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No. Dame faces dangerous Air Force team

Published October 08. 2011 09:01AM

Notre Dame had its way with Purdue last week and man-handled the Boilermakers in improving their record to 3-2, with three straight wins.

Although the win was impressive in the statistical department as the Irish displayed a bruising running game and got top receiver Michael Floyd back into the action, ND fans must remember this was one of the worst Purdue teams the Irish have played in some time.

But in any event the win should be a confidence builder for the Irish and put them on a solid path for the remainder of the season.

Purdue decided to double-team ND's top receiver against Pitt, Theo Riddick, and played Floyd one-on-one. And despite Floyd's getting 112 receiving yards in the first half, Purdue continued to one-on-one coverage.

But the real story was the running game led by Cierre Wood and his backfield mate Jonas Gray. Wood had a career high 191 yards on 20 carries and Gray added 94 on 15 carries. Each also had a TD. As a team the Irish ran for 287 net yards compared to 276 total yards for Purdue.

More on the game later.

Today the Irish host Air Force, which enters at 3-1. The Falcons own wins over South Dakota, 37-20; Tennessee State, 63-24; and Navy, 35-34; with the lone loss to TCU, 35-19.

Leading the way is quarterback Tim Jefferson. The six-foot and 205-pounder has rushed for 234 yards on 49 carries and passed for 493 yards on 33 of 47 passing. He has scored four TDS and passed for five. Top rushers with Jefferson are Asher Clark, 41 carries for 387 and three TDs and Mike DeWitt, 29-180 and two. Jefferson's ability to run will give the Irish defense a real challenge. Remember Michigan"s running QB, Denard Robinson, the last two years and Navy's Ricky Dobbs, both cost the Irish wins.

AF is ranked third nationally in rushing and 12th overall in total offense. A true test for the Irish defense. AF also has a excellent passing game, another challenge for the "D".

This, I believe, is the most dangerous game on the ND remaining schedule. The Falcons run a triple-option, zone-blocking offense and is fourth in the country in pass efficiency. We all know how the Irish have struggled over the years with Navy and its triple-option attack.

Air Force his not perfect. The Falcons have turned the ball over eight times this season, six fumbles and two interceptions. That compares to 15 for the Irish so far this year.

ND leads the series 22-6 and has a 10-4 record at ND stadium against the Falcons. ND has also won 11 of the last 13. The last meeting, in 2007, Air Force won, 41-24.

The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 3:40 p.m. kickoff.

IRISH NOTES:The 289 yards rushing is the most for ND since the 320 yards against Stanford in 2003....ND's time of possession has improved since the running game has also improved. ND is ranked 34th in the nation in that category....For the season the Irish are ranked 19th nationally in rush defense despite facing two of the top runners in the country, Michigan's Robinson and Pitt's Ray Graham....ND has allowed just one rushing TD this season and that ties with the fewest in the nation....The defense continues to show signs of improvement. This week the Irish rank in the top 40 in all four major defensive categories, rush, pass-efficiency, total and scoring. Overall the defense has allowed one offensive TD or fewer in eight of its last 10 games and have allowed 13 points or fewer in three straight games, something ND hasn't done since being ranked No. 1 in 1989....Tommy Rees had a much better outing last week than at Pitt. Of course, with Floyd being open so much it helped Rees' completion percentage greatly. It also was a good confidence builder for Rees because of his dismal game with Pitt....ND had a total of 551 yards against Purdue....ND got another recruit last week. Austintown (Ohio) Fitch senior running back William Mahone committed the ND. He is the 16th commitment for the 2012 class....Today there will be a reunion of sorts. Freshman Troy Niklas is a 6-6 and 250 pound OLB for the Irish and his brother, Austin Niklas is a 6-2, 230 backup Junior ILB for the Air Force....Floyd knocked off another Golden Tate record at ND last week. He had his 16th 100 yard receiving game, edging ahead of Tate, who had the record at 15....Rees 35-yard TD throw to Floyd just 24 seconds into the Purdue game marked the 10th consecutive game the sophomore has thrown a TD pass. He is now tied with 1984 Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte for third-most in ND history. Ahead of him are Brady Quinn (16), and Jimmy Clausen (13)....Punt returns continue to be a problem for the Irish. Special teams as a whole for the Irish are not doing well and must improve. The lone bright spot is freshman George Atkinson II, whose 30.56-yard average on kickoff returns ranks him fifth nationally....Punter Ben Turk continues to improve after a very poor start....Moving away from football for a moment. ND will open its new $50 million hockey arena this month and announced it will join the The Hockey East Association next year. It was also announced that its TV partner, NBC Sports, will begin televising ND hockey games in the 2013-14 season. ND's hockey program has really come along in the last few years, reaching the Frozen Four NCAA championship series two years ago....I consider this the most dangerous of the remaining games on the ND schedule. Air Force is an excellent football that runs the type of offense that has given ND plenty of problems in the past, especially with Navy. A win today will give the Irish good momentum for the home showdown with USC in two weeks. Next week if an off week for ND. In my preseason picks I have the Irish winning, but in a close one. ND is favored by 16, but don't bet on that line.

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