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Week 8: Air Force

Matthew DeFranks | Saturday, October 26, 2013

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – In the thin air of Colorado, Notre Dame let it fly.

Notre Dame (6-2) gained 331 yards in the air on its way to a 45-10 rout over Air Force (1-7) on Saturday at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Irish senior quarterback Tommy Rees had as many incompletions as touchdown passes (five). He completed 17 of 22 passes for 284 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. In two career games against Air Force, Rees has thrown for 545 yards and nine touchdown passes.

“Tommy threw the ball very efficiently,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “He was on target, could really pick his spots and when we needed a play, he was able to make it.”

Since the beginning of the USC game a week ago, Rees has thrown for 450 yards and seven touchdowns.

“[Rees] played well against Arizona State, clearly he was playing well against USC until he got injured,” Kelly said. “I’ve really felt like he’s been playing well. He’s been doing some things, putting the ball in great locations.”

Rees was the first quarterback in school history to connect with five different receivers for touchdowns in one game.

“We thought their corners and safeties were extremely aggressive, a lot more than they had shown and gave us the opportunity for some one-on-one matchups that we didn’t think we were going to get, quite frankly,” Kelly said. “We were able to take advantage of them. We were able to get over the top.”

Freshmen receivers Corey Robinson and Will Fuller caught their first career touchdown passes in the first half. It was the first time since 2007 that two freshman receivers caught touchdown passes in the same game, when Duval Kamara and Golden Tate achieved the feat.

Robinson’s was a leaping acrobatic 35-yard grab down the sideline in the first quarter while Fuller sped behind the Falcon defense for a 46-yard deep pass in the second quarter. Junior tight end Ben Koyack added a 22-yard touchdown reception in the second stanza.

Senior receiver TJ Jones snared a 30-yard pass from Rees to give the Irish a 31-10 lead nearly midway through the third quarter. Jones now has five consecutive games with a touchdown catch.

Sophomore receiver Chris Brown also hauled in his first career touchdown pass when Rees found him for a 15-yard score with 3:07 left in the third quarter.

“The one in particular that I liked was Chris Brown’s touchdown catch was put in a position where he was the only one that was going to catch it,” Kelly said. “He’s making those kinds of throws even if you’re covered right now. If Tommy can continue to make those kinds of accurate throws, throwing them away from the defenders, he’s going to continue to have success.”

The pass was the last one Rees threw on the day as senior quarterback Andrew Hendrix led the Notre Dame offense the rest of the game.

Hendrix was 1-for-4 for 47 yards throwing the ball and added a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Kelly said Hendrix’s play was “a lot better than last week’s.”

Air Force got on the board first after Irish junior kicker Kyle Brindza’s 46-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

Falcon freshman quarterback Nate Romine became the fourth starting quarterback, the most in the nation, for Air Force this season when he took the field following a Brindza’s miss.

Romine and the Falcons needed just 3:40 to get on the board. Air Force had only two plays of less than five yards as it marched 71 yards in 10 plays for the first touchdown of the game. Junior receiver Colton Huntsman ran around the Irish defense and into the left corner of the end zone from 10 yards out for the touchdown. It was Huntsman’s first touchdown of the season.

“We told our guys Air Force was going to give us that punch at some time and that was in the very first quarter when we drove down and had a field goal blocked and subsequently, they scored,” Kelly said. “Then our team was going to have to respond and they responded quite well, obviously, from that. That was the challenge to our football team that something was going to happen early on and they would have to respond and they responded very, very well.”

Notre Dame scored 45 of the next 48 points after the Air Force touchdown, including the final 31.

Air Force did not reach the end zone again and only punctured the red zone one more time. In their lone red zone trip, Falcons senior running back Anthony LaCoste fumbled the ball and the Irish pounced on it near the end of the first half.

Air Force also fumbled the ball away on its opening drive of the second half when junior linebacker Ben Councell knocked the ball out of Romine’s hands. Irish freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith recovered the fumble.

“They were big turnovers, there’s no question about it but we kept pressure on them offensively, which was the key,” Kelly said. “We kept scoring points and I think the turnover and then consequently the scores on offense, piling those points up and keeping it separated put them under a lot of pressure today.”

Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said the fumbles were game-changers.

“I do think just when you look at pure firepower, amount of gun powder, they’ve got quite a bit,” Calhoun said. “I do think it would have been a more closely contested game, especially in the second half [if not for the fumbles].”

The Irish answered the early score with a quick five-play touchdown drive, capped by Robinson’s first touchdown catch.

The pass marked Rees’ 11th completion of 32 yards or longer, which matched the 2012 total. Rees also became the fourth Irish quarterback to throw for 50 touchdowns. Rees passed Ron Powlus to move into third on the all-time passing touchdown list. He trails just Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn.

Notre Dame held the Air Force’s triple option attack to 290 rushing yards and 339 total yards.

After allowing the Falcons 8.4 yards per carry in the first quarter, the Irish allowed 3.6 per carry the rest of the game. The Falcons mustered just 49 yards through the air.

Smith led the Notre Dame defense with nine tackles, including one for loss. Kelly said the coaching staff put Smith in a tough position early in the game but made adjustments to limit the Falcon option attack.

Brindza blasted a 51-yard field goal with 3:57 left in the half to give the Irish a 24-10 cushion. The make was Brindza’s third career field goal of 50 yards or more.

Air Force tacked on a 47-yard field goal by junior kicker Will Conant with 10:07 left in the second half.

The Irish will try to improve to 7-2 on Saturday when Navy comes to Notre Dame Stadium.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu