Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2018

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

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30 SEPT. 17, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED What Worked Defense Makes Plays When It Matters: After a dominating perfor- mance in the season opener against Michigan, the Notre Dame defense was not at its best against the Ball State Cardinals. Notre Dame gave up too much ground between the tackles in the run game, and far too often it lost contain and allowed the Cardinals to move the chains. Ball State converted eight third- down plays, and all three of its fourth- down opportunities while compiling 349 yards of total offense. When it mat- tered, though, the Irish defense was able to make big plays, which helped limit Ball State to just 16 points. The Cardinals took their first pos- session into the Irish red zone, but senior nickel back Nick Coleman shut down a third-down corner route to force a field goal after a 19-play drive. After three straight three-and- outs, Coleman again came through, batting a third-and-three pass into the air and into the waiting arms of junior safety Jalen Elliott. On the next play the Irish offense went 31 yards for a touchdown to make it a 14-3 game. After senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush threw an interception late in the second quarter, Ball State marched the ball all the way down to the 8-yard line. However, the defense held firm and produced a pair of incompletions to force a field goal attempt. Elliott again came through on the first series of the third quarter, picking off a Riley Neal pass to set up another Irish touchdown and a 21-6 lead. Ball State kept challenging the Fighting Irish in the second half, but the defense remained stout other than on one touchdown pass. Big Plays On Offense: Notre Dame outgained Ball State 414-349 in total yardage, but those numbers do not do justice to how inefficient the Irish were on offense. In the win over the Cardinals, big plays fueled the offense. The Irish ripped off nine plays of at least 20 yards, including a 42-yard run by sophomore Jafar Armstrong on the second play of the game and a 31- yard touchdown scamper by junior Tony Jones Jr. in the second quarter. Wimbush had seven completions go for 20 yards or more, which fac- tored into his career-best 297 passing yards in the win. What Didn't Work Turnovers: Wimbush made numer- ous impressive throws in this game, but those plays will understandably be overshadowed by the mistakes he made. After suffering just six inter- ceptions in 2017, Wimbush is now up to four in just two games following the three picks by Ball State. One interception came on a de- flected pass that bounced off senior wideout Miles Boykin, but Wim- bush had two other passes that were dropped by Ball State defensive backs. Wimbush tried to force too many throws from the pocket, and in the fourth quarter he failed to get enough air on a pass to the sideline, which allowed Ball State junior line- backer Ray Wilborn to leap up and intercept the pass. Notre Dame had converted a pair of third downs and was into Ball State territory when his third interception ended an opportunity for the Irish to put the Cardinals away for good. It was the second turnover in Ball State territory, and mistakes like that factored into Notre Dame's disap- pointing offensive performance. Offensive Line Play: Not playing at an elite level in the opener was un- derstandable for the Irish line. Notre Dame was competing against a Mich- igan front seven that football analysts believe is one of the nation's best. But not playing well against a Ball State defense that ranked 123rd in defensive efficiency last season ac- cording to the Fremeau Efficiency In- dex is extremely disappointing. The fact the Cardinals had to replace all four starters from its defensive line a season ago makes Notre Dame's woes up front all the more troubling. There were times when Wimbush held onto the ball a bit too long and the running backs didn't always make the proper reads, but the primary driving force behind Notre Dame's poor offen- sive performance against the Cardinals was the struggles by the line. Ball State racked up 10 tackles for loss, four sacks and four quarterback hurries. All game long the Cardinals were getting a push into the backfield and throwing off the timing of the Irish ground attack. Notre Dame's blockers struggled with the post-snap move- ment that Ball State showed through- out the game, and the tackles gave up too much ground in protection. There were several snaps where Notre Dame blockers lost defend- ers late, which resulted in too many shots on the quarterback in the game. In the first two games of the 2018 season, the Irish have allowed 17 tackles for loss — a number that is going to make it hard for the offense to perform to its full potential. ✦ Ball State Game: What Worked And What Didn't CLOSER LOOK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Junior safety Jalen Elliott (21) made two interceptions against Ball State, contributing to several big stops made by the Irish defense. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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