This year, the tables might be turned. There's no Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzjia or Darius Walker to lean on. Notre Dame will go host Air Force on Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:43 PM and NBC will have the national television broadcast. The Irish have the worst offense in college football while the Falcons have made improvements from 2006.
Last season, Air Force finished 78th in total defense and 112th in pass efficiency defense. New head coach Troy Calhoun, replacing legend Fisher DeBerry, brought back Tim DeRuyter to Colorado Springs to be the defensive coordinator. DeRuyter has installed a 3-4 defense and the improvements have been noticeable. The Falcons are now 27th in the nation in pass efficiency defense, 51st against the run, 41st in total defense and 19th in scoring defense, surrendering 18 points a contest.
"First of all, defensively there's a different scheme than they were using last year," head coach Charlie Weis said on Tuesday. "Last year they weren't using this 3-4 scheme that they're using. They've turned into a big blitz-all team, which wasn't really the case last year. They were more a cross team."
On offense, Weis was clear in his overview of the Air Force group who is the leader. Senior Chad Hall is listed at wide receiver but the playmaker can do a little bit of everything. Hall is the only player in Division I to lead his team in both rushing and receiving yards. The senior has 1,122 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground for an average of seven yards per rush while also catching 41 balls for 426 yards and another score. Air Force is second to last in passing offense but for good reason: the Falcons have the nation's fourth best rushing attack, averaging 272 yards per game on the ground.
"Offensively they've found more ways to get this No. 1 (Hall) the ball, both as a runner and a receiver," Weis said. "Last year he was just a runner and he wasn't really receiving. So I think that they have a lot of confidence in their running game. The quarterback has got a nice strong arm."
***In the loss to Navy, the Notre Dame defense held the Midshipmen to 257 yards on the ground, which was under their average of 342 yards pre game. But Navy was effective at sustaining drives. The Midshipmen were stopped just twice, one on a punt and another on a turnover. This week, the Irish will face another potent rushing attack in Air Force. Weis saw some positives and negatives with the defensive performance against Navy.
"I think the one thing against Navy we did a pretty good on the inside run," Weis said.
"We didn't do as good a job on the outside run. This is a team that likes to get to the edge. So you have to look at from their perspective first of all, they're going to look at Navy getting to the edge, and I think that's going to be the one challenge we have this week is to make sure we set the edge on the running game."
***Notre Dame's defensive line coach Jappy Oliver coached at Air Force for eight years between 1995-2002.
***The Falcons are one of seven teams in the last 25 years to win three or more games in Notre Dame Stadium. Air Force won in 1983, 1984 and 1996. The other teams include Michigan State, Boston College, USC, Michigan, Pittsburgh and Penn State.
***In addition to being 5-0 when Air Force has a player rush for 100 yards, the Falcons are 4-0 this season when leading at halftime and 4-1 when scoring first. Under Weis, the Irish are 4-12 when trailing at halftime and 7-10 when the opponent scores first.
***Weis on whether or not how the Irish finish the season this year will have any impact on the success in 2008: "I really don't know for sure what the answer is to the question. But you'd like to think that the chances of things moving in the right direction in the spring would be greatly aided by a strong rally down the stretch. You'd have to think that that would be the most logical answer you could get.
"Now, that being said, there's no rule that says that how you play in the last three games is going to have anything to do with San Diego State, but I think the better you play down the stretch, the more information you have going into the spring."