Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2018

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

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Page 22 of 55 SEPT. 17, 2018 23 BALL STATE RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE It would have been considered unfathomable before the game that Ball State would outrush Notre Dame 169-117. The Irish did okay against the running back trio of James Gilbert, Caleb Huntley and Malik Dunner, who combined for 126 yards (3.5 yards per carry). The wild card was quarterback Riley Neal, who was sacked only once and was often able to get outside the pocket while rushing for 35 yards on seven carries. To surpass 150 rushing yards against the Irish was laudable. ADVANTAGE: Ball State BALL STATE PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Neal, an NFL prospect, kept valiantly firing to the end, and his ability to ex- tend plays enabled Ball State to execute some keep away from Notre Dame. However, he completed only 46 percent of his 50 passes, two were inter- cepted that set up 14 Irish points, and the yards per attempt was a paltry 3.6, which wouldn't even be considered a good rushing average. The Irish were particularly effective in the red zone, where Neal was 1-of-9 passing for 10 yards, although the lone completion was a touchdown. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. BALL STATE RUN DEFENSE Whereas 132 rushing yards last week against a stout Michigan defense was just enough to muck out a win, the 117 versus the Cardinals was alarming and unacceptable against their new 3-4 look. It is made worse by the fact that the first Irish carry was a 42-yard jaunt by sophomore Jafar Armstrong, meaning there were 75 rushing yards by the entire team the final 59 minutes of the game. That initial run and junior Tony Jones Jr.'s 31-yard touchdown gallop in the second quarter accounted for 62.4 percent of the rushing total. Armstrong's other 12 carries netted 24 yards (2.0 yards per carry) and Jones' other 12 at- tempts totaled 30 yards (2.5 yards per carry). Compounding the woes was senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush's runs (11 carries for minus-7 yards) were mainly trying to ad-lib against the pass rush. He was not a factor with the ineffective zone read while seldom keeping the ball. ADVANTAGE: Ball State NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. BALL STATE PASS DEFENSE It was feast or famine for Wimbush and the Irish aerial attack. The feast was a career-high 297 passing yards that averaged a whopping 9.6 yards per attempt (7.0 is solid, 8.0 is very good and 9.0 is outstanding). The famine was three interceptions, four sacks, four hurries and a combination of late decisions and hanging on to the ball too long in the pocket, with way too many leaks along the offensive line that limited Wimbush as well on occasion. All six of senior Miles Boykin's receptions for 119 yards came in the second half. ADVANTAGE: Even SPECIAL TEAMS Kick coverage was better this week for Notre Dame with Ball State's three returns averaging only 14.0 yards, while Irish freshman C'Bo Flemister's three averaged 21.7. However, another Irish kickoff that sailed out of bounds was a negative. And Neal had a pooch punt that was downed inside the Notre Dame 5-yard line. Cardinals kicker Morgan Hagee was 3 of 4 on field goal attempts, highlighted by a 49-yarder with 1:30 remaining in the contest to make it a one-score game. His counterpart, Irish senior Justin Yoon, was 1 of 2. His 46-yarder and fifth-year senior rover Drue Tranquill securing the on-side kick were two pluses. ADVANTAGE: Even THIRD-DOWN CONVERSIONS Neither team was proficient, with Ball State going 8 of 23 (34.8 percent) and Notre Dame 4 of 14 (28.6 percent). However, crucial to the Cardinals running a record 97 plays against the Irish is they also were 3 of 3 on fourth down. ADVANTAGE: Ball State TURNOVERS Although Ball State won the turnover battle 3-2, Notre Dame tallied touch- downs off both of Elliott's interceptions, while the Cardinals managed only three points off the three Wimbush picks thrown. The 11-point difference favors the Irish, but the miscues by Notre Dame kept Ball State in the game. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame SUMMARY It was an odd contest in that even though Ball State ran 97 plays, it totaled only 349 total yards and 3.6 yards per play — a classic case of a defense bend- ing but not breaking. And half of Ball State's 14 full drives were three-and-outs. It was not the finest hour for Notre Dame's offensive line, though. Only two of the 41 rushing attempts did any damage, and Wimbush — although indeci- sive on occasion — also found himself under much more duress than he might have anticipated. No one was expecting the Irish offensive line to match last year's output mi- nus two top-10 NFL picks, but a top-10 team has to perform much better than this against a non-Power Five team. In many ways, this resembled the 24-17 win over Navy last year in the way Ball State controlled the ball while the Fighting Irish offense could not get fully untracked. ON PAPER REVISITED BY LOU SOMOGYI Senior wide receiver Miles Boykin set career bests in receptions (six) and receiving yards (119) during the win versus Ball State. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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