Freshmen step up for Notre Dame vs. Air Force

Freshmen step up for Notre Dame vs. Air Force
October 26, 2013, 9:00 pm
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Two Notre Dame freshmen recorded their first career touchdowns in Saturday's 45-10 drubbing of Air Force, and it should've been three.

[RELATED: Rees throws 5 TDs as Irish throttle Air Force]

Corey Robinson and Will Fuller caught their first career touchdowns in the first half, while linebacker Jaylon Smith was robbed of a defensive touchdown in the second half.

Both Robinson and Fuller's touchdowns exposed the size and skill gulf between Notre Dame and Air Force on Saturday. Robinson caught a jump ball near the sideline for his score, using his 6-foot-5 height and jumping ability to his advantage. Fuller split Air Force down the middle and reeled in a 46-yard heave from Tommy Rees, who finished the day with 17 completions on 22 attempts for 284 yards and five touchdowns.

"You'd like to get these kind of opportunities for these young guys early, because it obviously builds their confidence," coach Brian Kelly said. "They're a really confident group -- and so when you get them involved, especially these young guys, it's so important to their development."

Fuller finished the day with two catches for 93 yards, while Robinson's touchdown was his only reception of the game.

Smith looked out of sorts early defending Air Force's option, often getting caught on islands on runs to the outside. But Notre Dame shifted to playing more cover-2 to give Smith some help, and he began to make a number of plays -- one of which should've been a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

A blatant fumble was initially ruled an incomplete pass, but was overturned by the officiating crew -- although by rule, Smith wasn't granted a touchdown.

But that Smith still ran the ball back, even after a whistle blew (and stood in the end zone awaiting the officials' decision for what seemed like a few minutes). Doing that impressed cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who said the whole Notre Dame sideline wanted to see Smith get his first career touchdown.

[MORE: Offensive line shuffles test Notre Dame's depth]

"He plays full energy each and every play. They blew the whistle, he's still running, I'm like dude, chill out," Russell laughed. "It was tough to see them take that away from him. He really deserves it, he's been getting better each and every week.

"Now, you can't even tell he's a freshman," he added.

For Notre Dame, that's not what they want to see out of Smith, but out of the rest of their contributing freshman. Steve Elmer, for instance, started at right guard and moved to tackle later in the game, and outside of one missed play generally held his own.

The goal here would be to get those contributing freshmen to not play like freshmen. Saturday's win over Air Force was a step in that direction for a number of players.