5 Bold Predictions for Irish's Battle With Air Force
After a dismal start to the season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are climbing their way back into the BCS picture. However, if they are going to continue on that path, then they need to take care of business against a feisty Air Force team.
The service academies are no longer pushovers to the Fighting Irish. In the last five years, the service academies own a 4-2 record against the Fighting Irish, including a 41-24 Air Force victory in South Bend in 2007.
But this is in the past, Notre Dame will be focused and looking to build on their successes in the last few weeks. Many are speculating that Notre Dame should win this game, but are not sure how close the game will be. Here are some predictions you should be looking for on Saturday.
Notre Dame Will Hold the Air Force Offense Under 200 Yards Rushing
What!? Notre Dame has a run defense. Well, you better believe it, and you can bet that after last year's embarrassing performance against Navy's triple option, Bob Diaco will have his defense primed for Air Force's rushing attack.
Notre Dame is ranked 19th nationally in run defense and has only given up one rushing touchdown all season and only two rushing touchdowns in its last nine games dating back to last year. Don't expect things to change on Saturday.
With a potential All-American linebacker in Manti T'eo having another phenomenal season (44 tackles, 27 solo, 3.0 sacks) and the veteran defensive line, the Notre Dame defense should be getting quick penetration into the backfield and not allowing the triple option to develop.
Also, the depth of the Irish's front seven on defense is a major factor in this game. Air Force will be pounding it up the middle and trying to get around the outside linebackers. So, young players like Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch will be called upon to get the job done. And well, based on their performances so far this year, Notre Dame fans will expect nothing but their best.
Air Force may get a rushing touchdown or two if they are lucky, but I do not see Notre Dame giving up many yards on the ground with their commitment to stop the run. I predict a 170 yards rushing from the Air Force offense. However, I would not be surprised if the Irish secondary, which has been very unreliable at times, to give up a few big yards and touchdowns through the air.
Although Air Force runs the ball the majority of the time, they are no stranger to dropping back and taking shots down the field to keep the defense honest.
Tyler Eifert Will Lead the Receiving Corps on Offense
Michael Floyd is Notre Dame's best receiver. I still believe that is true. However, in the last couple of games, Tommy Rees has found his next best option, Tyler Eifert. Everyone knows that Michael Floyd will most likely be double-teamed on Saturday by the Air Force secondary.
Sorry, Air Force, if I revealed your secret game plan, but it's true. No one in the Air Force secondary can match up with Floyd one on one. Therefore, if two defensive backs are covering Floyd, Rees will look to his No. 2 receiver, Eifert.
In the last two games, Eifert has 12 receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns. His production and role in the Irish offense has steadily been increasing. I expect him to have a big game on Saturday and put his name in the running for the John Mackey Award.
Eifert has been patient in the Irish offense as he sat behind Kyle Rudolph on the depth chart last year and is second to Michael Floyd this year, but now he is ready to live up to Notre Dame's history of producing solid tight ends (Fasano, Carlson, Rudolph).
Also, Eifert's sheer size will make him an excellent target for quarterback Tommy Rees. Standing at 6'6'', he will by far be the largest target against an undersized Air Force defense. I predict Eifert will have at least 10 receptions and over 100 yards receiving with a touchdown to cap it off.
Notre Dame Will Win the Turnover Battle
Notre Dame is still the worst team in the FBS when it comes to turnovers leading the way with 15. Yet, they succeeded in not turning it over in a win over Purdue last week. For Tommy Rees and Cierre Wood, a game without a turnover has to be a big confidence boost. Therefore, I believe they will continue to show good ball security in this game.
Tommy Rees is getting more accurate with his throws and making less mistakes as the season continues. He threw two interceptions a piece in his first two games, he threw one interception in his next two games and he threw no interceptions last week. Do you see a trend?
This trend will continue because Rees is getting more comfortable every week in the Irish offense. Also, this is where credit must be given to the Notre Dame offensive line who has given Rees the time to make accurate throws and good decisions.
Finally, Notre Dame's defense will have the opportunity to force many fumbles with Air Force's rushing attack. To run the ball 50 or 60 times against one of the best run defenses in college football, you can expect for Notre Dame to jar the ball loose a few times.
If they can capitalize on the few mistakes that Air Force will make, Notre Dame will be in the positive turnover margin for the second consecutive week.
Everett Golson Will See Playing Time
Notre Dame fans have been waiting to see the explosiveness of Brian Kelly's offense when one of his own quarterback recruits is in the game. Well, fans may just get their wish on Saturday against Air Force. Everett Golson, a true freshman, has not played a down all season, but in the Blue-Gold game he led the way with 62 rushing yards and was 9-for-18 for 91 yards and a touchdown.
With Notre Dame's offense clicking better than it has all season, I expect the Irish will have a commanding lead going into the fourth quarter and will no longer need the services of Tommy Rees. In steps Everett Golson. Golson will eventually need to take some snaps in game situations if he is to be the heir to the Notre Dame quarterback throne. So what better game to do it in, than at home against a highly respected, but undersized Air Force team?
Brian Kelly knows that Tommy Rees is not forever and Dayne Crist has passed his expiration date, so he needs to groom Golson. This is the perfect opportunity for the Irish faithful to get a look at the future while still enjoying a solid win.
If Golson gets in, expect to see a faster, more mobile quarterback who can beat you through the air or with his legs (Denard Robinson?).
Notre Dame Puts Together Another Solid Win Going into the Bye Week
To conclude, Notre Dame, as I have been saying throughout the article, is improving defensively and limiting their mistakes on offense. I see no let down this Saturday against Air Force for two reasons.
One, Notre Dame is not where it wants to be right now and the only way to get there is to keep winning. Two, Notre Dame has slept on the service academies in the recent past and knows that feeling all too well.
Notre Dame will have the game in hand at halftime and will not let off the gas until the clock reads 0:00 in the fourth quarter. However, Air Force will be no pushover, and Notre Dame will have earned this win by playing mistake-free, hard-nosed football.
Prediction: Notre Dame 42, Air Force 17