Notre Dame scored on their opening possession of both halves, but that’s about the only part of the game Notre Dame football fans can cheer about.
Well, the Notre Dame football team is 2-0. The Irish started off hot scoring on their first drive after just five plays, but the rest of the first half left a lot to be desired.
The defense was the exact opposite.
After a first series that saw Ball State drive all the way down the field and kick a field goal, the defense stiffened and produced a ton of three and outs and a third down interception.
The second half was much of the same. Notre Dame went right down the field and scored on their first possession, but the rest of the half was ugly. Let’s see how it all played out.
First Half Highlights
On the first play from scrimmage, Brandon Wimbush found a wide open Chris Finke. On the next play, Jafar Armstrong broke loose for a near touchdown run. After two stymied runs on the goal line the Irish turned to Mr. Red Zone Handoff Guy, Ian Book, and Armstrong scored on the first touch. 7-0 Irish.
The Ball State offense apparently wasn’t shaken by the crowd. Red-shirt Junior Riley Neal drove right down the field and the Cardinals got on the board with a field goal. 7-3 Notre Dame.
After four straight three and outs by both teams, Notre Dame’s offense started to find their rhythm once again. However, after getting into the red zone Wimbush took a big sack on third down, and they reluctantly settled for a field goal attempt. Yoon’s kick never made it to the left upright. Still 7-3 Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame defense continued to dominate and force three and outs, but offense continued to stall. After a few first downs, they failed to convert on a fourth down. Wimbush had yet to take off and run.
The next Ball State possession turned into something even better than a three and out for the Irish defense. Great coverage by Nick Coleman lead to a tipped interception by Jalen Elliott – the first of his career. Tony Jones Jr. got the call and scores from 31 yards out on the very next play. 14-3 Irish.
More good play by the Notre Dame defense and a Brandon Wimbush pick later, and Ball State is down only one possession going into the half. They would start with the ball.
Second Half Highlights
Ball State picked up two first downs to start the second half, but that was all they could muster. Drue Tranquill came off the edge on a designed linebacker blitz, forced a bad throw by Riley Neal, and Jalen Elliott came up with second pick of the game.
On the first play of the Notre Dame drive, Wimbush saw his first designed run of the game, and finally the offense looked right. On the next play, Wimbush bootlegged out and found Miles Boykin for a big gain. He then went to Boykin again and found Chris Finke. Jones Jr. would finish off the drive and provide the Notre Dame team with 6 from 6. 21-6 Notre Dame.
After another good stand by the Irish defense, the offense would come back out and try to put the Cardinals away. On the first play, Wimbush found Boykin for a big gain, but an unfortunate tipped pass (great play by the Ball State linebacker) landed right in the hands of another Ball State defender.
We can continue with this banter, but it does us no good. The Notre Dame defense kept this a multi score game, but the Irish offense couldn’t seem to put two drives together. The offensive line was bullied all game. That’s not something we are used to hearing, especially against an inferior opponent.
The offense was able to get into field goal range once again for Justin Yoon. This time he doesn’t miss and connects from 46 yards. 24-6 Irish.
On the following possession by Ball State, the Notre Dame defense finally conceded to the Cardinals offense. Riley Neal connected with his wide receiver Nolan Givan in the end zone. 24-13 Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame offense provides much of the same. It showed occasionally flashes of brilliance, but another throw from Wimbush was picked off. That’s his third of the game, and this one clearly his fault.
Ball State is able to connect on another field goal late in the game, but Notre Dame recovered the onside kick. Brandon Wimbush collected a first down and the Irish would hang on to win it 24-16.
Post Game Analysis
Let me make one thing clear: This was an ugly game in almost all aspects. The offensive line was dreadful. The offensive concept was equally as bad. Brandon Wimbush continues to show why he is not a pocket passer. There’s no excuse that makes any sense for a one score win against Ball State.
I mentioned prior to the game that I thought Brandon Wimbush would throw more and run less, but not to the extent in which it played out. Brian Kelly mentioned that as a weakness of the coaching staff last year, and it showed up again today. The play calling in this game was tailored to an Ian Book led offense. That was easy to see. If the staff is going to play Wimbush, play to his strengths.
It’s back to the drawing board for Notre Dame. The defense continues to impress, and they were on the field for way too long today. I predicted Ball State would score 13 points, but had no idea Notre Dame would only have 24 points at the time.
However, the Irish start out 2-0 for the first time since 2015. That’s all that matters.