Notre Dame football continues its 2018 campaign Saturday, as they host the 1-0 Ball State Cardinals at Notre Dame Stadium.
Opponent: Ball State Cardinals (1-0)
Last week: Defeated Central Connecticut State, 42-6
Date: September 8, 2018
Location: South Bend, Indiana (Notre Dame Stadium)
Forecast: 66 degrees, cloudy, winds 10-20 MPH
Time/Channel: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Coming off a highly emotional victory against Michigan, Notre Dame faces what could be considered a “cool down” game against Ball State. The Cardinals have spent much of the last three years at the bottom of the MAC, with just nine wins over those three seasons.
Last week, Ball State defeated Central Connecticut State, a team that went from 2-9 to 8-4 and in the FCS Playoffs in one year. Nonetheless, it was a matchup Ball State should have won.
Last week’s Notre Dame victory over Michigan was a lot of things–exciting, entertaining, and competitive. This week may not be any of these unless you’re a Notre Dame fan.
When Ball State is on offense
One of the top Ball State offensive player is quarterback Riley Neal. Neal, a 6’6, 225 pound junior has a 61% completion percentage throughout his career. Last week, Neal completed 23/30 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
Before going down with a leg injury last season, the Cardinals had a 2-1 record with their only loss by 3 points to Illinois. There’s no doubt Ball State is a better team when Neal is on the field.
Neal’s top target Justin Hall lead the team in receptions and yards last year as just a freshman with 78 catches for 801 yards. Although slightly undersized for a receiver at 5’9″ and 176, has plenty of speed to make up for it as a 4.49 forty time shows. Hall accounted for 5 catches and just 38 yards last week. As for the rest of the receivers, all 6 of his top 6 receivers are back this season.
Another area of concern for the Irish will be the Ball State rushing attack, which contains two more than capable backs in former 1,000 yard rushers James Gilbert and Caleb Huntley.
Gilbert and Huntley combined for 173 yards on the ground last week behind a relatively young offensive like that had combined for 55 career starts. Gilbert, who was injury much of last season, rushed for 1,332 yards in his last healthy season which was 2016. Huntley took over last season, accounting for 1,003 yards. Watch out for Malik Dunner out of the backfield as well.
As a whole, the Cardinals offense exploded last week, racking up 652 yards of total offense.
The Cardinals were also very good on third down last week, converting 11 of 16 attempts.
When Ball State is on defense
Ball State returned 7 starters on defense this year. Last week was a great experience for the new starters that was much needed before playing a top 10 team.
The Cardinals held Central Connecticut State to just 291 yards last week while forcing a fumble. The only points the defense allowed was a 2 yard touchdown run with just 12 seconds left in the game.
Ball State did lose a few key pieces from last year’s defense, especially on the defensive line, with the loss of Anthony Winbush (not to be confused with Wimbush) and his 11.5 sacks. That will have to be made up somewhere on what for the most part is an inexperienced line. Last week, there was only one sack. There was also only one quarterback hurry.
Linebacker Jacob White is arguably the best player on the defense. Last season, he lead the team with 72 tackles. He also had 3 sacks. Last week, White had 4 total tackles along with the sack.
Another linebacker, Jeremiah Jackson, lead the team in tackles with 7.
Matchup to Watch: Ball State running backs vs Notre Dame Defensive Line
As mentioned earlier, the Cardinals running backs, which are arguably the best in the MAC, could give Ball State their best chance to win. Considering the lack of experience along Ball State’s offensive line, we could see a few matchups behind the line and it will be interesting to see how Gilbert and Huntley respond if put in that position.
To have a chance, Ball State must have long possessions and keep the defense off the field, and that starts and ends with the running backs.
Under the radar Ball State player to watch: Running Back Malik Dunner
All the talk about Gilbert and Huntley has seeming left Dunner forgotten about. Although technically a third string back, Dunner actually lead the team in rushing touchdowns with 8 last season while accounting for 445 yards. He also lead the team in yards per carry. Last week he ran for 51 yards on just five carries along with a touchdown.
Under the radar Notre Dame player to watch: Defensive End Ade Ogundeji
With the loss of Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, someone is going to have to step in and replace him on the second unit, and Ogundeji could be just the guy to do it.
Last week, neither accounted for a tackle, but Tagovailoa-Amosa did make some noise along the defensive line. If Ogundeji can do just that, it will be a big boost to the depth on defense.
Bonus: Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec
I already know what you’re thinking: why is the third string quarterback someone to watch?
With the new redshirt rule, Jurkovec could play in up to 4 games this season and maintain his redshirt. This may be his best opportunity to see the field this season, even if it’s just for 5 minutes of game action. Getting the chance to see what Jurkovec can do against a real college defense would certainly be exciting for the future of the team.
66 degrees. Cloudy. Winds 10-20 mph.
This game has he potential to get ugly. It could be close for the first quarter, considering how hyped up Ball State will be to play at Notre Dame Stadium.
But Notre Dame has a size, speed and experience advantage that should be way too much to overcome.
Unless Ball State can sustain long drives while running the ball, I don’t think think Cardinals have a chance in this game. The Notre Dame Defensive Line should be able to shut down the majority of rushing attacks, while the Notre Dame offense runs wild on a weak Ball State defense. Notre Dame 48, Ball State 6.