DIFFERENT WEEK, SAME RESULTposted by Mike Coffey
For the second consecutive week a service academy came into Notre Dame Stadium and left with a victory. Only this Saturday, the score wasn’t close.
Behind quarterback Shaun Carney and versatile Chad Hall, the Air Force Academy easily handled Notre Dame 41-24 to drop the Irish to an all-time record 9th loss of the season. Carney threw two touchdowns and Hall piled up 272 all-purpose yards, including 142 on the ground, to turn a close game at halftime into a rout.
Notre Dame, which had a distinct size advantage at every position, rushed for just 58 yards on 38 attempts while Air Force gained 285 yards on 63 carries. Irish freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen had arguably his best game by throwing for 246 yards and three scores despite numerous drops by his receivers.
Once again turnovers cost the Irish. On the opening play, Clausen found tight end John Carlson for a 28-yard gain before the All-American fumbled, leading to an Air Force field goal. Late in the first quarter, fullback Asaph Schwapp and Clausen muffed a handoff that ricocheted off Schwapp’s leg and into the hands of Air Force’s John Rabold, who stiffed-armed Clausen on his way to the end zone staking Air Force to a 10-0 lead.
Early in the second quarter, the Irish started a drive at their own 37 and moved the ball effectively to the Air Force 11, behind eight runs and just two passes. But the drive stalled there after the Irish inexplicably attempted three consecutive passes, all which fell incomplete, and settled for a Brandon Walker 28-yard field goal.
After Notre Dame’s defense made a fourth down stand on Air Force’s next possession, the Irish offense once again ran the ball right down the field and capped the drive when Clausen floated a two-yard touchdown pass to Carlson. Suddenly, it was 10-10 with Notre Dame’s offense and defense playing fairly well.
That all changed on the next possession.
Air Force answered the consecutive Irish scores with an impressive seven-play, 66-yard scoring drive that lasted just 1:23. Almost effortlessly, Air Force maneuvered right down the field, scoring on a well-executed reverse to Spencer Armstrong that left most of the Irish defense blocked out of the play. The eight-yard touchdown run put the Falcons up 17-10 at half.
After playing well for most of the first half, the Irish defense completely collapsed in the second half. On the opening possession of the third quarter, Carney found Mark Root wide open for 26 yards after no Notre Dame defender covered the Falcon receiver. Carney then completed the 67-yard touchdown drive with a seven-yard pass to Sean Quintana to push Air Force ahead 24-10.
The Notre Dame offense stalled for the remainder of the third quarter. When Carney hit Keith Madsen for a 10-yard touchdown late in the third to put Air Force ahead 31-10, the game was all but over.
To revisit JVan’s keys to the game:
Will the Irish ground game force the Falcons to change their defensive alignment? No. The Irish running game gained just 112 rushing yards, not including sacks, and was abandoned in the second half when the game was out of hand.
Will the Irish defense be able to neutralize Chad Hall? No. While Hall didn’t score, he owned the Irish defense all day en route to 272 all-purpose yards. Hall was even more effective as a decoy on several of the Falcons’ scoring plays.
Can Weis limit Clausen’s passing attempts while increasing his productivity? No. Instead of a steady diet of running plays, the Irish ran 38 times and had 40 passing attempts. While Clausen had a solid game and didn’t turn the ball over, the Irish needed to establish a consistent running attack, and they did not.
Will Notre Dame be able to contain the defensive perimeter and tackle effectively? No. Once again, the tackling was atrocious. Early in the game the Irish neutralized the Falcons spread running game, but that quickly ended by the start of third quarter as Air Force had an easy time gaining nearly 300 rushing yards.
Can Notre Dame avoid obvious passing situations on third down? No. The Irish again struggled on third down, converting just 4-of-15 with most of those attempts being more than six yards.
Will the Irish defense force turnovers and negative plays? The defense did force two turnovers, but it wasn’t near enough to offset the poor tackling and dominant performances by Carney and Hall.
Can Notre Dame make a field goal? Yes, but it didn’t matter much in the end.
For Notre Dame fans, this week was almost exactly the same as watching any other loss during this trying season. The Irish were incompetent in almost every aspect of the game. The offense couldn’t rush the ball against an undersized opponent, the wide receivers dropped far too many passes, the offensive line couldn’t keep Air Force from pressuring Clausen all day, the defense fell apart after halftime, and the Irish shot themselves in the foot with sloppy turnovers. On top of those miscues, Weis failed to stick with the run on several first-half drives when it appeared to be working and didn’t attempt enough downfield passes until the game was out of reach in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps the most alarming part of Saturday’s loss was the way Air Force adjusted its game plan and the Irish did not. The Irish defense played fairly well in the first half, but got absolutely punished in the second half. Meanwhile, the Irish offense did not make effective halftime adjustments to exploit their size advantage and superior talent. In all, it was like watching a rerun of losses one through eight.
The Irish face Duke next week in the home finale before heading to California for the Stanford game Thanksgiving weekend. A one-win season, which seemed completely ridiculous in August, is certainly now a possibility.