David Woods and Ryan O’Gara break down Notre Dame’s win over Ball State.
David Woods, [email protected]
SOUTH BEND – If this was a statement, it was made by Ball State and not by Notre Dame.
The eighth-ranked Fighting Irish did what they had to do, winning 24-16 Saturday.
But considering their 24-17 victory over Michigan a week ago and status as 34.5-point favorites, the Irish did not perform as one of college football’s elite. This stacked up as the easiest game on the schedule for Notre Dame (2-0). It was anything but easy.
More: Irish don’t play up to its standards, but do enough to survive Ball State
Morgan Hagee’s 49-yard field goal pulled the Cardinals (1-1) within eight points with 1:30 left. Hagee had missed from 46 yards with 4:50 on the clock.
After Hagee’s field goal, Notre Dame recovered Ball State’s onside kick and ran out the clock.
Ball State quarterback Riley Neal, under siege from Notre Dame’s pass rush, delivered a gritty performance under odd circumstances. On Friday, FBI agents raided the Yorktown home of Neal’s father, Jess, a longtime Muncie police officer. The search is believed to be part of an ongoing federal investigation.
Neal completed 23-of-50 passes for 180 yards and ran seven times for 35 yards. His 10-yard touchdown pass to Nolan Givan with 12:01 left trimmed the deficit to 24-13.
Oft-criticized quarterback Brandon Wimbush of Notre Dame passed for a career-high 297 yards, but he had three intercepted and was not the running threat he customarily is.
Three reasons Notre Dame won:
Domers still have D
The Irish were perhaps miffed after the Cardinals consumed nearly seven minutes of the clock and 19 plays to score a field goal on their first possession.
The rest of the half? It was a struggle for the irrepressible Neal and Ball State’s offense.
In one stretch, Riley completed 3-of-13 passes for a net of minus-2 yards and one interception. It is not possible to be stouter than that.
The Irish needed such play to compensate for their spotty offense. Ball State ran 97 plays and gained 349 yards.
Notre Dame linebacker Te’von Coney continued his All-America candidacy with 14 tackles, three of them for losses.
Under coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame is 34-3 when allowing fewer than 20 points.
Irish overcome Wimbush’s shaky day
Remember how excited everyone was about Wimbush in the first quarter against Michigan? Well, there has been little to be excited about since.
In the second half against the Wolverines, Notre Dame’s seven second-half possessions consisted of five punts, one interception and one field goal.
Wimbush’s inability to run, refusal to run, or instructions not to run did not help his cause against Ball State. His only official first-half running attempt was a 10-yard sack that should have been avoided. That prefaced a rare field goal miss (from 43 yards) by Justin Yoon.
Wimbush completed first-half passes of 27, 23, 23, 17 yards . . . but that disguised an otherwise errant 8-of-17 half. Wimbush completed 49 percent last year, and the Irish need better to stay in the top 10 or contend for a top-four spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Hey, it’s MAC vs. top 10
This is not basketball. Ball State, as a 17-point underdog, might have upset ninth-ranked Notre Dame 80-77 nine months ago in South Bend.
Such occurrences are rare in football. All credit to Ball State for persevering as long as it did. Notre Dame’s all-time record against the Mid-American Conference is 6-0, and the Cardinals threatened to make it 6-1.
The Cardinals should not have been able to last as long as they did. They had scoring drives of 19, 13 and 13 plays. It was difficult to get them off the field.
If not for the first of Jalen Elliott’s two interceptions, the Irish might have led only 7-6 at halftime. Tony Jones Jr. scored on a 31-yard run on the next play. Jones also scored after Elliott’s second touchdown.
Contact IndyStar reporter David Woods at [email protected] or call (317) 444-6195. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush breaks down the team’s win over Notre Dame.
David Woods, [email protected]