With the Irish getting acclimated to life above 6,000 feet, let’s run through some final thoughts before Notre Dame takes the field against Air Force.
Notre Dame needs to contain the option. About as basic as it gets, but worth stating. It looks like Air Force will go with Karson Roberts at quarterback, who was cleared to practice this week after a concussion. The quarterback position has been a mess for the Falcons with injuries and personnel losses making things really inconsistent.
But Roberts is a capable option trigger man and the Irish will need to play their responsibilities correctly and dominate the point of attack along the front line, forcing the ball outside where the Irish speed can slow down Air Force.
Stopping the option is great, but giving up the deep ball over the top is fatal. If you want to be worried about something, keep an eye on the safety play by the Irish. Austin Collinsworth and Matthias Farley haven’t been standouts, but will need to play disciplined this afternoon, keeping their eyes out of the backfield and not letting a receiver sneak out over the top.
It sounds like Elijah Shumate is going to give it a try after a good week of recovering from a hamstring injury, but it’ll likely be Farley and Collinsworth taking the lions share of snaps. The entire secondary needs to do their jobs, making sure they don’t get lulled into complacency before a pass or trick play goes over the top.
Expect Air Force to have some success moving the chains with the option. That’s something Kelly and Bob Diaco are fine with. But getting beat for big plays just can’t happen if this defense wants to have the success it’s established the past few weeks.
Run the football. The Air Force defensive front is overmatched. The Irish need to establish the run and take control of the game at the line of scrimmage, putting together a performance similar to the one we saw last season against Navy or Miami, when the Irish offensive line dominated and helped the Irish run away with the game.
Pass efficiently. If you’re looking for a team to get your completion percentage up against, Air Force looks to be it. The Falcons defense has been really, really easy to complete passes on. Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton completed 80 percent of his throws. Boise State’s Joe Southwick completed 27 of 29 throws. Wyoming’s Brett Smith hit on 35 of 41. The average quarterback rating of those three was almost 96 (with ESPN’s new efficiency measure maxing out at 100).
It’s a great opportunity for Tommy Rees to take advantage of his targets and establish some rhythm, perhaps building some confidence with younger receivers like Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown and James Onwualu.
Be Dominant. Notre Dame hasn’t been all that good playing as a favorite. But as the calendar gets set to turn to November, this team needs to hit its stride. Get out of the gates quickly. Score touchdowns in the red zone. Get off the field on defense. Let your depth get experience.
Brian Kelly has a ton of respect for Troy Calhoun and this Air Force team. But that doesn’t mean this game needs to be close.