The contest featured 1,125 yards of total offense including 643 in the first half. There were no punts until the second half, and six consecutive third-down conversions proved successful for the Irish offense before its first failed attempt.
Need more numbers? Six different Irish players contributed six touchdowns en route to a 42-6 halftime lead; seven scored touchdowns in all (a first since 1999). It was the most points scored by an Irish team in a half since 1990; the most in a first half since 1977; the 59 total points the most in a game since 1996.
And the 92 produced by both teams? The most in Stadium history.
*I could go on…
Wait, this is crucial: backup QB Andrew Hendrix rushed for more than 100 yards in his collegiate debut. It was that kind of day in South Bend.
(Note: *I'll save that column for Sunday evening.)
Late resistance, Rees, and brute forceNotre Dame's defense, on its heels for the game's first 30 minutes, stiffened in the second half, holding Air Force scoreless in the 3rd Quarter, then allowing 17 second-half points – 14 of which were completely cosmetic and against the Irish second unit.
But today's outcome had little to do with defense. It was the Irish offensive line, its running back tandem, and a coolly efficient Tommy Rees took care of the heavy lifting.
Rees completed 22 of 30 passes before intermission with four first-half touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback to throw a quartet of scores since a sophomore Brady Quinn in 2004 (Washington).
The sophomore spread the wealth, hitting Michael Floyd on a 34-yard fade; Tyler Eifert on a 5-yard post; Robby Toma on a 10-yarder down the seam (the junior's first career score); and Theo Riddick on a short cross followed by a strong run for 24 yards to end the half.
Four targets, four touchdowns, and a 42-spot on the scoreboard as the teams headed toward the break.
By the time Hendrix ran 78 yards – or as press box announcer Jack Lloyd noted – "78 yards, almost 80…" (Hendrix ran out of gas and was tripped up on the 2-yard line) the Irish had long-since eclipsed the highest single-game scoring total of the Kelly era – and of the Charlie Weis era, previously.
Hendrix's run and an ensuing George Atkinson touchdown dive gave the Irish their 59th point – surpassing the best day of the Tyrone Willingham era (a 57-7 desecration of Stanford on The Farm in 2003), and the most since the aforementioned ‘96 season when Lou Holtz's Irish sent him off in style with a 62-0 win over Rutgers.
Promise Kept"I think what I'm trying to say is I don't want to get away from who we're becoming, and that is a team that's playing really physical…I think we keep charging. I think we keep doing what we've been doing…we've got to be who we are, and that is being physical on both sides of the ball." – Irish head coach Brian Kelly at his Tuesday press conference
At least on one side of the football, Notre Dame's physical prowess was continuously exerted Saturday afternoon; the Falcons defensive deficiencies exploited.
And though guards Chris Watt and Trevor Robinson as well as tackle Zack Martin and a career-best blocking effort by tight end Tyler Eifert played a major role in a 266-yard rushing day, it was senior Jonas Gray -- fittingly a game captain and of late, an emerging brutish between-the-tackles force -- that defined the difference in stature on opposite sides of scrimmage.
The Falcons had no one that could tackle Gray who accrued 69 yards on seven carries – never gaining fewer than five yards on a run – that one ending in one of his two touchdowns.
Notre Dame built its lead through the air, throwing 16 times in the first quarter and 30 in the opening half. But it was the team's resurgent rushing attack that guaranteed victory; ensuring there was no chance the Irish offense would be stopped Saturday when the intention was to score.
At 4-2, Notre Dame is back among the living in college football. They'll join the top 25 Monday evening, they're likely a Top 15 unit at present (the ranking can't reflect that, of course) all things considered, and their next contest – a prime time affair with arch-rival USC – offers a national stage and opportunity for reclamation.
Not bad for a program that ranked as the season's biggest disappointment in mid-September.
Last November, Brian Kelly saved Notre Dame's season with a four-game finishing flourish. He got the ball rolling considerably sooner this year, but both modest streaks were crucial to the program's revival. And both suggest the "5-minute plan" to which Kelly alluded upon his hire has finally taken shape, while the long-term outlook offers ample reasons for Irish fans to smile as well.
It's four and counting, and the only fluke concerning the 4-2 Irish is the "2" that preceded this latest stretch.
"Four in a row is not enough for this group, but I like the direction we're going," Kelly said post-game before stating flatly the Irish have plenty to work on. "But we have made progress to the level where we know what it looks like on the other end."
Notre Dame fans will have to worry about the team's intermittent struggles defending an effective triple-option again later this month. For now, basking in the glow of a four-game winning streak, the best offensive effort of the Kelly era, and plenty of good vibes entering a perfectly-timed bye will suffice.