On the day, the Falcons ran for 285 yards on the ground, besting their season average. Air Force managed 4.5 yards per rush on 63 carries as the Falcons got the best of the Irish defense. 142 of the yards came from senior Chad Hall, who was the best player on the field on Saturday afternoon, while quarterback Shaun Carney and Spencer Armstrong both added touchdown runs.
"They did throw a nice little wrinkle on balance and unbalanced line and running their option to the unbalanced," head coach Charlie Weis said after the game. "But realistically, I mean, they just kind of spread us out and they just played in space and made some guys miss. I think they just did a real good job of getting us in space and then making some guys miss."
Air Force was going to get their yards on the ground. The surprising part for the Falcons was the production on the passing game. Carney completed 10-of-16 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Both scoring tosses came in the decisive third quarter, when Air Force extended a 17-10 halftime lead into a 31-10 advantage.
Coming into Saturday, the Falcons had the second worst passing offense in Division I. While the yard total was two yards below the team's season average, the two touchdown passes in the air were a third of their year total before Saturday. Air Force's offense does differ from Navy's but both teams were successful in exploiting Notre Dame's defense.
"First of all you see them in shotgun a whole bunch and in the shotgun, they have some of that read option element that you have when you're in the shotgun versus last week where everything is under center; and it's either give the ball to the fullback or call down the line one way or the other or run and toss," Weis said of the Air Force system.
"They have more versatility and the fact that they are not afraid to get into the shotgun and run the flash boot and do some bootleg out of shotgun and roll out and hit a couple of guys, I think that we didn't -- we didn't lose the game. We didn't lose the game to that element, but I think that they have more versatility in their entire package than Navy did."
The points allowed is another troubling trend. The Irish have limited just one team to under 27 points. That was UCLA and the Bruins were down to a walk-on quarterback. Air Force totaling over 400 yards of offense was the third time in four games the Notre Dame defense allowed at least this many yards.
***Trevor Laws continued his monster season. The fifth-year senior defensive end totaled a career-high 17 tackles. It was the most stops for an Irish defensive lineman since Melvin Dansby recorded 18 against Navy in 1997. Laws leads the team with 98 tackles, which is the fourth most ever for a Notre Dame defensive lineman. The all-time single season leader for a lineman is 113 by Steve Niehaus in 1975. Dansby recorded 103 in 1997 while Ross Browner notched 104 in 1997. Despite the above average individual performances Laws has been delivering week in and week out, the losing is wearing on the veteran.
"It's tough," Laws said.. "Right now probably the biggest key is trying to keep your head right. I've never really been a part of anything that's really gone like this. Something that you put a full effort into, and it just goes so terribly wrong. It's frustrating. We need to find a way to just get through the rest of the season."
***Sophomore Eric Maust punted the ball five times for an average of 43 yards per boot on Saturday. Maust was playing because the regular starting punter, fifth-year senior Geoff Price, pulled his quad in practice on Thursday.
***Freshman Brian Smith started his first career game at outside linebacker. It was the 26th different Notre Dame player who has recorded their first career start this season. Smith ended the day with three tackles.
***Safety David Bruton had 13 tackles against Air Force. It was junior's second career double-digit tackle performance. Earlier in the year, Bruton had 15 stops in the loss to Michigan State.