaging 108 yards a game.
* Tyler Eifert — He’s becoming Rees’ weapon of choice on third downs.
* The offensive line — This is the Irish’s best unit in over a decade. We’ll see just how good they are next week when they face a Southern Cal front that they should be able to push around.
* Jamoris Slaughter — The Irish’s defensive player of the game. Two huge plays creating turnovers shaped the football game.
* Stephon Tuitt — The freshman has showed a versatility that’s been a welcome surprise.
* Manti Te’o — Hobbled by a tweaked ankle, Te’o still played a dominant game from his linebacker position.
The Irish didn’t show the dominance many had hoped defensively, and they gave up a ton of yards on the edge of the defense. Harrison Smith struggled coming up the alley on the outside pitch, and too often Air Force got around the corner and picked up big yards.
While some may be skeptical of Brian Kelly and company’s game plan, their goal against the option attack was keeping points off the board, not necessarily limiting yardage.
“Option football is about keeping the points down, and that mentality is what we talked about, any time we now enter a week where we are preparing against option, yards have nothing to do with the outcome,” Kelly said. “It’s keeping the points down. And quite frankly if we don’t jump off‑side on fourth and one and if we don’t give up a fake punt, we are even lower in the points. So we were really pleased with keeping the points down.”
The Irish seemed content to play a three-man front for a ton of the game, with Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt getting the majority of the snaps in favor of Sean Cwynar. Darius Fleming played another good game, but the Irish passing defense wasn’t able to take advantage of a few 50-50 throws Tim Jefferson made, and the Irish gave up too many late down conversions.
It’s pretty tough to call anything in a dominant victory like this ugly, but the Irish reserves on defense looked pretty silly getting run up and down the field against Air Force’s option in mop-up time. Of course, it’s almost expected when guys are seeing their first live action, and doing it against a scheme that’s tough to defend.
“People were asking about the touchdowns that we gave up late, that wasn’t our second unit out there. We had already played our second unit. They were part of our first unit,” Kelly explained. “We played guys that got no work against the option because they were our third. So we got a lot of guys in there, a lot of film on a lot of different guys to evaluate and that’s always a good thing.”
Of the guys that needed to see the field, the secondary was a place to really keep an eye on. Bennett Jackson, Lo Wood, and Austin Collinsworth saw the field quite a bit, and they’ll need to develop as that trio will see the field a ton in the future.
“It’s great teaching material for Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth,” Kelly said. “Those guys are going to have to play for us next year. When you get an opportunity to put them in the game, it just gives you a great opportunity as a coach to teach and build off, because as I said, they are going to be in the front line for us next year.”