Below is a closer look at the Irish and Falcons, and at the history of the Notre Dame/Air Force series…by the numbers.
1 – Rushing touchdown allowed by the Irish defense this season, tied with four other schools for the fewest in the nation. Alabama, Louisville, Utah, and Michigan have also yielded just one rushing score (Notre Dame's Cierre Wood recorded the only rushing blemish to date vs. the Wolverines). Notre Dame's rush defense was breeched only by a fumble recovery touchdown by Michigan quarterback, Denard Robinson.
Air Force has 15 rushing touchdowns this season, good for seventh nationally. The Falcons boast the No. 3 rushing offense, churning out 364 yards per contest.
2 – Wins by the Air Force Academy in its last three trips to South Bend, but over a 12-season span. A favored Falcons squad hammered the Irish in 2007, 41-24, dropping Notre Dame to 1-9 on the season.
The Irish defeated Air Force in overtime in the Academy's previous visit, winning 34-31 in 2000 thanks to an end around touchdown sprint by wide receiver Joey Getherall. Notre Dame forced overtime when Glenn Earl blocked a 28-yard Falcons field goal that would have won the contest as time expired. Tasked as the "safe" defender (the only player not attempting to block the kick), Earl ignored his duties and leapt over the line to deflect kicker Dave Adam's boot to force the extra session.
"I was really supposed to give Tony (Driver) a push and watch for the fake," said Earl(pictured).
Air Force also defeated Lou Holtz in South Bend in his final season as Notre Dame coach, winning 20-17 over #8 Notre Dame in overtime – the first OT contest in Irish history. The game marked Holtz's lone loss to an Academy team in 21 matchups.
The Irish have defeated Air Force in both meetings at Falcons Stadium this decade, winning 21-14 as (undefeated, 6-0) underdogs in 2002; and again as the nation's #9 ranked team in 2006, prevailing 39-17. The '02 meeting between the #7 Irish and #18 Falcons marks one of two matchups in series history in which both teams entered ranked, the other in 1989 (#1 ND vs. #17 UAF).
3 – Consecutive games in which the Irish have allowed 13 points or fewer this season, winning 31-13 vs. #16 Michigan State; 15-12 at Pittsburgh; and 38-10 at Purdue. Notre Dame last held three straight foes at or below 13 points as the nation's No. 1 team and its defending champions in 1989, beating #7 Pittsburgh 45-7; Navy 41-0; and SMU 59-6. The '89 Irish had similar defensive success vs. Virginia, 36-13; Michigan State, 21-13, and Purdue, 40-7. The 1988 National Champions held seven foes to 13 points or less, tying the 1980 Sugar Bowl squad for the best defensive effort at the program in its last 30 seasons.
4 – Consecutive wins by the Falcons over the Irish from 1982-85. Ken Hatfield's Air Force squad upset #18 Notre Dame 30-17 in late November '82. The Falcons and Hatfield then spoiled Senior Day in South Bend the following year, winning 23-22.
Air Force struck again in 1984, this time under rookie head coach and 2011 College Football Hall of Fame Inductee, Fisher DeBerry, beating the Irish 21-7 in a return trip to Indiana. Then, ranked #17 in 1985; beat 1-2 Notre Dame in Colorado Springs, 21-15.
Each of the four losses was incurred by head coach Gerry Faust, the first Irish coach to lose to Air Force in program history. Notre Dame won the previous 11, and ensuing eight contests vs. the Falcons.
5 – Total rushes of 15 or more yards allowed by the Irish defense through five games this season. Conversely, Air Force has 10 players with at least one carry exceeding 15 yards this season, including seven individuals with at least one rush over 30 yards to his credit.
Notre Dame has faced the nation's #3 (Ray Graham) and #4 (Denard Robinson) rushers already this season.
6 – Points allowed in the 3rd Quarter this season by the Irish. Pittsburgh (Game Four) was the first team to score vs. Notre Dame in the 15 minutes following intermission this season – a touchdown pass and failed two-point conversion the only dent vs. the defense on the 3rd Quarter scoreboard to date. Notre Dame has scored 35 points in the third on five touchdowns (South Florida, Michigan State, Michigan and twice vs. Purdue).
7 – Times in his last eight games in which Irish running back Cierre Wood has rushed for at least 80 yards, dating back to Week Eleven, 2010. Wood has averaged 6.2, 5.9, 6.7, 4.95, 5.3, 4.08, and 9.55 yards per carry in those seven contests. In his lone effort during this stretch under 80 yards gained, Wood averaged 4.35 yards per carry on 14 rushes, scoring two touchdowns in a 31-13 win over Michigan State.
8 – Turnovers committed in five home appearances (four full games) by sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees. Rees threw an interception in his first career appearance; emergency duty vs. Michigan (0-2, INT, one series). He threw three more picks – along with 334 yard and four touchdowns – in a Week Nine loss to Tulsa last fall. Rees was then error-free in a Senior Day upset of Utah on November 12, 2010, but turned it over twice on interceptions in relief duty in the 2011 season opener vs. South Florida.
Rees fumbled and was picked off vs. Michigan State in a Week Three win this season, throwing a touchdown pass in the victory.
9.32 – Average yards per rush by Air Force tailback Asher Clark on 41 carries this season. Clark is third in program history with 2,866 rushing yards, trailing only legendary triple-option quarterbacks Dee Dowis (1986-89) and Beau Morgan (1994-96). Morgan led an upset of the Irish in South Bend in his final season.
Clark has scored 20 career touchdowns for the Falcons including three this season.
10 – Consecutive games with a touchdown pass by Tommy Rees. Rees has thrown 22 touchdown strikes over that span and has had multiple touchdown games in seven of the 10 outings. His 10th straight game tied him for third in program history with Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte, who accomplished the feat in his senior season, 1964.
11 – Categories in which Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson ranks among the Falcons career Top 10: Jefferson ranks #5 in total offense, #10 in total plays, #7 in rushing touchdowns, #7 in pass completions, #3 in completion percentage, #4 in passing yards, #1 in pass efficiency, #10 in passing attempts, is tied for #4 in passing touchdowns, #4 in winning percentage, and most important, ranks #1 in wins by an Air Force quarterback with 24 since 2008.
23 – Tackles last week by Air Force linebacker Brady Amack in a 35-34 overtime win vs. rival Navy. Amack earned the FWAA/Bronco Nagurski National Defense Player of the Week for his efforts. His 23 tackles are the most by an FBS football player this season and the most for a Falcons defender since 1988.
On the HorizonA look at Irish players who could reasonably accomplish statistical milestones Saturday vs. the Falcons.
Michael Floyd: Few worlds remain to be conquered as Floyd holds career program records for receiving yards(3,100), receptions (218), touchdowns (31), and 100-yard receiving games (16). Floyd has averaged 88.6 yards per game over his 35 contests (34 starts) to date.
Ethan Johnson and Darius Fleming: With his next (full) sack, senior defensive end Johnson will move into 11th place ahead of the late Wally Kleine (13 sacks from 1983-86) on the program's career sack list. With 12.5 sacks to date, Johnson was passed by classmate Darius Fleming in the pair's dual-pursuit in Week Four at Pittsburgh; Fleming recorded two sacks vs. the Panthers and now has 14 in his career, 10th-best in program history. Up next for Fleming: mid-90s linebacker and NFL 10-year veteran Bert Berry, who recorded 16.5 for Lou Holtz's Irish from 1993-96.
Current New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck (2002-04) holds the program record with 24.5 sacks in 36 career games.
Harrison Smith: With 24 career pass breakups, Smith's next will pair will push him past former first-team All-America cornerback Shane Walton (25) for third place on the program's all-time list. Smith has an outside shot at setting the program record, currently owned by star cornerback Clarence Ellis, who broke up 32 passes from 1969-71, earning consensus All-America honors in his final season.
Three weeks ago in a 31-13 win vs. Michigan State, Smith recorded a career-best five passes defended and in the process passed program legend Todd Lyght (1987-1990). Lyght posted 20.5 en route to two first-team All-America seasons.