Irish offense rolls over Air Force
Welcome to "Touchdown Theater". Today's guest hosts? The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who defeated Air Force Academy on Saturday in a game that turned into a highlight reel as the Irish scored touchdowns on their first six possessions in a 59-33 win that featured 1,125 combined offensive yards.
Notre Dame (4-2) was actually outgained 565 to 560 while scoring the most points at Notre Dame Stadium since a 62-0 win over Rutgers in Lou Holtz's final game as coach in 1996.
"We're getting closer," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said when asked if his offense is operating on maximum efficiency. "We would like to play faster but we're making strides. We have not arrived but the pieces are starting to come together for us. We're getting there."
It's no longer "Turnover Tommy," as quarterback Tommy Rees was sometimes called earlier this year. "Touchdown Tommy" may be more appropriate after Rees threw four TD passes to four different receivers. After committing nine turnovers in the first four games, Rees has now thrown for seven touchdowns and had no turnovers in back-to-back wins over Purdue and Air Force (3-2).
Rees threw a gorgeous 34-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd that the receiver leaped and caught over an Air Force defender on the first drive of the game. He later threw touchdown passes of five yards to Tyler Eifert, 10 yards to Robby Toma and a 24-yarder to Theo Riddick.
"After the first two weeks, we just wanted to come out here and prove to everyone how good we can be on offense," Rees said. "Things are starting to come together right now. There's still work to do but we'll keep pushing forward."
For the second straight week, the Notre Dame defense forced a turnover on the opponents first play. Jamoris Slaughter stripped running back Asher Clark and Robert Blanton recovered. Slaughter added a juggling interception to set up another score as the Irish jumped out to a 42-16 lead at the break.
"We realize how good of an offense we can be if we minimize mistakes," running back Jonas Gray said.
Andrew Hendrix made his debut at quarterback and ran 78 yards on a keeper before being pulled down from behind to set up Notre Dame's final touchdown. The sophomore's running ability adds yet another dimension to an offense that has racked up a lot of yards but has struggled at times to score points.
Kelly said opponents can expect to see more of Hendrix in a limited role as the season progresses.
"They are starting to play the way I want them to play, and that is with more of a toughness, a mental toughness that when we get a chance we're going to put points on the board," Kelly said.
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