It might have been a closer game than Notre Dame football fans were expecting, but that doesn’t mean the defense shouldn’t be praised.
The game was ugly, but the defense was once again very good for the Irish. One week after dominating the Michigan offense, Notre Dame’s defense once again set the tone against Ball State. Cardinal quarterback Riley Neal was held to under a 50% completion percentage and only 180 yards through the air. He also threw two interceptions. The main difference, the Irish defense only came away with one sack. Neal was able to evade pressure and get the ball away, which helped the Cardinals offense sustain a few drives.
The defense also held the rushing attack to a mediocre 3.6 yards a carry, with most of the positive runs coming from Neal when he had to escape the pocket. Without Neal’s 35 yards on the ground and 5 yards a carry, Notre Dame held the rest of the rushing attack to a measly 3.3 yards per attempt. Overall, that’s a very good day from the defense.
However, all things considered, this was a Ball State team that Notre Dame was supposed to dominate and there were a few weak spots to discuss. Let’s take a look at how the Irish defense graded out on Saturday afternoon.
The Irish defensive line for the second week in a row was led by Jerry Tillery and Khalid Kareem. Although neither player stood out on the stat sheet, both were consistently in the backfield wreaking havoc on the Ball State offensive line and quarterback. With that said, no one along the defensive line was able to wrap up Neal for a sack and only Kareem was credited with a tackle for loss. That’s not good enough against MAC opponents. It should be noted that Julian Okwara was also credited with 4 quarterback hurries and Kareem 2.
Overall, it was a solid performance from the defensive line, but they would let you know they should have done more. Grade: B
This was probably the most impressive group on the field. Te’von Coney again showed why he’s one of the best linebackers in college football. He was in on 14 total tackles including 3 for loss and 1 sack. He might not be the best cover linebacker on the field, but he needs to be in on third downs due to his impressive ability to diagnose when the quarterback is trying to escape the pocket.
Drue Tranquill was his usual self against the run and pass, totaling 9 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 quarterback hurry. There’s no denying he’s the smartest player on the field at all times. Senior Rover Asmar Bilal also had his second consecutive impressive game, demonstrating great instincts against the run and the ability to rush off the edge when called upon.
This is a group that seemingly gets stronger with every play, and they deserve all of the talk they are getting. Grade: A+
For the second straight week this a difficult group to grade. On one hand, Gilman mirrored Tranquil with his run and pass efficiency and Julian Elliott was able to bring down 2 interceptions. On the other hand, early in the game the corners were challenged and continued to play off coverage, a coaching philosophy that was adjusted later on in the game. The corners also made some terrific plays against the ball coming up with 6 passes defended as a unit (4 by Julian Love), and Nick Coleman was a big reason for first Jalen Elliott interception.
This was far from a perfect game from the corners, but they got to showcase their abilities when challenged and challenged often. This is an overall unit that should become more and more dominant as the year progresses. Grade: B+
The offense didn’t do the defense any favors yesterday, and that should be taken into account when grading the unit. The defense has only allowed two touchdowns on the season, and they have yet to allow a first half touchdown. There is certainly something to be said about that. Overall, the defense gets a grade of B+.