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OFD Gameday Countdown: Notre Dame vs. Air Force

A preview of the 30th meeting this weekend between Air Force and Notre Dame.

Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sport

Notre Dame (-20.0) at Air Force

Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Kickoff: 5:00 PM ET

Television: CBS Sports Network

Series: 23-6-0 Notre Dame

Here is the One Foot Down preview for this Saturday's game against Air Force.

5 Factoids

  • 28

That's the amount of years that have passed since Notre Dame lost a game at Air Force with the Irish winning the last 6 road meetings. The last loss in Colorado Springs was in 1985 in Gerry Faust's last season as head coach at Notre Dame---also Faust's fourth straight loss to the Falcons.

  • 18

This is the number of games since Air Force has played a BCS opponent. Their last meeting in such a game was on September 8, 2012 on the road against Michigan. The Falcons played well in that game falling to the Wolverines 31-25.

  • 41.6

Air Force has really struggled defensively this season and is sitting at 115th nationally in scoring defense. Taking out the 13 points FCS team Colgate scored against them, Air Force has giving up 41.6 points per game against FBS opponents this season.

  • 5

That's the number of players on the Air Force roster who have at least 40 carries this season and each of them have gained at least 200 yards. They also have 8 players who have totaled at least 10 carries. Only BYU, Georgia Tech, Army, and Navy have more rushing attempts per game than Air Force.

  • 6,035

Colorado Springs is a sneaky big city (400,000+ people) and also sits way above sea level. The city is 6,035 feet above sea level so remember that when you're pounding drinks during the tailgate if you're making the trip out west.

4 Players to Watch

  • FB Broam Hart

Hart is the Falcons starting fullback and gets more carries than anyone in their offense. Through 7 games he leads the team with 89 carries and 389 yards. He's not a threat to catch the ball as he doesn't have a reception over three years of playing although now that I mention it expect some sort of screen pass thrown his way on Saturday.

  • RB Jon Lee

Lee is the most explosive player on the Air Force offense. His 51 carries are only the third most on the team but he's averaging 6.8 yards per carry to go along with 3 touchdowns. He was just as productive last year with 545 yards on 88 carries (6.2 per carry) and 4 touchdowns. Lee played very little in their previous game against SDSU with an elbow injury but should be healthy against the Irish.

  • QB Karson Roberts

The depth chart at quarterback has been a disaster for the Falcons in 2013. Original starter Kale Pearson tore his knee up in the first game against Colgate and is out for the season. Sophomore Jaleel Awini took over for the next 3.5 games but has been suspended and is currently not a cadet in good standing. Karson Roberts has started Air Force's last three games but left their most recent contest against San Diego State with a concussion, paving the way for fourth string freshman signal caller Nate Romine to finish against the Aztecs. Roberts had the bye week to recover and he should be the QB if he's healthy.

  • LB Joey Nichol

Nichol is a junior who came into this season with a couple career starts and is now leading the Falcons in tackles (67) for 2013. His 9.5 tackles per game are by far the most on the Air Force roster. He's got some ball hawk instincts.

3 Concerns

  • High Altitude

This likely won't be an issue but it's worth talking about. Notre Dame has some big linemen on both sides of the ball that might get a little winded up in the thin air. The Irish are 12-2 all-time on the road against Air Force and the average margin of victory in those wins is 'only' 18.5 points. Who knows how much the altitude plays a part in that history?

  • Getting a Little Too Conservative on Offense

Also known as "Let's play Andrew Hendrix and rest Tommy Rees." I can already picture these super long, frustrating drives with 80% run plays ending in field goals, or worse, turnovers and Notre Dame making this a close game.

  • Let Down Following USC

It may not even be a let down from USC, but the combination of Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, and USC all in a row. Brian Kelly typically has done a really good job keeping Notre Dame's guard up in these games against weaker opponents, though.

2 Sides of the Ball

Air Force has kept the same offensive line healthy for the entire season. Sophomore Matt Rochell (older brother to Irish freshman defensive end Isaac Rochell) is starting at left tackle and is 6-3, 260. Senior David Lore (6-1, 265) made 5 starts last season and has been holding down the left guard position while senior Michael Husar (6-0, 270) is working at center after making one start there last season before blowing out his knee.

On the right side the Falcons have senior Moshood Adeniji (6-2, 255) at guard and senior Jerry Henry (6-6, 255) at tackle. Overall, this is a really inexperienced unit for Air Force. The current five came into this season with a combined 9 starts which along with the volatility at quarterback helps explain the Falcons averaging only 4.9 yards per carry. The AFA has been over 5.0 YPC from 2010-12.

On the defensive line Air Force returns veteran junior defensive end Nick Fitzgerald (6-4, 265) who comes into the weekend with 23 starts. He's second among linemen with 20 tackles this season in addition to 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and a forced fumble. Fitzgerald is backed up by freshman Ryan Watson (6-3, 240) who has 9 tackles on the season.

At nose guard AFA has senior Dana Luebbe (6-3, 245) who is in his first year as starter and has 13 tackles with half a sack. His backup is junior Troy Timmerman (6-2, 260) with 5 tackles on the season. At the other end spot is sophomore Alex Hansen (6-2, 260) with 11 career starts and 21 tackles on the season. His backup is junior Riley Cannon (6-4, 260) with 4 tackles.

The defensive line has really struggled to stop the run this year giving up at least 200 yards to every opponent not named Colgate and they've also surrendered 20 touchdowns on the ground---tied for 119th in the country.

1 Prediction

This Air Force team has been falling apart health-wise all season long. Their top two quarterbacks are out, their leading receiver from 2012 Ty MacArthur hasn't played since early September due to a concussion, their top running back aggravated an elbow injury, and a couple more defenders are out leaving the Falcons with just 3 healthy starters from last years unit on that side of the ball.

Current head coach Troy Calhoun won 8 or 9 games in each of his four seasons in Colorado Springs and although he's made a bowl game in each of his six seasons at Air Force that streak is in serious jeopardy this year. A loss against the Irish would drop Air Force to 1-7 and out of bowl eligibility completely. What's more, a loss this weekend and the Falcons would need to go 2-2 the rest of the way just to avoid the most losses in school history.

So yeah, this isn't a very good football team right now.

Football Outsiders Advanced Stats for Week 9

F/+ 28 113
FEI 29 117
FEI Off. 14 61
FEI Def. 39 124
S&P 45 107
S&P Off. 29 72
S&P Def. 61 119

Of course Air Force will always play tough and in the game of football that can count for a lot. Their offense could also be a pain in the butt, especially if the coaching staff decides to rest Louis Nix (or a couple other players) and a bunch of first teamers see minimal snaps. You can be sure Air Force will go for a lot of 4th downs and try to keep the ball out of the hands of Notre Dame's offense. And to their offense's credit in the face of a 1-6 record, they've at least scored 20+ points in all but one game this season.

The defense though, dear Lord the defense.

Air Force's 124th ranked FEI defense is second to last in the entire country. They're also dead last in defensive efficiency, first down rate, available yards, and value drives. Looking at those numbers this might be the worst defense Notre Dame has faced, not only this season, but in many years.

This game shouldn't be close. However, something tells me it will be just because that's usually how Notre Dame rolls and college football can be a weird game sometimes. The Irish are also a little banged up and Air Force has had a bye week to regain some of their health. The Irish should still cover though.

Notre Dame 38

Air Force 13