SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Tommy Rees threw four TD passes in the first half, Notre Dame built a big early lead and the Irish rolled to their fourth straight victory Saturday, routing Air Force 59-33.
It marked the most combined points ever for a game at Notre Dame Stadium. And the 59 points were the most by Notre Dame since beating Rutgers 62-0 in 1996 in Lou Holtz’s final home game as Irish coach.
The two teams combined for 1,125 yards total offense – 565 by Air Force and 560 by Notre Dame.
Rees’s four TD passes went to four different receivers and he completed 19 of 25 for 208 yards in the first half. He finished 23 of 32 for 261 yards.
Notre Dame (4-2) scored on all six of its first-half possessions and led 42-16 at the intermission.
Air Force tried everything – a no-huddle and option offense that ran up big yards, an onside kick the Falcons’ didn’t recover, a fake punt that resulted in a 19-yard gain. Air Force finished the first half with 311 yards and was 5-for-5 on fourth down conversions in the game.
But the Falcons (3-2) were simply no match physically for the Irish, especially Notre Dame’s big offensive front that allowed Rees ample time to find wide open receivers and running backs to dance through huge holes.
And two turnovers, a fumble by Asher Clark on Air Force’s first play from scrimmage and an interception, helped send the Irish onto TD drives.
The Irish also showed a new wrinkle and a new weapon in coach Brian Kelly’s spread offense when sophomore Andrew Hendrix was inserted as a change-of-pace quarterback in place of Rees.
Hendrix completed all four of his passes and broke off a long run to the 2 in the fourth quarter, giving a glimpse perhaps of the Irish’s future. Hendrix finished with six carries for 111 yards. Jonas Gray ran for two Notre Dame touchdowns.
Tim Jefferson’s 6-yard TD pass to Ty MacArthur, set up after punter David Baska’s 19-yard run and another 30-yard jaunt by Mike DeWitt, got Air Force within 35-16 in the second quarter.
But just as they did all day, the Irish played pitch-and-catch and went right down the field for another score. This time it was Theo Riddick – who finished with eight receptions – catching a pass over the middle as Rees was hit. Riddick sailed through the defense on a 24-yard play that made it 42-16.
Notre Dame scored on its first drive and kept going.
Michael Floyd leaped high over Air Force’s Bobby Watkins III to grab a pass from Rees at the front pylon of the end zone. Initially ruled a touchdown, the play was reviewed – and even though replays showed that Floyd’s left foot appeared on the line – the score was upheld.
The 34-yard TD pass capped an 81-yard drive, one that took under three minutes and also included a Rees-to-Riddick hookup of 24 yards.
Moments later, on the Falcons’ first scrimmage play, Clark broke off a 29-yard run but fumbled at the end of it and Robert Blanton recovered for Notre Dame.
A 20-yard run by Gray set up a 5-yard TD pass from Rees to Tyler Eifert.
After a field goal by Air Force’s Parker Herrington, the Irish got a 40-yard kickoff return by George Atkinsson III and moved in for another TD in four plays. Hendrix hit Eifert for 22 yards, setting up Rees’ 10-yarder to Robby Toma for the score.
The Falcons then used their no-huddle offense to confuse the Irish and move down the field 80 yards. Notre Dame forced a field goal try, but Irish freshman defensive end Aaron Lynch – starting because of an ankle injury to Ethan Johnson – was offside on the play, giving the Falcons a first and goal at the 3. Jefferson then carried in for the TD before Darius Fleming blocked the extra point attempt, leaving the score at 21-9.
Air Force tried an onside kick and Notre Dame recovered at the 38, setting up another short drive capped by Gray’s 5-yard TD run. Jamoris Slaughter’s acrobatic interception of Jefferson sent the Irish on to another TD. This time it was Cierre Wood’s turn with an 8-yard touchdown run and it was 35-9.
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