Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 36 of 55 SEPT. 10, 2018 37 BY BRYAN DRISKELL BALL STATE RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE The strength of Ball State's offense the last two seasons has been its ability to run the football. The Cardinals ranked just 73rd nationally with 158.0 rush- ing yards per game last fall, but dealt with a number of huge injuries. In 2016, Ball State averaged 220.0 rushing yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry, which ranked 30th and 36th nationally, respectively. Then-sophomore run- ning back James Gilbert was the standout that season with 1,332 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, but he played in just three games last year because of a hand injury. The Cardinals also lost quarterback Riley Neal, who rushed for 540 yards and eight scores two years ago, after three games in 2017. With Gilbert out, then- freshman Caleb Huntley stepped into the lineup and went on to rush for 1,003 yards and three scores. His backup, then-sophomore Malik Dunner, added 440 yards and eight touchdowns. Gilbert, Huntley, Dunner and Neal all return in 2018, as well as three starters along the offensive line. Notre Dame's run defense was inconsistent last season, ending the season ranked 51st in rushing yards allowed per game (154.5) and 44th in yards al- lowed per rush (3.97). Despite those struggles, Notre Dame has the veteran personnel to be a much more effective run defense in 2018. Senior Mike linebacker Te'von Coney and fifth-year senior Buck linebacker Drue Tranquill are a big reason for that optimism. The duo combined for 201 total stops and 23.5 tackles for loss last season, making it one of the most productive returning tandems in the country. The return of three starters and four rotation play- ers from last season's defensive line also is cause for optimism. Advantage: Notre Dame BALL STATE PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE With Neal out for the season, the Ball State aerial attack struggled mightily in 2017. The Cardinals ranked 104th nationally with 177.2 passing yards per game, 109th with 11 passing touchdowns and 128th with 5.2 yards per pass attempt. Ball State's quarterbacks threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns, and the offensive line gave up 33 sacks. Neal started the season off extremely well, com- pleting 67.7 percent of his passes for 659 yards with six touchdowns and three picks while guiding the Cardinals to their lone two wins of the season. Ball State's other quarterbacks completed merely 52.6 percent of their passes with five scores and 11 interceptions. Neal's return should provide the offense with a significant boost. His top target will be sophomore Justin Hall, who led all freshmen nationally with 78 receptions last fall. Hall, who produced 801 re- On PaPer Wide receiver Justin Hall was the most prolific pass catcher among rookies throughout the country last season, hauling in 78 receptions for 801 yards and three touchdowns on his way to earning freshman All-America accolades. PHOTO BY RICKY BASSMAN/COURTESY BALL STATE GAME PREVIEW: BALL STATE

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