Jefferson's a test for Notre Dame Irish

Remember Ricky Dobbs? The Notre Dame football staff sure does.

He's the Navy quarterback who pinned losses on the Irish the last two years.

He also played a role in making Air Force a tough challenge for Notre Dame Saturday.

Huh?

Five years ago, Tim Jefferson was a high school quarterback from Atlanta looking for direction in his life. At one point, the needle was pointing toward Annapolis. He fancied himself as a good fit for Navy's option-based offense.

Then, the 6-foot, 205-pounder realized that Dobbs, also from Atlanta (though they didn't know each other), would be a year ahead of him. To seal the deal that Navy wasn't for him, Jefferson never quite hit it off with Paul Johnson, then the coach of the Midshipmen.

Hello, Air Force. Besides, he always wanted to be a pilot.

A year at the Air Force Academy Prep School gave Jefferson a thorough understanding of the option attack the Falcons run. Now, in his senior year, Jefferson has the opportunity to become the first quarterback to lead Air Force to four straight bowl games.

Considering guys like Beau Morgan and Dee Dowis came before him, that's a pretty impressive claim.

But how does Jefferson think he stacks up against Dobbs, who graduated last year?

"We're very similar in the way we throw the ball," said Jefferson, who is 33 of 47 for 493 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. "(Dobbs) came from a passing offense in high school, I came from a program that ran the triple option. Our running style is different. He's more of a 'pound the ball' guy. He likes to take the hit. I'm more of a finesse runner. I'd rather run away from a 300-pound lineman."

Jefferson has rushed for 210 yards. He's one of eight Air Force players who have at least 70 yards on the ground. Those sorts of numbers, which translate into 365 rushing yards and 514 yards of total offense, are sure to give the Irish trouble.

That's what makes this a "trap" game for the Irish. Too soon to look ahead to the open date, a time of preparation for Southern Cal. Air Force is a quality team with a lot to prove.

Last season was a critical one for Jefferson. He emerged as a leader, and at the same time got a measure of satisfaction by victories over Navy, led by Dobbs, to win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, and Georgia Tech in the Independence Bowl, which was coached by Johnson.

"I just went up to coach Johnson, said, 'Nice game,' and left it at that," Jefferson said.

No gloating. No "in-your-face" sort of shenanigans. That's not who Jefferson is. He defines humble. The final score was satisfying enough.

It also put an exclamation point on a season marked by significant improvement.

"Midway through my junior year, something just clicked," Jefferson said. "I became a more efficient runner. Our offensive unit became more productive. I'm really not sure how it happened, it just happened."

Problems, like success, can be relative. The Falcons have turned the ball over eight times this season - six fumbles and two interceptions. Heck, that's nothing compared to the 15 giveaways Notre Dame has. But still, even in Air Force's high-risk offense, it's a concern.

"The coaches can put you through drills," Jefferson said. "Keep the ball high and tight. Execute the fundamentals. But you have to believe that this ball is precious.

"I believe that turnovers are mental. If you lose the ball, you can't get your job done."

Jefferson's job should cause plenty of angst for the Irish this week.

AL LESAR

South Bend Tribune Sports Writer

alesar@sbtinfo.com

574-235-6318

 

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