It was a bit of an ugly start, especially for the defense, but the Irish got on track after the first quarter and actually covered a large spread!
Play Call of the Game: Fuller 46-yard TD Reception
This was an early momentum changer for the Irish. The game was tied 7-7 as the second quarter began and the ground game was not working to that point. Through two offensive series Atkinson and Carlisle combined for just 19 yards on 8 carries and that's with a 7-yard rush by Atkinson.
On the third series Kelly called 5 passes with a rushing attempt by TJ Jones culminating in this deep touchdown to Fuller. This is the kind of throw we'd be surprised to see Rees make before this season. Credit to Tommy for improving his down field accuracy.
Not a whole lot to talk about besides the lack of running production in the first half. It seems very obvious that Kelly is desperately trying to get Atkinson and Carlisle going which is a product of their talent but it also has to be something the coaching staff sees in practice because it's not necessarily manifesting itself in the games.
Cam McDaniel has been the best running back on the season and he doesn't touch the ball until there are 10 minutes left in the second quarter on the fourth series? Credit to the staff for sitting Carlisle and Atkinson in favor of the more productive McDaniel and Folston, but maybe the Irish should start the next game with Cam and Tarean?
Turning Point: Lacoste Fumble Before Half
Air Force squeezed a field goal in between two punts and found themselves down 24-10 before half. Yet, the Falcons mounted a nice drive with 4 minutes left and moved the ball over 50 yards into the red zone before running back Anthony Lacoste fumbled.
KeiVarae Russell recovered and instead of possibly getting in within 7 points and about to get the ball back to start the third quarter the Falcons never challenged again in the game.
Surprising Stat: 49 Passing Yards by Air Force
Air Force doesn't rely as much on running the ball like Navy and Army do. For sure they aren't slinging it around by any means but AFA has at least attempted 10 passes in every game this season. They threw the ball 12 times on Saturday, even completed 8 of them, but for a season low 49 yards.
Unheralded Star: KeiVarae Russell
Russell was one of the only players, maybe the only player, who seemed to play well from the opening whistle. The sensational sophomore finished with 6 tackles (all solo stops) and added a tackle for loss as well as a fumble recovery.
Missed Opportunity: No Points on the Opening Drive
Notre Dame strung together 12 plays to start the game but couldn't advance the ball past the Air Force 29-yard line and ended the drive about as poorly as you can without a turnover. Atkinson lost a yard on 3rd & 1, Elmer false starts on a 4th down attempt, and lastly Brindza has his field goal attempt blocked.
Bad Flag of the Game
We might have to re-name this category as referees are finding new and spectacularly bad ways to miss calls. In this case it was a fumble by Air Force quarterback Nate Romine that was ruled an incompletion. Luckily the booth reversed the call but Jaylon Smith was not awarded a touchdown for his scoop and score.
The Football Gods will make sure Jaylon gets his touchdown soon, I am sure.
As the title of the post indicates Rees was straight dealing out in the mountain air this weekend. He tossed a career high 5 touchdown passes, finished with 77 percent accuracy, and averaged almost 17 yards per completion.
Rees did miss badly on a couple of roll outs and he proved he's beyond helpless when a defender breaks free through the line, but this day was almost too easy for the senior quarterback.
Red Zone TD Success: 100%
The passing game was potent against Air Force so the Irish didn't enter the red zone very often deciding to score before they entered that territory. However, they did move the ball to the Falcon 15-yard line in the third quarter before a touchdown reception by Chris Brown and Andrew Hendrix punched the ball in from the 4-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
It was an okay game for both lines. The running backs were not doing the line any favors early on but at the same time the line wasn't handling a lot of bodies in the box all that well either. The pass blocking was very good once again but there were a few problems there as well which might have come down to so many backups playing decent minutes. At one point before the game was out of hand the line was Martin-Hanratty-Martin-Hegarty-Elmer.
Without the benefit of a second viewing I didn't think this was a particularly impressive game by the Notre Dame defensive line. For most of the first half Air Force was getting a decent push up the middle and QB Nate Romine was having a lot of success with quick runs up the gut. We can excuse some of this due to the absence of Louis Nix.
Everyone who made the trip and suited up got on the field: Corey Robinson, Will Fuller, Max Redfield, Devin Butler, James Onwualu, Tarean Folston, Cole Luke, Isaac Rochell, Steve Elmer, and Jaylon Smith.
This extends to a lot of other players on the roster beyond the true freshmen but the future is very bright if these kids can continue to develop and get better. There are a ton of first and second-year players making a big impact right now and that should yield major advantages in 2015 and 2016.
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