October 25, 2013 Updated: October 26, 2013 at 4:30 am
Any objective position-by-position breakdown of Air Force vs. Notre Dame will favor the Fighting Irish. Instead, we look at what could occur in each phase for the Falcons to gain an edge.
When Air Force has the ball.
Assuming Karson Roberts starts at quarterback, the team must crisply execute the triple-option, starting with an effective Broam Hart at fullback. If Hart can't get past Notre Dame's vaunted three-man front, which coach Troy Calhoun calls "as good as any front you'll ever see in college football," then the big-strike opportunities likely won't present themselves. And when and if they do, primarily in the form of deep shots downfield, the receivers must cash in against a defense that ranks 89th against the pass. Freshman receiver Jalen Robinette has taken a bigger and bigger role in recent weeks and he has the talent to emerge in an atmosphere like this.
When Notre Dame has the ball.
Tommy Rees has completed just 53.1 percent of his passes and presents no threat as a runner (his longest rush this season went for 1 yard). Freshman Ryan Watson has been lining up regularly with the first team at defensive end opposite fellow end Alex Hansen, and the two must produce a pass rush along with a steady diet of blitzes from the four-man linebacker crew and an occasional safety. If the Falcons can pick their spots to be aggressive, they can force turnovers against a team that has thrown six interceptions and lost two fumbles. If Air Force gets too conservative and makes it a point just to keep plays in front of it, Notre Dame will log long drives and set itself up to dominate the second half, where it has outscored opponents 96-69 this season.
The kicking game.
Air Force would be wise to keep doing what it's doing in special teams, which is to make them as uneventful as possible. Of the 62 times the Falcons have punted or kicked off this season, only 15 have been returned. This is where Air Force would be wise to remain conservative. Placekicker Will Conant has been stellar, making 9 of 11 field goals, and has shown great range with two makes of 52 and another from 48. The Falcons have gone for it on fourth down 14 times, but if the chance is there for Conant to attempt a long kick they should take the points rather than let Notre Dame's front three force a stop.