Although Notre Dame operated out of a variety of formations, including the wishbone, there was nothing particularly fancy about the plan of attack against Air Force on Saturday.
The 11th-ranked Irish simply ran the ball over the smaller Air Force defenders and overpowered the Falcons, 35-14.
Sophomore quarterback Tony Rice engineered four long touchdown drives as Notre Dame rushed 69 times for 354 yards.
“We felt we were a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger,” Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz said, “and consequently we wanted to try to run the ball on them and control it.”
Rice went to the air only five times.
The Irish held a sizable advantage in time of possession--more than 35 minutes to the Falcons’ 25--in improving their record to 4-1. Air Force is 5-2.
“Their physical strength and size enabled them to dominate the game from the start,” Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry said.
Notre Dame’s Heisman Trophy candidate, Tim Brown, scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 74-yard punt return.
Otherwise, Brown didn’t do too much. He caught just 1 pass for 10 yards and rushed for only 13 yards in 5 carries.
But two big plays by Brown didn’t show up in the final statistics. An instant replay showed a 32-yard reception by Brown in the second quarter should have counted, but an official ruled him out of bounds. He also had a 78-yard touchdown reception nullified by a holding penalty early in the fourth quarter.
Asked about not handling the ball much, Brown said: “As long as we’re getting first downs and moving the ball, I don’t worry about it. After last week (a 30-22 loss to Pittsburgh), we wanted to show people we are still a good team, that we could challenge for the national championship.”
Rice was making his first start in place of the injured Terry Andrysiak, who broke his collarbone last week against Pitt.
Rice suffered a sprained left shoulder late in the first half and had to leave the game, but he returned for the second half. “I was kind of scared,” he said of the injury. “I thought something broke, but it’s OK.”
Holtz called the win “a total team victory, something we’ve needed.” But he did have one complaint--the length of the grass in Falcon Stadium, which obviously had been allowed to grow to slow down the Irish. “If my front yard was like that, my wife would have a fit,” he said.
The Irish scored on their first two possessions of both halves. Rice scored Notre Dame’s first two touchdowns on runs of one and four yards. In the second half, Anthony Johnson and Braxton Banks scored on one-yard runs.