Tommy Rees quieted his critics, at least for a week, as he passed Notre Dame to a 45-10 rout of undermanned Air Force last week moving the Irish to 6-2.
Rees threw a career-high five touchdown passes to five different receivers while completing 17-of-22 for 284 yards and no interceptions. Rees moved ahead of Berwick's Ron Powlus into third place on ND's career TD pass list with 54 and trails Jimmy Clausen with 60 and Brady Quinn with 95..
The Irish defense, after taking a full quarter to adjust to the Air Force option attack, had another good day. AF had 101 yards on 12 carries in the first quarter but finished with 290 on 65, which shows how the Irish defense adjusted.
Freshmen Corey Robinson and William Fuller each had their first ever TD catches which made it the third time in history two Irish freshmen have recorded TD catches in the same game. Also getting TDs tosses were TJ Jones, for his fifth consecutive game with at least one TD catch, along with Ben Koyack and Chris Brown.
With the win the Irish are now bowl-eligible, meaning they are assured of playing in a bowl game somewhere for the holidays. But the Irish and coach Brian Kelly want to finish the current run with victories to secure a high level BCS bowl. ND must win the rest of their games to accomplish that.
As the defense continues to improve and get better with each game the Irish offense seems settled in the passing department, but is still lacking a run game. To be a complete team and to make your chances of winning each week much better, you have to be able to run the football with some consistency. AF started the game by stacking the front defensive line to stop ND run game. That forced AF to pay man-to-man on pass defense and that was when Rees picked them apart.
Even when AF began to drop back their linebackers to help with pass coverage, the Irish still had a hard time running the ball. ND finished with 135 rushing yards for the day.
Today ND faces another option attack in Navy. Make no mistake about it, Navy runs the option attack much better than Air Force and will be a real challenge for the defense. The plus is that ND got a look at the option attack last week and should be better prepared today.
Navy enters that game at 4-3. The wins have been over Indiana, 41-35; Delaware, 51-7; Air Force, 28-10; and Pittsburgh last week, 24-21. The losses have been to Western Kentucky, 19-7; Duke, 35-7; and Toledo, 45-44 in double overtime.
The Midshipmen are led by QB Keenan Reynolds, who has 634 yards on 147 carries and 11 touchdowns. Yes, he does throw the ball. This season he has completed 39 of 74 throws for four TDs and two interceptiions. He is what makes the Middies' offense go. Backing him up is Chris Swain with 286 yards on 76 carries and three TDs and Noah Copeland, 53-231, and one. Top receiver is DeBrandon Sanders with nine catches and 176 yards. Navy averages 292 yards per game rushing and 102 passing.
ND leads the series, 73-12-1 and won last year in Ireland, 50-10. ND also won 56-14 two years ago in South Bend. The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 3:42 p.m. kickoff.
IRISH NOTES:Some more game stats. Cam McDaniel had 61 yards on 10 carries and Tarean Folston 47 on 11. Jones had 104 yards on seven catches and William Fuller two for 93. Both had a TD. Defensively Jaylon Smith and Dan Fox each had eight tackles apiece.....In their last 21 games the Irish have lost to just Alabama, Michigan, and Oklahoma. But they had close calls last year with Pitt, Stanford, Purdue, BYU, and this year with Michigan State, Purdue, and Arizona State....Al Lesar, of the South Bend Tribune, hit it on the head when he said last week's game and the next three are "everything to lose, and not a heck of a lot to gain" games. ND will be favored in the next three games against Navy, Pitt and BYU. Unless they record blowout wins in the games the pollesters won't notice the victories. But lose one of these games and the BCS chances are gone....The win and 6-2 record did not impress. ND moved to 25th in the USA Today coaches poll this week. The Irish are a whopping 154 points behind No. 24 Michigan State, a team they already defeated. They didn't make the AP poll, finished in the "also receiving votes" section. Both Michigan State and Arizona State are ahead of them. Arizona State is another team the Irish beat....Kelly is now 13-0 at ND when his team does not commit a turnover....All-American nose guard Louis Nix will not dress for today's game as he continues to have problems with knee tendinitis and soreness. Other injury news. Outside linebacker Ishaq Williams is out today with a knee injury. Sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day is listed a probable for today. He has been out since Sept. 14 with a ankle sprain. Starting offensive guard Chris Watt, with a knee sprain, is probable for today. And offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, both who suffered minor injuries in the Air Force game, are expected to play today. Also, starting safety Elijah Shumate, out the past two games with a hamstring injury, will play today....Navy has yet to give up a touchdown in the first quarter this year, and has outscored their opponents, 38-9, in the opening frame.....ND has to worry about Navy today. Remember 2010 when Kelly and company went into then Meadowlands to play a underdog Navy team. The Middies completely dominated the Irish en route to a 35-17 win. Kelly hasn't forgotten it as he noted the loss this week at a news conference. ND is a 17 point favorite. In my preseason picks I have the Irish winning today. I think this will be a close one but with a BCS high level bowl game on the line each week to the season's end in Stanford. ND should be ready.