Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2018

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

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24 SEPT. 17, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED OFFENSE: RB JAFAR ARMSTRONG Junior running back Tony Jones Jr. was Notre Dame's most efficient run- ner against Ball State, rushing for 61 yards on 13 carries to go with two touchdowns. The sophomore Armstrong, however, was Notre Dame's most explosive offensive player in the win. He led the Irish with 66 rushing yards on 13 carries, most of which came on the second play of the game when he broke free up the middle for a 42-yard gain. Armstrong found the going tough at times in the run game, but his versa- tility was on full display against the Cardinals. The converted wide receiver added 61 receiving yards on three receptions, attacking Ball State up the seams for big gains. DEFENSE: S JALEN ELLIOTT Notre Dame's safeties were the weak link on defense in 2017, but against Ball State the Irish back end defenders were impactful. The junior Elliott made the biggest difference of all in the rotation, picking off a pair of passes in the game. Elliott recorded the first interception of his career in the second quarter, hauling in a ball that was tipped by senior safety Nick Coleman and setting up the second touchdown. Leading 14-6, Elliott stepped in front of a Riley Neal pass on Ball State's opening drive of the third quarter, making a theft to set up an offensive touchdown that put the Irish up 21-6. The Richmond, Va., native also set a career high with seven tackles in the victory. SPECIAL TEAMS: PR CHRIS FINKE It wasn't the flashy plays that earned top player honors for the senior Finke. What he did well against the Cardinals was field the ball. The Ball State punter was erratic with his punts, but Finke excelled at fielding the ball on high kicks and coming up to grab the hoppers as well. The only time the Cardinals pinned Notre Dame deep was on a surprise pooch punt by the quarterback when Finke was on the sidelines. TURNING POINT For the second week in a row our choice is the first possession of the second half, which often is a crucial harbinger in close games. Trailing 14-6, Ball State was the recipient of the second-half kick- off and picked up a couple of first downs. On second-and-11 from he Cardinals 44, quarterback Riley Neal fired a pass down the field that junior safety Jalen Elliott inter- cepted — his second of the game — and returned 10 yards to the ND 44. Six plays later, after senior quar- terback Brandon Wimbush com- pleted all three pass attempts for 44 yards, junior running back Tony Jones Jr. bulled in for the touchdown to help put the Irish ahead 21-6 with 10:37 remaining in the third quarter. Notre Dame would not cross the goal line again, and those two open- ing series in the second half provided the necessary cushion in the win. STAT OF THE GAME The 97 plays on offense run by Ball State were the most ever against Notre Dame, eclipsing the previous standard of 95 by head coach Bill Walsh's Stanford team in 1994. The Cardinal — not to be confused with the Cardinals of Ball State — lost that contest as well, 34-15. Among Ball State's 15 possessions — including one when it took over with a mere 12 seconds left in the first half — the first one of the game produced 19 plays and consumed 6:49 off the clock, although it re- sulted in only a field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3. Three other series had 13 plays. Most amazing is seven of the full 14 series for the Cardinals were three-and-outs. Overall, Ball State controlled the clock 34:22 to 25:38, somewhat using the Navy blueprint of ball control to keep itself in the contest. PLAYING TO LEVEL OF COMPETITION Each of the last three Notre Dame home games have ended in similar nail-biters, coming down to the final series: 24-17 versus Navy on Senior Day last year, 24-17 in this season's opener versus Michigan and now 24-16 in a relatively uninspired per- formance, at least offensively, ver- sus Ball State. Interspersed was a fourth-quarter rally for a 21-17 triumph against LSU in the Citrus Bowl and a loss at Stanford after leading 20-17 heading into the fourth quarter. Better to consistently post the "W" than to lose one week in a mar- quee game and win in a blowout against a Mid-American Conference team — as Michigan did with a 49-3 clobbering of Western Michigan. It is still far better to be 2-0 than 1-1. Still, Notre Dame needs to as- sert itself better in such matchups. THREE OBSERVATIONS BY LOU SOMOGYI TOP PLAYERS OF THE GAME BY BRYAN DRISKELL Sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong compiled 127 yards from scrimmage and scored Notre Dame's first touchdown of the game on a short run. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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