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No $8 Million Bowl Game On The Line This Time

October 18, 1996

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ The last time Notre Dame and Air Force met, there was an $8 million bowl game on the line. And if that wasn’t pressure enough, the Irish were without their starting quarterback.

This time, any pressure is on Air Force. The Falcons are 3-2, with Army and San Diego State still left to play after Saturday’s game at No. 8 Notre Dame (4-1). Air Force would like to go to a bowl again this year, and selection committees have always looked closely at its game with Notre Dame.

``The bowl committees want the teams that look good and teams that put up the points,″ Falcons halfback Andre Johnson said. ``We have to give a good show for them this weekend.″

A good showing would also help Air Force make up for its ugly, last-minute loss to Navy last weekend. The Falcons gave up 81 yards on eight penalties, and the Midshipmen ended up winning by 3 in the final minutes.

While the loss to a rival service academy was hugely disappointing, coach Fisher DeBerry said it won’t affect his team’s performance this weekend.

``The heck with Navy, let’s focus on Notre Dame,″ he said. ``I anticipate we’ll play the best game we’ve played this year. Hopefully, that will be good enough.″

Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz has been complaining all week about the Air Force wishbone. The offense, which the Falcons have been running for years, is tough to defend, and quarterback Beau Morgan is one of the best Air Force has ever had.

He rushed and passed for 1,000 yards each last season, and is on track to do it again this year. He’s averaging 225 yards total offense per game, including a team-high 113 yards rushing.

The Irish limited Morgan to just 40 yards last year, but Holtz also had a backup quarterback who could run the wishbone during practice. He doesn’t have anyone to spare this year, and midterm exams have limited some of his key players’ practice time.

``The thing that concerns me is how well we can play against that wishbone when we haven’t had a real good look,″ he said. ``And what little look we’ve had, we’ve had so many players miss practice.″

While Holtz is known for worrying endlessly about opponents, he won’t get much disagreement from DeBerry. Air Force knows the wishbone so well there isn’t much any team can do to prepare for it, he said.

``If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can be there with Notre Dame at the end of the game,″ DeBerry said. ``I don’t know what exactly they’ll be able to do in simulating our offense this week in practice.

``But I don’t know what we’ll do to simulate their offense, either,″ he added. ``I haven’t seen any 300-pounders around here lately.″

Notre Dame scrapped its experiment with a more open offense after a dismal performance against Ohio State, returning to its traditional running game. Against then-No. 16 Washington, the Irish gained 397 of their 650 total offensive yards on the ground in their 54-20 victory.

Holtz and his players know they won’t be able to run like that against everyone. And even though the Irish rolled up 410 yards rushing against Air Force last year, Holtz isn’t expecting a repeat performance.

``If you have some success one year, you can bet your bottom dollar you may not have as much success the next year because they have studied you for the past year,″ he said.

While DeBerry has confidence in his team, especially its offense, he’s a little more realistic. The Falcons just had a tough loss, they’re on the road and they’re unranked taking on the No. 8 team in the country.

None of that makes for an easy game.

``We respect the fact that Notre Dame is playing tremendous football right now,″ he said. ``The schedule says we’ve got to go.″

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