The Notre Dame Fighting Irish come back to their home crowd Saturday as they face the Air Force Falcons.
After starting the season with a shaky 0-2 record, the Fighting Irish won three straight games improving their record to 3-2.
They now face an Air Force team that relies heavily on a versatile run game and will certainly give the Irish some trouble. In order to put another victory in the win column, Notre Dame must do these four things on Saturday.
Get Michael Floyd Involved Early
Michael Floyd is easily one of the most consistent, dynamic players on the Irish, and getting him involved in the offense early is always a good thing for the confidence of young quarterback Tommy Rees.
Air Force does not have anyone on the defensive end that can keep up with Floyd, and if the Irish try to get him the ball early, he will have a big statistical game.
On paper, the offense of the Irish is much more powerful than the Air Force defense, and if Floyd gets the ball an ample amount of times in the beginning of the game, it will allow Rees to look toward his other favorite targets, like Tyler Eifert.
If Floyd gets involved early in the game, the Irish will be able to move up and down the field at will.
Avoid Costly Turnovers
The Irish have consistently been turning the ball over this year, and even though they are on a three-game win streak, they still have a problem holding onto the football.
Notre Dame has been their own biggest problem in the beginning of the season.
During their two-game skid to open the year, the Irish committed a total of 10 turnovers, which cost them the game on both occasions.
Their next two games, though both victories, were both costly—they lost the turnover margin in both games.
Which Factor is most important for the Irish to avoid an upset?
The Irish came back to form last week as they played a full game of turnover-free football and dominated the Boilermakers of Purdue by a score of 38-10.
The Irish proved how dominant they can really be if they avoid turning the ball over.
The Notre Dame offense has no problem moving the ball down the field, and if they continue to be safe with the ball like they were last week, it could be a long day for the Air Force defense.
Make Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray Factors on Offense
Last week, Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray combined to rush for a total of 285 yards as they shredded the defense of the Boilermakers.
If Notre Dame can involve both running backs in their offensive scheme this weekend, they will be able to move the ball smoothly down the field.
Cierre Wood is coming off a career day in rushing yards—he ran for 191 yards and brings confidence and momentum into this weekend, looking for another breakout game.
Jonas Gray is also a vital part of the offense, and if they can get both running backs involved in the run game, they will have Air Force's defense off-balance the whole game.
Gray and Wood bring two different styles of running, and if Notre Dame splits carries between the two backs, the run game will prosper for the Irish.
Brian Kelly's love for the passing game is obvious, but if the Irish run the ball it will open the passing lanes for Rees, and give the Irish less chances of losing the ball in costly situations.
Stop Air Force's Potent Run Game
Air Force makes it clear that their approach to every game is to run down the opposing team's throat, and it has been fairly successful this year as they have a 3-1 record.
The Falcons have a dismal amount of passing attempts and yards this season, and they are going to rely on their option attack to account for their points.
Notre Dame has not faced a Triple Option attack this year, but when they faced a Navy team last with a similar Air Force approach, the Midshipmen gashed the Irish defense. Notre Dame's defense is playing extremely well against the run this year, but have never faced the powerful run game that the Falcons possess.
The Falcons average a whopping 365 yards on the ground a game. Air Force also uses a variety of players to run the ball, so Notre Dame will have its hands full trying to hone in on stopping the run game.
For Notre Dame to avoid an upset at home, they must stop the Air Force running game.
If Notre Dame can do all of these tasks, they will have little trouble defeating the Falcons in front of their home crowd. The Irish are starting to find themselves on both the offensive and defensive end.
If Notre Dame can get the ball to Floyd, avoid turnovers, have a good run game and stop the opposing run game, it will not have too much trouble finishing Saturday with a 4-2 record.