October 06, 2011

Notre Dame vs. Air Force - Picking into the Wild Blue Yonder

Dan: Notre Dame
The embarrassing lost against the option offense of the Naval Academy last year is certainly still fresh in everyone’s head. Can Notre Dame stop the Falcon’s rushing attack this weekend? The Irish have been a force against the run this year, allowing just over 100 yards per game. 
Meanwhile the Falcons average about 365 rushing yards per game. However, against the only halfway decent defense, TCU, they were held to under 250. If ND, and its re-tooled defensive line can contain the corners and let the linebackers mop up, I think the Irish can hold them to between 200 and 250 yards, which would be a very successful day.
On the other side of the ball, Air Force has struggled. If ND can make it two games in a row without any turnovers, the Irish will be well on their way to a big day. 
Notre Dame 34 Air Force 17
Jeremy: Notre Dame
Quite a few ND fans are legitimately terrified about the AFA offense, and I have to say that, until very recently, I was right there with them.  I'm not convinced that Diaco solved all the option problems in the weeks leading up to the Army game last year, but I do think that this defense is extremely good against the run.  TCU's defense shut down the Falcon attack in the 1st half, jumped out to a big lead and never looked back.  And TCU's defense isn't that great!  The Irish shouldn't have terrible problems slowing down the Falcon attack, even if Ethan Johnson misses the game.
On the defensive side, the AFA front seven is pretty small (at least compared to the Irish o-line), and there are some apparent injury issues, especially at the DE spot.  Coming off last week's performance in West Lafayette, there's no reason to believe that the Irish won't run like crazy on Saturday.  
It will take a rash of turnovers and another serious faux pas from the Irish defensive coaching staff to make this game close.  Not saying it couldn't happen, but I think the Irish have turned the corner and they should win this one going away.
ND 34  Air Force 17
Jimmy: Notre Dame
The usual fears about studying and learning a brand new offensive scheme to counteract always surround a service academy game week.  Considering Air Force just beat Navy, there’s a small lump in my stomach that still turns thinking about last year’s aberration against the Midshipmen.  Hopefully Everett Golson had some fun running the practice squad offense, mimicking the speed that 4-year AFA starter QB Tim Jefferson will display.  The Purdue game was the closest the Irish have come to a true stomping of an opponent on both sides in a long time, and yet, there’s still room for improvement on offense. 

Really like the duo of Wood and Gray to get comfortable in the 2nd and 3rd level of the Falcons defense.  They’re looking quite adept at cutting in space with the extra room afforded the shotgun snap.  The O-Line is straight plowing folks off the ball and no reason to think anything will be different with this undersized Air Force unit.  Floyd should be open if/when Kelly wants to dial it up.  But I think he should stress the ground game a little more to keep possession in ND’s favor.  Would love for Louis Nix, Lynch and Tuitt to dominate their gap assignments and make things easy for the LBs and safeties to clean up the action.  Not sold on the youngsters to shut down the disciplined "now you see it, now you don't" Air Force rushing attack as completely as last week’s performance.

Since this is Air Force week, thought I’d use this space to offer three reasons why the Academy is the creme de la creme of the service academies.  
Uniform: Always been partial to the royal blue and silver with the lightning strike helmet logo.  Navy and Army are a little repetitive when there’s already one team on the field with gold helmets (ND).  The fresh look and snazzy design is appealing on many levels.  

Fight Song: "Into the Wild Blue Yonder" is catchy, up-tempo and puts a skip in your step and a smile on your face  It's about as patriotic as it gets, sounding like it was written for a 1930s Hollywood musical with Bing Crosby.  Anchors Aweigh is solid, but not as classic.  I had to look up Army's fight song.  That about sums up that sorry, bland ditty.
Venue: From what I’ve heard, Colorado Springs is a beautiful setting in the mountains with Pike’s Peak hugging the town.  Campus was designed by Chicago’s acclaimed design firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill (think Sears Tower, Hancock & the current tallest building in Dubai), and features the iconic Cadet chapel.  I would gladly visit this campus for an away game rather than an Army or Navy game in a pro stadium (though Yankees Stadium was a unique venue).  

Mascot: The falcon is a pretty sweet creature that trumps a mangy goat, a stubborn mule and a non-descript knight in drab armor.  Not sure if the Academy still brings Mach 1 to away games for aerial halftime shows showing off its fastest-creature-on-planet speed, but when I was young, the handler walked right by our seats holding the majestic bird.  I remember it's steely death eyes seemed capable of summoning bolts of lightning from on high.  (There's only one other human I know who can accomplish this same feat, and his name is Matt Lynch - to watch this well-done video, click the "digital" tab and select the Matt Lynch Song...you won't be disappointed). 

Anyway, the falcon scores high on the cool live mascot scale.  While we're on the topic, why not a quick tangent into some of the best & worst mascots in the country.  For giggles, here's a pretty thorough Wiki page of all collegiate mascots.  

Ralphie, the buffalo (Colorado) - Nobody messes with Ralphie, especially when his handlers can't contain his sheer brute strength and he plants a couple hoof marks on an unlucky soul.

Uga, the bulldog (Georgia) - An adorable, cuddly, waddling English bulldog...who hates Auburn

Bevo, the longhorn (Texas) - One of the reasons we don't mess with Texas.  Apparently Bevo didn't especially care for the product on the field this game, getting a little testy with his rodeo clowns who are entirely at the whim of this enormous creature

Mike, the tiger (LSU) - Doesn't require much explanation.  They have a freaking TIGER in a cage.  Sure it's a zoo-ish existence, but any team that parades a Bengal tiger around like a Mardi Gras float means business. Plus, Mike has a best friend.

Mach 1 & War Eagle - birds of prey (Air Force & Auburn) - America loves it's soaring, stately creatures.  Both are incredible to watch, unless they fly away or a luxury suite obstructs its flight.

Honorable Mention: Renegade (Florida State) & Traveller (USC), both regal horses; the West Virginia Mountaineer, if he's really a mountain man hired to come to games in his normal attire;

Rameses, the ram (UNC) - Yippee, blue horns.  It'd be better if they had 2 rams putting on a head-butting show National Geographic style.

Smokey, the coonhound (Tennessee) & Reveille, the American collie (Texas A&M) - Neither canine compares to Uga.  

Peruna, the shetland pony (SMU) - Isn't this what Lisa Simpson always asked for her birthday?

Bill, the goat (Navy) - Like watching grass grow, and then eating it.

Raider, Ranger II and General Scott, mules (Army) - Why wouldn't our nation's defense leader have something more kickass symbolize the school instead of an actual ass?  Why not the king of the jungle or a puma?

Okay, that was fun.  You still need a score.

Notre Dame 41  Air Force 20
Mike: Notre Dame
Obviously, the most encouraging aspect of last week’s performance against Purdue was the stellar play of the Irish offensive and defensive lines.  From a long term perspective, the most reliable path to elite status for Notre Dame is to dominate in the trenches, so it was certainly uplifting to see such strong line play, especially from the young players.  As for this week, the Irish lineman should be able to use their substantial size and athletic advantage over their counterparts from the Air Force Academy to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.  Given this advantage, coupled with the impressive one-two tandem of Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, the Irish coaches would be well advised to lean heavily on the running game rather than letting the mistake prone Tommy Rees put the ball in the air.  Rees played a better game against Purdue than in prior weeks, but he still missed a number of easy throws and threw several balls that should have been intercepted.  If Air Force is able to shorten the game and reduce the number of possessions, it is imperative that the Irish avoid turning the ball over.
On defense, Air Force will attempt to mitigate Notre Dame’s size advantage with its precision triple option attack led by Tim Jefferson and Asher Clark.  Of course, the memory of Navy’s fullback running unfettered down the field in Baltimore is still fresh in the minds of Irish fans, as is the clueless interview by Bob Diaco following the defeat.  In fairness, Notre Dame did respond well against a similar Army offense later in the year, so there is hope that the Irish defense will rise to the challenge this week.  It will be interesting to see whether Kelly and Diaco, in contrast to the Michigan game, will trust Lynch, Tuitt (returning from a one game suspension) and Williams in a game where disciplined, assignment football is essential.  For special teams, I look for (a) John Goodman to improve upon his -4.9 yards per return average by returning 4 punts for negative 12 yards, (b) David Ruffer, aided by one bad snap and another bad hold, to make 2 out of 4 FGs with a missed extra point and (c) a decent kickoff return to be negated by a mindless penalty.
Anyway, this game will not be without its nerve wracking moments, but the Irish will emerge victorious to head into their off week with a 4-2 record.
Notre Dame 35 Air Force 24
Phil: Notre Dame
Well, here we are, 5 games in and above .500. Visions of the BCS are dancing in our heads and I am pretty certain I heard Herbie predict 10-2 for us on Mike and Mike. 
This is when we get in trouble. BK needs to keep the focus up, heads down, and continue the sharp play. 
I love Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray. They run hard, and have great size and speed. The OL is playing great and now all Rees needs to do is protect the ball and hit up Floyd and Eifert. I look for us to TCB this weekend and march on. 
Irish 34 Air Force 13


Anonymous said...

It is games like this one where we will find out if Kelly is more Holtzian or Davian/Willinghamian/Weisian.

Holtz's teams came out and with their oversized brutes in the trenches, leaned on these smaller teams and imposed their will.

The other 3 seemed almost afraid to play physical and went more finesse and had ugly wins or even uglier defeats.

If Kelly brings the Irish out and just attacks the AFA with brute force, the Irish win going away and things will be looking better. But if he comes out and plays passive it could well indicate more of the same from the past 15 years.

I expect a close game with an Irish lead at the half and then just an old fashion outmanning in the second half with Notre Dame pulling away to a 35-17 win with AFA getting 7 points late ala Purdue.

Mike said...

Loved the mascot discussion. Live mascots are reason #459 why college football is better than the NFL.

Jimmy said...

Agree with anonymous' assessment on one (of many) shortcomings of Bob Weisingham. Just push them around playground style. Don't let them dictate the style of play at all

Megan Coleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Megan Coleman said...

I just tried to troll as Meghan Rees with a signature "Do you know who I am?" line, but epically failed.

ND 34 AFA 27
Go Irish

Dan said...

I support the effort though Coleman