NOTRE DAME — Air Force’s wild, triple-option offense doesn’t faze Stephon Tuitt.
Tuitt saw all sorts of those schemes during high school in Monroe, Ga., and he’s had experience with service academy offenses while at Notre Dame.
“Most of my teammates and I have played the option teams before, so we understand what we’re about to go into,” the junior defensive end said. “It’s going to be a battle, but practicing and going from not playing option teams to option teams is a transition that we’re going through right now.”
Since Notre Dame’s 2010 loss to Navy in the Meadowlands, the Irish have beaten the option offense in their last four meetings (three against Navy, once against Air Force).
Air Force put up 363 rushing yards and 33 points against Notre Dame two years ago, but the Falcons are plagued with injuries and lack of depth and have a 1-6 record to show for it.
Can Air Force be competitive against Notre Dame (5-2)?
Air Force Offense
If there’s a team that’s seen more quarterback drama than Notre Dame this season, it’s Air Force.
After an injury took out starter Kale Pearson and service academy violations sidelined back-up Jaleel Awini, the Falcons are down to sophomore Karson Roberts under center. Roberts was injured against San Diego State but is listed as a starter against Notre Dame. If he can’t play, Air Force will turn to former walk-on Nate Romine.
Roberts, like most Air Force quarterbacks, has nearly as many yards rushing (206) as he does passing (207, 14-of-30 attempts). But he won’t be throwing the ball much against the Irish.
The tandem of Broam Hart and Jon Lee leads this offense on the ground. The tailbacks have combined for 736 yards rushing and three touchdowns each. Lee has the tendency to break away on big runs, while Broam is much more of the ground-and-pound back.
Despite Air Force’s 12th-ranked rushing attack, the Falcons only average 24.7 points per game. The Falcon offense has the potential to score a lot of points. It nearly out-shot Nevada in a 45-42 loss.
The offense also got out to a 20-6 start against San Diego State, but gave up 21 fourth-quarter points and ended up losing.
Air Force Defense
This is not a good defense, even by Air Force standards.
By the numbers, the Falcons rank 116th in total defense (488.7 yards per game), 111th in rushing defense (221.3), 102nd in passing yards allowed (267.4), 113th in scoring defense (37.6 points per game) and last in third down defense (67 percent conversion rate).
When Brian Kelly announced that quarterback Tommy Rees was cleared for practice on Tuesday, Oct. 22, the Notre Dame’s line jumped up to nearly 30 points over Air Force. A healthy Rees should be able to spread the field easily against the Falcons.
Against Air Force, opponents have taken 35 trips to the red zone and scored touchdowns 29 times. Those odds favor a Notre Dame offense looking for a rebound from its 14-point performance against USC.
Even if Rees is limited, an Andrew Henrdix-led offense should still pull off an easy win. Cam McDaniel, George Atkinson and Amir Carlisle should be able to run up the middle with little resistance. Look for a Tarean Folston appearance against this dilapidated defense.
Air Force is trending down, and Notre Dame’s defense is finding its stride. The Falcons may be the worst team the Irish sees all year.
This won’t even be a Purdue-like game, where the Boilermakers aren’t very good but tend to play Notre Dame close anyway.
The question isn’t if Notre Dame will win, it’s by how much.
Notre Dame 41, Air Force 13