October 25, 2013 Updated: October 26, 2013 at 4:29 am
If antsy fans were taking a sneak peek at the Air Force/Notre Dame matchup last spring, they would have foreseen an entirely different situation at quarterback for both sides.
The Fighting Irish sported a run-pass threat in Everett Golson, while the Falcons were busy deciding between speedy Kale Pearson and the intriguing skill set of Jaleel Awini.
None of the three will play Saturday.
Golson and Awini have been lost to suspension and Pearson to an injury, leaving the matchup in the hands of guys projected down on the depth chart.
"Looking at the quarterbacks is really for us not as important as preparing for the scheme," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "We're prepared for that."
For Air Force, however, the personnel does impact the preparation.
In Tommy Rees, the Irish have a pocket passer whose longest rush of the season went for 1 yard. For a team burned by dual-threat quarterbacks early in the season, it's a welcome change.
"It was tough because even if you get through the line you were facing a quarterback who was going to make the first guy miss," said Air Force sophomore defensive end Alex Hansen, who has been part of a pass rush that has done little to slow quarterbacks during much of the Falcons' six-game losing streak. "With this it sets us up in a better situation."
Notre Dame had to go to No. 3 quarterback Andrew Hendrix this past week when Rees went out with a neck injury, but the belief is that Rees will be fine for Saturday's game.
A shift to Hendrix would have brought yet another shift in philosophy, as his strengths lie in his running ability.
Such a constant state of flux is not new to Air Force, which appears to be going back to Karson Roberts after he left the most recent game with a concussion. His injury opened the door for Nate Romine to become the fourth Falcons quarterback of the season, and they each brought their own strengths.
"There's little things that take some getting used to, like how guys throw the ball differently," Falcons receiver Sam Gagliano said. "Nate Romine throws a little bit tighter spiral than Karson, things like that. This year because we've run through quarterbacks pretty quick, we haven't really had a chance to get to know those tendencies."
Though Air Force has dabbled with different offenses this season and has at times opened the passing game, the base of the offense remains the option.
And that, more than the number of the guy under center, is what has the attention of the Irish.
"As it relates to the Academy we're really preparing for the option scheme," Kelly said. "That absolutely for us is the most important element. The quarterback is part of that scheme."