After struggling the past two seasons, Fisher DeBerry may have his program headed back to the days of double-digit wins and bowl invitations. The eye-opener this season for the Flacons was the last minute loss to Tennessee in Knoxville (Tenn.) Despite the early momentum, injuries have taken their toll on the season and resulted in difficult losses to San Diego State and BYU.
Air Force runs the "flexbone" on offense and as expected they are one of the best rushing teams in the country. Shaun Carney leads the Falconn offense. Carney is much more of a passer than his predecessors and he can get the ball downfield. Carney obviously runs the ball in this offense. He's solid with the ball in his hands, but he just doesn't have the special elusiveness that this offense relies on.
The wide receivers aren't big-time playmakers, but if Carney gets the ball around them, they will make the play. If Air Force gets behind, this group can't carry the team.
The offensive line has had a couple injuries, which has slowed the offense. This line won't challenge Notre Dame physically, instead they will cut the Irish defensive front and attempt to get them off their feet.
The Air Force offense is converting an amazing 58 percent of their third down opportunities.
Anticipated Depth Chart.
Carney is in his third year as the starting quarterback for Air Force. He is at the top or near the top in a number of offensive categories. In addition to his rushing totals, Carney has completed 38 of his 70 passing attempts for 514 yards and five touchdowns.
Ollis has playing experience, but most of that has come from the running back position. Ollis will return kicks for Air Force.
Suder has received most of his playing time this season, but he doesn't get a lot of carries. His first career touchdown came on a 20-yard reception.
Handley and McCarthy will rotate in throughout the game. Neither has received a lot of opportunities with the ball.
Chad Hall is in his second season as the starting wingback and he is the workhorse on offense. He doesn't have a lot of size, but he is effective in averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Hall also has four receptions for 44 yards.
Chad Smith actually has a better average per carry (7.3) than Hall, but the Irish probably won't see him until the end of the game.
Air Force has a two-headed monster at fullback with Kendrick and
Williams. Both players have a lot of experience and they are productive runners.
Kendrick and Williams combined to rush for over 100 yards against
This unit doesn't have a lot of experience and only Thompson had caught a ball heading into the season. Notre Dame's secondary has the better athletes, so the challenge is not becoming complacent and not ignoring the threat of the pass. Carney can throw the ball and this group will catch it if it gets to them.
Mark Root is the younger brother of former Irish tight end, Matt Root.
Surprisingly Dekker has a handful of catches this season. With the limited number of passes Air Force attempts, you wouldn't expect many to go to the tight end. This is what makes DeBerry's offense so difficult to defend, it will utilize all of the players on the field.
This unit is solid, and any time a team averages over 266 yards rushing per game, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit, but Air Force is only averaging 4.5 yards per carry, which is relatively low for Air Force. This unit has also allowed 13 sacks on the season. For most teams that sack total would be acceptable, but when your offense attempts fewer than 10 passes per contest, the line needs to improve their protection.
Air Force On Defense:
Air Force plays a "4-2-5" defense. This unit has played well at times, but they have also struggled to stop the big play. As impressive as the Air Force offense is at converting third downs, their defense neutralizes that advantage by allowing their opponents to convert 53 percent of their third down opportunities. Notre Dame's offense is only converting 37 percent of their third downs on the season.
Air Force has had injury issues along the defensive line. A couple players have returned to the lineup, but the front for the Falcons isn't very deep at this time and they have struggled making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
The linebackers are very solid. Drew Fowler is one of the top tacklers in the country. He has 74 tackles on the season, but you'd like to see the linebackers make more plays behind the line of scrimmage.
The five defensive backs are experienced and they will make plays on the ball.
Anticipated Depth Chart.
Several key losses along the front have really hurt a defense that had started to develop an identity early in the season. The big loss was defensive tackle Grant Thomas, but the other injuries have hurt the teams ability to rotate players into the game. Sophomore defensive end, Jake Paulson has missed several games, but he made an appearance against Army last weekend. He doesn't have a lot of experience, but he might might be the biggest player maker.
Fowler gets to the ball, but you'd like to see him get into the backfield more often. Fowler is a returning starter from 2005. Keller has played a lot of football, but he is starting for the first time this season.
Despite their struggles this season, this group is probably
better than their numbers indicate. The defensive line hasn't done them any
favors by not getting to the quarterback. Rabold is really a linebacker playing
the stud position.