Tommy Rees had a day to remember to lead Notre Dame to a 45-10 trouncing of hapless Air Force Saturday in Colorado. Rees passed for 284 yards and a career-high five touchdown passes just a week after being knocked out of action against USC.
Rees completed six passes for at least 20 yards. His 260.71 pass efficiency rating is the best since Jimmy Clausen's mark of 303.7 against Nevada in 2009. His five touchdown passes give him 54 in his career - the second-most in Notre Dame school history.
The Fighting Irish (6-2) did everything right except finish the first offensive drive of the game. Notre Dame drove to the Air Force 23, converting a pair of 3rd and five chances along the way, but came up empty on the scoreboard.
George Atkinson was dropped for a loss of a yard on 3rd and one at the 23. Brian Kelly was going to go for it on 4th and two, but freshman Steve Elmer was called for a false start. Kelly then sent Kyle Brindza onto the field to attempt a 46-yard field goal, which was blocked.
Air Force (1-7) lost its seventh straight game, but took full advantage of the early missed opportunity by the Irish. The Falcons used an up-tempo offense to drive down field for the game's first touchdown in 11 plays. The key play was a 4th and two conversion at the Irish 34 by running back Jon Lee, who just got enough yards for a first down. Wide receiver Colton Huntsman took a pitch to the right two plays later for a 10-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 with 5:05 to play in the first quarter.
Notre Dame responded right away. The Irish moved 75 yards in just six plays on the ensuing possession to tie the game with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Corey Robinson. The TD was the first of the freshman receiver's career and the 50th of Rees' career. Rees is just the fourth Irish quarterback with as many passing touchdowns.
Will Fuller became the second freshmen to score his first touchdown just a few minutes later when Rees hit him with a 46-yard bomb. The Irish defense had forced a punt after the Robinson score. The touchdown came on the second play of the second quarter and on the sixth play of the Irish drive, which started at their own nine. Rees was 11-for-13 for 166 yards and two touchdowns at that point.
The Falcons got three points back on their next drive when Will Conant kicked a 47-yard field goal to cut the Irish lead to 14-10 with 10:07 to play in the first half. Freshman defensive lineman Isaac Rochell dropped Falcon quarterback Nate Romine for no gain one on 3rd and 10 to force the kick.
Notre Dame's next scoring drive took just three plays and only a little more than a minute off the game clock. Cam McDaniel gained just two yards on the first play and then Rees hit DaVaris Daniels for a 21-yard strike and followed that with a 28-yard TD pass to Ben Koyack for just the second touchdown of the tight end's career. George Atkinson's 38-yard kickoff return gave the Irish the ball at their own 49 to start the drive.After an Air Force three-and-out, Brindza connected on a 51-yard field goal to put the Irish up 24-10. Rees was dropped for a loss of eight to force the kick, which was two yards shy of Brindza's career-best boot.
Rees threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, a 30-yarder to T.J. Jones, on ND's first possession of the second half. The Irish began the six-play drive at their own 38 after Jaylon Smith recovered a Romine fumble. The turnover was originally ruled an incompletion on the field, but instant replay overturned it and gave the Irish the ball. Jones has at least one catch in 35 straight games and now has a touchdown catch in five straight contests.
After another Falcon punt, Rees set his new career high with his fifth touchdown pass to his fifth different receiver when he hit Chris Brown on a 15-yard strike. The Irish had ran the ball five straight times, including four carries by freshman Tarean Folston, prior to the 3rd and eight play that put the Irish up 38-10 with 3:07 left in the third quarter.
Andrew Hendrix, who struggled after coming in for Rees last week, came in on ND's next possession after Rees' fifth touchdown pass. The Irish went three-and-out on Hendrix's first drive, but he hit Fuller for a 46-yard gain and then scored from four yards out on the next play on the next possession to make it 45-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Folston entered the game with 11 carries all season, but he finished with 11 carries for 47 yards - all in the second half. McDaniel led the team with 61 yards on 10 carries. Atkinson had just six carries for 18 yards.
Romine was just 6-for-10 passing for 37 yards. He led the Falcons with 76 rushing yards on 21 carries. Karson Roberts replaced Romine in the fourth quarter. He passed for 12 yards and ran for nine. Air Force managed 284 rushing yards in the loss.
The loss ensures Air Force cannot qualify for a bowl game this season. The Falcons had been to six consecutive bowls under seventh-year head coach Troy Calhoun.