Wanted Challenge for Falcons

Notre Dame fell to 1-8 after a 46-44 triple overtime loss to Navy last weekend. The Irish have been plagued by problems of inexperience and a lack of offensive explosiveness. Despite the one-win year, the Notre Dame opponents are not taking anything for granted. After watching video of the Irish, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun made it sound like Notre Dame was 8-1 instead of 1-8.

"When you flip the tape on and watch these guys, there's a reason why they have one of the four or five best recruiting classes," Calhoun said. "And its completely verified. From a talent-wise, they're loaded. At some point, they'll gel just because of ability."

Air Force will get a close look at what Calhoun has seen on tape this weekend. The Falcons will travel to South Bend and take on Notre Dame on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:43 PM and NBC will have the national television broadcast. Air Force comes into the contest 7-3 after a 20-point victory over Army. Calhoun thinks most of the problems Notre Dame has encountered this season can be linked to their schedule.

"One, I think they've played some good teams," Calhoun said. "I think when this season is done, they're going to find out that seven of those nine teams are bowl teams. All nine of them probably will have a winning record."

Air Force will be one of those teams with a winning record and Calhoun believes the challenge on Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium will be one the Falcons players will take head on.

"Our guys love activity," Calhoun said. "Our guys love competition. They're going to get a healthy milligram dosage of it on Saturday. That's probably what they cherish the most on this trip."

Air Force can make some history on Saturday, although it'll be of the bad variety for Notre Dame. If the Falcons beat the Irish, it'll be the first time since 1944 that Notre Dame has lost to two service academies in the same season. The Irish had won 15 straight contests over the service academies before last weekend's loss to Navy.

The Midshipmen and Falcons do share a passion for the ground game. Navy ranks first in the nation while Air Force is fourth, averaging 272 rushing yards per game. Notre Dame actually held the Midshipmen underneath their season average but managed just two defensive stops. The Irish are 95th in the country in rushing defense, surrendering 199 yards a contest. The Falcons won't be copying Navy's game plan but Calhoun is aware of what the Midshipmen did to move the ball.

"It's one you take into consideration," Calhoun said. "What we do on both sides of the ball is different than Navy. You try to find out structure-wise where there are some parallels."

Calhoun is in his first year as head coach of Air Force. The 1989 graduate of the Academy was the offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans last year. After Fisher DeBerry stepped down, the powers-to-be at Air Force decided on Calhoun, who became the sixth head coach in Falcons history and the first graduate to hold the job title.

A win on Saturday would be the fourth in South Bend in the past 25 years. Only Michigan State, Boston College and USC have accomplished this feat. There are noticeable differences between Air Force and Notre Dame. But Calhoun respects the Irish football program and knows the challenge is great for his Falcons players.

"We're completely zeroed in on Notre Dame," Calhoun said. "It would be different if we were playing Cairo Archeology School. We're not. We're playing an incredibly talented football team. If you looked at a comparison between our football budget and their football budget, I don't have those numbers in front of us. Is there a comparison between the number of five-star players and coaches they have compared to us? I don't know what that comparison is. For us, we know that we have a heck of a tilt ahead of us. That's the only thing really to discuss."

Calhoun doesn't believe the mystique or tradition of Notre Dame will distract his players from focusing on the game on Saturday afternoon.

"I don't know if it mattered if we went to the moon," Calhoun said. "No place is too big for these guys. No place are they above. It's kind of the makeup of the men and women at the Air Force Academy."

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