Notre Dame Football: 10 Things We Learned in Irish's Win Against Air Force
Notre Dame left Colorado Springs, Colo., with its third consecutive victory, having defeated the Air Force Academy Falcons 45-10.
Because the game reached "out of hand" status so early on—the Irish led 31-10 with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter—the second and third units received a healthy amount of reps. Thus, much was offered to be learned about Brian Kelly's squad during its victory.
A few questions remain, most prominently being how Notre Dame responds following its dominant win.
For that answer and many more, follow along.
QB Tommy Rees Had the Best Game of His Career
Tommy Rees arrived and conquered.
The senior signal-caller was the catalyst of Notre Dame's victory, piecing together the best performance of his collegiate career.
The 6'2", 215-pound quarterback completed 17 of 22 passing attempts for 284 yards and a career-high five touchdowns to five different receivers—Chris Brown, TJ Jones, William Fuller, Ben Koyack and Corey Robinson.
In fact, Rees played so well that he earned himself some well-deserved rest, as he relaxed on the sideline for the duration of the fourth quarter.
The question facing Rees is whether he can maintain this level of consistency during the Irish's final four games against Navy, Pittsburgh, BYU and Stanford.
Notre Dame Didn't Need Its Running Game
From the start, Air Force's defense explicitly displayed its intentions.
The Falcons stacked the line of scrimmage in an effort to take away the Irish's rushing attack. While that has been an issue against other opponents, such wasn't the case against Troy Calhoun's team.
While Notre Dame averaged just 3.6 yards per carry (37 carries for 135 yards), the lack of production wasn't a hindrance to the offense, which still posted a season-high 45 points. And all the credit belongs to Rees, who carried the offense.
Rees typically is exposed if forced to shoulder the load, but against Air Force, he thrived in the situation, making the Falcons pay for daring him to beat them with his arm.
DE Sheldon Day Still Isn't Fully Healthy
Notre Dame defensive end Sheldon Day has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury for the past month, which still hasn't subsided.
While the Indianapolis native played well and often against USC last week, Day was spotted wearing street clothes on the sidelines during the second half. His absence didn't hurt the Irish defense against Air Force, but it most certainly will later in the season against BYU and Stanford.
I'm no doctor, but it would seem wise to sit Day against Navy next week in the hopes he'll be fully recovered by the time Notre Dame makes its trip to Pittsburgh to play the Panthers Nov. 9.
The Irish's Freshman Receivers Made Their Collective Presence Felt
One of the most underrated groups among Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class was its receivers.
Against a vulnerable Air Force secondary, Saturday was the the group's first legitimate opportunity to make some long-awaited noise—and, boy, did it.
Corey Robinson and William Fuller had touchdown receptions of 35 and 46 yards, respectively. Each score was impressive in nature, as Robinson outmaneuvered the defensive back for a jump ball, while Fuller displayed his incendiary speed on a play-action post route.
If the duo can continue to be a threat in the passing game, the Irish offense will be an improved unit.
RB Tarean Folston Received His 1st Extended Playing Time of the Season
Of Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class, two players were the most highly praised: running backs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.
Up until Saturday's game at Air Force, fans had been clamoring for either or both to take on larger roles within the offense, but those wishes were never granted. Against the Falcons, however, Folston carried the ball 11 times for 47 yards.
What should be considered while digesting those statistics is that the 5'10", 207-pound back received those carries while George Atkinson III and Amir Carlisle watched from the sidelines.
Whether that means an impending jump up the depth chart for Folston remains to be seen, but Saturday's performance aided his cause in doing so.
Cam McDaniel Has All but Sealed His Title as the Irish's No. 1 Running Back
Each and every week, the pecking order at running back seems to be taking shape, with Cam McDaniel strengthening his grip on the No. 1 slot.
The Coppell, Texas, native led the Irish in rushing once again against Air Force, piling up 61 yards on 10 carries. Working in his favor of claiming the top spot on the depth chart is George Atkinson's wildly inconsistent play.
Atkinson earned just six carries for 18 yards Saturday, while being relegated to the bench for the majority of the second half after bouncing one too many runs outside instead of being patient and waiting for the running lanes to open up.
As long as that condition persists, expect McDaniel to be the guy at running back.
Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco Has Mastered Defending the Triple Option
Bob Diaco was the target of verbal barbs after his defense was shredded by Navy three seasons ago, but since then, the 40-year-old defensive coordinator has mastered the triple option.
In Notre Dame's last three games against service academies that feature the triple-option offense—two wins against Navy and one against Air Force—the Irish have outscored the opposition by a combined score of 151-34.
With Navy coming to South Bend, Ind., next week, Diaco will have another opportunity to showcase his mastery of defending the triple option.
Freshman LB Jaylon Smith Was Robbed of a Touchdown
On the first possession of the second half, Air Force quarterback Nate Romine fumbled, and the ball was recovered by Jaylon Smith, who ran it back to the end zone despite whistles having been blown.
The referees initially ruled the play an incomplete pass, but after review, they reversed the call and ruled it a fumble. However, they awarded Notre Dame the ball on its own 38 rather than assessing the touchdown to Smith.
No matter how you view it, the call was a botch, and Smith was robbed of his first career score.
Freshman DE Isaac Rochell Played Against His Brother, Matt
For what may be the only time in his career, freshman defensive end Isaac Rochell played against his brother, Matt, a sophomore Air Force offensive lineman.
The younger Rochell ran with the first-team offense in Sheldon Day's absence and played directly against Matt.
It's not often you get to see two brothers play against each other, let alone together, so Saturday was a special moment for the Rochell family, which was in attendance at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Chris Watt's Value to the Offensive Line Can't Be Undersold
Notre Dame's offensive line just isn't the same without left guard Chris Watt.
Late in the first half, Watt went down with an apparent knee injury and was replaced by Conor Hanratty. With another inexperienced lineman in the game—Steve Elmer—the line was undermanned, and it showed.
During the first play following Watt's injury, Tommy Rees was easily sacked, as Hanratty was confused by the twist of the Air Force defensive line.
Against a more potent defense, such a situation won't be isolated in Watt's absence.