Sunday Morning Drive-Thru

Saturday's wild victory over the Air Force Academy offered myriad firsts for the Irish roster. Lost amid the numbers and notes is a 10-quarter run of turnover-free football engineered by previously maligned sophomore, Tommy Rees.

The onslaught lasted a mere 13 minutes and 58 seconds. It was comprised of 38 plays: 11 rushing, 27 passing, during which the ball hit the ground just six times. Six times, coincidentally, was the same number of third-down situations the Irish offense met and overcame during the time frame.

The above equated to a 22-season, first-half-best, 42 points on six touchdowns from six different players – one of which had never scored before. More impressive, than the final halftime tally was the manner in which it was achieved.

Most impressive, the entire show was likely necessary, as an Air Force team that proved beyond doubt it could move the ball vs. the Irish defense; one that was consistently penetrated for only the second time in its last 11 games.

10 and Counting…

It seems that he's been around much longer, but Saturday was Tommy Rees' ninth start for the Irish and his 10th as the team's main signal-caller. He played a major role in an 11th game as well, starting the second half vs. South Florida to begin his 2011 season.

But it's another number 10 attached to his name as Notre Dame enters its bye week that proves interesting to Irish fans – and Rees' persistent detractors: 10 quarters.

Rees and the Irish have managed to avoid a turnover for 10 consecutive quarters dating back to a come-from-behind win at Pittsburgh in Week Four. Considering the offense coughed it up 12 times in the 16 quarters previous (15 for squad in total if you include its still-struggling special teams in the equation), the improvement has been abrupt and welcomed, not to mention necessary.

Share the (considerable) wealth:Rees has fired eight touchdown passes in those 10 quarters; his Irish have scored 14, and piled up 1,304 yards and enjoyed meaningful contributions from at least nine skill position players (Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray, Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick, T.J. Jones, and Robby Toma).

After the Irish struggled so mightily in the first half at Pittsburgh, Brian Kelly has since found a reliable fourth receiver (Toma) and a change-of-pace quarterback (Hendrix). His second running back, Gray, is as potent if not as oft-employed as his first, Wood. His best player, Floyd, has secured 19 passes for two scores while Floyd's chief compliments: Eifert, Riddick, and Jones, have combined to tally 37 catches for 189 yards with four scores.

The offense, though not breathtaking in its pace, is deadly in its efficiency of operation and troublesome in its variance for any defense it will face.

Saturday's Firsts

In addition to myriad records and references to "the first time since…" produced by the teams yesterday, a host of Irish individuals enjoyed notable "firsts" of their own vs. the Falcons.

Rees became the first quarterback since Brady Quinn to toss four touchdown passes in single half; Quinn doing so vs. Washington in 2004. (The only other Irish QB believed to have accomplished the feat is Angelo Bertelli in 1942, but a box score isn't available.)

Rees joined Quinn (seven), Jimmy Clausen (four), and Ron Powlus (three) as the only quarterbacks to throw four touchdown passes in multiple games for the Irish. His third of the half was the first of Robby Toma's Irish career; fitting in that Rees missed his junior target for an easy score last week in West Lafayette.

Theo Riddick responded from the first "no-catch" effort of his 14-game starting tenure at the school to tie for the team-lead in receptions with eight, including his best individual play-to-date: a short catch and 24-yard run through and around the Falcons defense to extend Notre Dame's lead at the break, 42-16.

Rees' classmate and competitor, Andrew Hendrix, saw his first collegiate action on the game's second drive. The redshirt-freshman completed his first pass on the snap – albeit for lost yardage – and proceeded to record the first 100-yard rushing day by an Irish quarterback in 10 seasons (Carlyle Holiday in 2001).

Defensive debuts and veterans of note

On the other side of scrimmage, safety Jamoris Slaughter – aligned mainly as an outside linebacker to combat the Falcons triple-option attack – registered the first forced fumble of his career, stripping Air Force tailback Asher Clark on the game's first carry. Slaughter followed that with the first interception of his career: an impressive tip of a backfield flare in which the senior dove to secure the pigskin before it touched the grass.

Fellow defensive back Robert Blanton registered the first double-digit tackle game of his career, finishing with 10 including one for loss with a fumble recovery. (Blanton secured the award as the team's best defensive player over the season's first half. No small feat considering his obvious competition.)

Freshman defensive lineman Chase Hounshell made the first appearance of his college career, playing extensively in a backup role at the "three-technique" defensive tackle position.

"We really look at it as if you are really ready to play physically and go in there and play for us, we are going to (use) guys," Kelly said of Hounshell post-game. "We just feel like physically he's mature enough to go in there and play for us. It really did not have much to do with Ethan (Johnson), he added of the senior defensive end's absence due to an ankle injury. "Obviously we'll have to see where he is moving forward, but we just felt like he was ready to play."

Hounshell finished with four stops in the heart of the defensive line.

Also earning his field debut was freshman cornerback Josh Atkinson, who earned a starting nod on the team's kickoff and punt coverage units. Atkinson later saw scrimmage time at cornerback when the game was no longer in doubt.

Josh's brother, George, a four-game veteran as the team's lead kick returner, earned his first backfield carry late – a one-yard touchdown plunge, the first scrimmage score of his career.

Joining the fray as a special teams starter was fellow freshman running back Cam McDaniel. The Coppell, Texas-native appeared on both the coverage and return units, tallying the first tackle of his college career. Top Stories