COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Behind a nearly-spotless game from Tommy Rees, Notre Dame cruised past a hapless Air Force squad, 45-10, Saturday afternoon at Falcon Stadium.
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Rees completed 17-of-22 passes for 284 yards and 5 touchdowns, carving up an Air Force defense that looked incapable of defending Notre Dame's air attack. In the first half alone, Rees completed 14-of-19 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns, setting the tone for a comfortable Irish victory.
A week after leaving Notre Dame's 14-10 win over USC with a neck injury, Rees looked fine against Air Force. He didn't take many hits, but when he did, he bounced right back up.
And against a weak Air Force defense, keeping him upright -- and in the game -- was a focal point for the Irish offense.
"We knew if we could protect him, he was going to be able to make plays," offensive lineman Zack Martin said. "For the most part, we did that, and he played awesome."
All five of Rees' touchdowns went to different receivers -- a first in Notre Dame history -- with T.J. Jones, Ben Koyack, Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and Chris Brown the recipients. The five touchdowns set a career high for Rees, who was pulled with about two minutes to go in the third quarter.
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Coach Brian Kelly pointed to Rees' pinpoint accuracy as to why he played well against Air Force -- and against USC and Arizona State, pick six against the Sun Devils aside.
"If Tommy can continue to make those kind of accurate throws, throwing away from the defenders, he's going to continue to have success," Kelly said.
At 6-2, Notre Dame became bowl-eligible, but that might be missing the point. The Air Force game kicked off a favorable stretch of schedule heading into a mid-November bye week, after which the Irish get BYU and Stanford.
Notre Dame looks at this as a six-game season in which they're now 2-0. The significance of 10-2 isn't lost on this team -- "we know the possibilities of what could happen," Martin said.
But unlike against Purdue, Notre Dame throttled a team they were expected to throttle. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell said he read a prediction on Friday that Notre Dame would win by four of five scores (for the record, whatever prediction that was was accurate), but said the key isn't letting any of that -- or Air Force's poor record -- get in their heads.
"You see many upsets, teams that only have like one win upset an undefeated team," Russell explained. "It's happened in history before. You can't say oh, they're 1-6, it's going to be a cakewalk."
It's a message that's been driven home by coaches -- though it's an easy trap to fall into. If this was Week 2 of Notre Dame's new season, and nothing but perfection will lead to a BCS berth, then 45-10 was certainly a step in the right direction.
"We want to win each and every week because our guys, they want to win 10 games," Kelly said. "But you can't win 10 unless you win six, you win seven."