Notre Dame is anything but a typical opponent, but the results against Air Force were same old, same old.
In front of a Falcon Stadium crowd of 44,672 sprinkled heavily with green and gold, the Fighting Irish threw for five touchdowns in hitting the Falcons where they are most vulnerable and pulled away for a 45-10 victory.
The loss is the seventh in a row for Air Force — its longest such streak since 1979 — and removes the team from bowl consideration for the first time in coach Troy Calhoun’s seven seasons.
And it all stemmed from an inability to slow down a passing attack. Again.
“It definitely hurts deep down,” strong safety Dexter Walker said Saturday. “We know how hard we practice. I don’t know if we need to practice harder or what it is, but we’ve just got to figure out a way. ... It just sucks, because we prepare.”
The Falcons had 16 days to prepare for this one and jumped out to an early 7-0 lead after a blocked field goal and a 71-yard scoring drive that came entirely on the ground, but Notre Dame scored 45 of the game’s 48 points after that.
“We told our guys that Air Force was going to give us that punch at some time … and our team was going to have to respond,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “And they responded quite well, obviously.”
Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees hit five receivers for his touchdown passes and he completed 17-of-22 attempts for 284 yards.
The Irish became the fifth major college opponent out of six that don’t have an option-based offense to throw for more than 300 yards against the Falcons this season.
Air Force had made an adjustment after being beaten on short routes and tried to match up one-one-one on the outside. The downside to that approach is that it opens the potential for deep passes, and that’s exactly what Rees was able to expose thanks to a group of receivers that Calhoun said may be the best in Notre Dame’s storied history.
The onslaught rendered moot several plays that at the time seemed so important in an electric atmosphere on a picturesque autumn day.
There were the early positives, including Robert Green’s blocked field goal and another long field goal from Will Conant, this one from 47 yards. There were also negatives, namely two crushing turnovers in Notre Dame territory, one at the end of the first half and one on the first possession of the second half, that wasted opportunities for Air Force to cut into what was a 14-point lead.
In the end, the roller coaster was buried by an avalanche of big plays.
“I do think just when you look at pure firepower, amount of gunpowder, they’ve got quite a bit,” Calhoun said. “I do think it would have been a more closely contested game, especially in the second half.”
Notre Dame had touchdown receptions from Corey Robinson (35 yards), William Fuller (46) and Ben Koyack (22s), TJ Jones (30) and Chris Brown (15).
It’s the first time in Irish history that five players have caught touchdown passes and Rees’ five throwing scores tied for the second most in school history behind only six from Brady Quinn.
The touchdown for Robinson was the first in the college career for the son of former basketball star David Robinson.
The Falcons ran for 290 yards, led by nATE Romine’s 76 yards. The lone touchdown came on a 10-yard run from Colton Huntsman.