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Air Force Week: What To Watch For

Oct 25, 2013, 3:31 PM EDT

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.

After a hard-fought victory over archrival USC last week, the Irish get a bit of a breather on Saturday as they travel to Colorado Springs to play Air Force. The Falcons have lost six straight, with their lone win coming over Colgate.

The last time these two teams played in 2011, the Irish rolled 59-33, but the Air Force option attack did produce 565 yards and 32 first downs. Notre Dame will have to stay disciplined against a type of offense they haven’t faced this year, both this week and when Navy comes to town the week after.

Brian Kelly mentioned in his press conference that it’s difficult to prepare for the option and is much more unusual than the typical offenses his team has faced.

“It really slows you down and forces you to play assignment football and takes away sometimes that skill advantage that you have,” he said. “That size advantage becomes minimized in some instances, because you have to play so disciplined and play assignment football.”

The potential confusion for the Notre Dame defense is enhanced by the Air Force quarterback situation. Karson Roberts sat out their last game with a concussion, and it is unclear if he or Nate Romine will start. Despite being three-touchdown favorites, the Irish have a lot to think about when it comes to the Falcon offense.

The players to watch this week will be the more inexperienced guys on the defense, especially Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith. So far this year, Smith has shown incredible skill and instinct worthy of his five-star rating. But he might face his biggest challenge this week when the Falcons force him to stay disciplined.

The Irish will miss Louis Nix, who is out for the week, but they will have Tommy Rees, who will look to replicate that 59-point performance from two years ago. Although I think Notre Dame will likely cruise past Air Force, no one is questioning his importance to the offense right now.

Over the past several weeks, the defense has made great strides, especially on the defensive line (I’m looking at you, Stephon Tuitt). This week will be an opportune time to get the offense humming as well, as Air Force is 116th in scoring defense. Look to see how Rees and company perform in the red zone and on third down.

I also want to see the offense control some of the clock. Option offenses typically eat up a lot of time, and keeping the defense on the field for too long can lead to fatigue and injuries, especially with the cut blocks that come with the option. With all the injuries the defense has fought through this year, I’d like to see them on the field for as little time as possible. The Irish were fairly successful at this in 2011, keeping the ball for 27:34.

It’s been eight weeks since the Irish have had a double digit win. I’m not the most optimistic person in the world, but when the keys to the game are “control the ball” and “don’t get hurt,” I like our chances to break the streak.


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