Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 10: Air Force

Air Force Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Like Navy, Air Force lives and dies with the run. Halfback 1 Chad Hall, a converted quarterback, leads the way with 13 carries and 74 yards per game. Quarterback 5 Shaun Carney averages 16-17 carries and 65 yards per game. The two fullbacks are each averaging 7-10 carries and just over 40 yards per game. 21 Ryan Williams weighs in at 215 pounds; 8 Jacobe Kendrick is the largest player in the Falcons backfield at 6', 230. In comparision, Carney is 5'9, 190, and Hall is 5'7 1/2, 170. Halfback 24 Chad Smith is averaging just over 2 carries a game, and third string fullback 40 Scott Peeples is averaging 3-4 carries a game.
It took Notre Dame some time to adjust to Navy's option, but they figured it out by the second half. That experience should carry over into this game. Against the Mids, Tom Zbikowski got the pitchman assignment and led the team with 14 tackles. Derek Landri and Maurice Crum patrolled the middle of the line and recorded 11 tackles each. With Air Force averaging 20+ fullback carries per game, look for similar numbers from Landri and Crum.

ND Rush Offense vs. Air Force Rush Defense

Despite the criticism, Darius Walker is averaging 85.3 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry on the season. He has also managed to average exactly 20 carries per game. James Aldridge has established himself as the team's #2 back. Aldridge is third on the team in carries (behind Walker and Brady Quinn and second in yards (99) and yards per game (33). Travis Thomas is averaging 7.9 yards per carry on 10 rushes, largely thanks to the fake punt against PSU. The telling stat for Thomas is that he's yet to be stopped for a loss. Munir Prince has, and he's averaging a mere 1.8 yards per carry on 12 tries.
The Falcons are giving up 131 yards per game on the ground, but they did hold Tennessee to 77 yards and 2.5 yards per carry in their opener. A YPC under 3 is all too familiar for Irish fans this year, so it may be tough going for Walker and the gang. Air Force runs a 4-2-5, and they have the talent at linebacker to pull it off. 33 Drew Fowler leads the team with 74 tackles; that's 30 more than the next guy. 42 Joey Keller, the other linebacker, is second on the team with 4 tackles for loss.

Air Force Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Shaun Carney is only averaging 9 attempts and 64 passing yards per game, but don't let that number fool you. Carney has completed 54% of his passes and has a 133.82 efficiency rating. Those are numbers that a mediocre quarterback would kill for. Carney has thrown 5 TDs and only 2 interceptions on the year. Wideouts 81 Vic Thompson and 83 Spencer Armstrong each stand 6'1, so there will be no height advantage for the Irish corners. Thompson is averaging 1-2 receptions a game; Armstrong one. Armstrong has 2 receiving touchdowns to Thompson's 2. No other Air Force player has caught more than 5 passes on the season.
The Air Force passing game is just effective enough to be dangerous against this Irish pass defense. Still, look for Victor Abiamiri to add to his team leading total of 10 sacks. Abiamiri lined up off of the line of scrimmage (see here and here) to avoid the cut blocking of Navy. Watch to see if that technique is repeated in this game.

ND Pass Offense vs. Air Force Pass Defense

Brady Quinn continues to crawl back into the national spotlight. Quinn's now averaging 24-of-38 passing, 287 yards, and almost 3 TDs per game. Rhema McKnight has taken over as the top receiver with 52 catches, 673 yards, and 11 TDs. After a slow start, Jeff Samardzija is right behind with 49 catches, 686 yards, and 8 TDs. Darius Walker has 47 catches for 328, and John Carlson has 45 for 620 yards and 3 TDs. Carlson is also leading all tight ends with 68.9 receiving yards per game.
Notre Dame proved it could handle the 3-3-5 against BYU last year. How will it handle Air Force's 4-2-5? Safety 4 Julian Madrid is one of the stars of this defense. He leads the team with 4 sacks and is tied for the lead with 2 interceptions. 9 John Rabold also has 2 picks. Rabold plays one of the two "Falcon" positions, Air Force's name for the 4-2-5's hybrid safety/corner/linebacker spots. Defensive end 97 Josh Clayton is second on the team with 3 sacks. Safety 11 Bobby Giannini is second on the team with 44 tackles.

Special Teams

47 Zach Sasser has converted 7 of 9 field goals for the Falcons, including 6 of 6 from inside 40 yards and a long of 48. Carl Gioia is now 7 of 11 overall, and 7 of 8 from 40 yards or less.
Zach Sasser pulls a Nick Setta (or a DJ Fitzpatrick) by also taking punting duties for the Falcons. Sasser is averaging three punts per game and 42 yards per punt. For the Irish, Geoff Price is averaging 4 punts per game and 45.4 yards per punt.
Backup quarterback 15 Jim Ollis and receiver Spencer Armstrong share kick return duties for Air Force. Ollis is averaging 12.7 yards per return and Armstrong 21.8. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 58.9 yards per kick for the Irish, with 5 touchbacks. The Irish coverage team is giving up 18.7 yards per return, giving opponents an average start at the 25 yard line.
David Grimes has now taken a majority of Notre Dame's kick returns. He's averaging 26.6 yards per return with a long of 50. Zach Sasser does it all for Air Force, averaging 58.4 yards per kick with 8 touchbacks. Air Force is holding opponents to a very impressive 12.4 yards per kick return, giving them an average start at the 19.
Corner 6 Chris Sutton returns punts for the Falcons. He has a respectable 9.4 yards per return average, but a long of only 26 yards. The Irish punt coverage team is giving up a mediocre 10.6 yards per return.
Tom Zbikowski finally found the end zone on a punt return, and it was legal this time. Zbikowski's run was a new long for the season - 52 yards. His average is now up to 10.3 yards per return. Air Force is surrendering 11.4 yards per punt return.

Look for a big game from Quinn, McKnight, Samardzija, Landri, and Abiamiri.

ND 34, Air Force 21: McKnight, Samardzija, and Carlson combine for 4, and Gioia adds on two of his own.

And don't forget to check Gridiron Gurus later this week for their ND-Air Force predictions.