Oct. 15, 2002
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – After a close win over Pittsburgh to move to 6-0 on the season, the Notre Dame football team shifted its focus to their opponent for this weekend, No. 18/15 Air Force. The Irish will leave the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium and head to a cold, hostile environment in Colorado Springs on Saturday. Tuesday afternoon at Cartier Field, the Irish began preparations to face a tough, talented, and perhaps most importantly, disciplined opponent in Air Force.
“Today was a lot more disciplined on every play,” said senior safety Gerome Sapp. “Especially on defense we have to be disciplined. To beat a team like Air Force you have to match discipline with discipline and today that’s exactly what we tried to prepare to do.”
Air Force presents a different challenge for the Irish than did Pittsburgh last weekend. Unlike the Panthers, who looked to throw the ball often, the Falcons have looked to utilize the running game extensively this season.
“(Air Force’s style) is totally different,” said Sapp. “Although, they do have a passing game, they just haven’t needed to use it. We are prepared for both the run and the pass. They are a fast-paced, option offense and so many things happen at you and each guy has to be responsible for so many things and you have to read things quick on the run. But like I said, if we are disciplined, we will be all right.”
As the Irish take to the road, they will leave behind the tremendous fan support and the warmer weather at Notre Dame. Instead, they will face a tough stadium full of cadets and much colder temperatures with the game-time temperature forecasted to be in the low 30s.
“Coach Willingham has been stressing to us that we need to be road warriors,” said Sapp. “I’m sure they’re hoping the weather will be a factor for us, but it won’t be a factor.”
The Irish defense also faces a challenge in stopping the Air Force offense, which has proven to be quite potent to this point in the season, scoring more than 40 points in three games already. This game will put pressure on the defense to again be a big factor if Notre Dame is to win.
“Every game the defense goes out and our mentality is to win the game by ourselves,” said Sapp. “We don’t want the offense to have to win any games. We realize the offense is going to handle their business when they need to, so in every game we put the game on our shoulders and say we have to win it.”
Entering Saturday’s game, the Irish are not the only team sporting an unblemished record. Air Force is also 6-0. Notre Dame cannot afford to look past the Falcons to next week’s matchup with No. 12/14 Florida State in Tallahassee.
“Air Force is probably one of the best teams we play this year and one of the best teams out there,” said Sapp. “They’re definitely a top-caliber team. They are so disciplined and they thrive on people not being disciplined and using their discipline to their advantage. We would be doing ourselves a great injustice if we look past them.”
Beyond the tangible threats posed by Air Force, there lies a greater intangible threat. Air Force always plays hard and always plays well against Notre Dame. In the last meeting between these two schools in 2000, free safety Glenn Earl blocked a potential game-winning Falcon field goal attempt at the end of regulation to force overtime, which led to an Irish win. Further incentive not to look past the Falcons or take them lightly.
“We plan on going into this game and having to play our best game of the season,” said Sapp. “Every team plays us hard, but for some reason all the academies, especially Air Force plays us the toughest, so we plan on having a ballgame. All the players realize that it is an injustice to ourselves and to the program to look ahead and let a team sneak up and beat us.”
— ND —