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Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football: Ball State Cardinals Game Preview


Y’all, you will never believe this — Notre Dame Fighting Irish football somehow has ANOTHER game tomorrow.

That’s right, the Irish play host to the 1-0 Ball State Cardinals at 3:30 PM ET, with BSU coming in hot after shellacking Central Connecticut 42-6 last weekend.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, comes into this one in a pretty good state of mind as well. The Irish have moved up to be the #8 team in the country after defeating the then-14th-ranked Michigan Wolverines last weekend 24-17.

Now, the Irish look to begin a stretch of three straight games that SHOULD be fairly easy victories but could be somewhat dangerous if they spend too much time looking toward Stanford on September 29th.

So, because we as fans also need to not look ahead (because we like to pretend we are on the team and what we do matters at all), let’s dive into the details of this matchup a bit to understand if the Irish should be at all worried about a Cardinals team that is a 30-plus point underdog.

Ball State Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense

Ball State comes to South Bend with a pretty prolific offense, if you’re just looking at raw stats and not at all considering how bad the Cardinals’ one opponent this year is. BSU put up 652 offensive yards and 42 points on Central Connecticut, making them 7th-best in the country in total offense (#22 in passing, #11 in rushing) and tied for 41st-best in scoring.

Obviously, Ball State’s offense isn’t that elite, but the Cardinals do have some solid players on that side of the ball. Quarterback Riley Neal is an experienced veteran who generally does a decent job of taking care of the ball, completing passes, and distributing the rock to his weapons on offense.



Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Neal has thrown for 5,735 yards, 37 TD, and 21 INT in his career while completing passes at a 61% clip. Nothing spectacular for sure, but he is a productive passer, and he showed that against a bad CCSU defense last weekend, completing 77% of his 30 passing attempts while passing for 259 yards, 2 TD, and 0 INT. He also added 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Joining Neal in the backfield is a stable of talented runners, led by starter James Gilbert. Gilbert ran for 100 yards (7.1 ypc) and a TD last weekend, and has run for 2,247 yards and 24 TD total during his time in Muncie.


NCAA Football: Ball State at Illinois

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Backing Gilbert up are a few other guys who can really pick up big chunks of yards when asked to — Caleb Huntley and Malik Dunner. Huntley has run for just over 1,000 yards in his career, and had 73 yards on just 8 carries last weekend. Dunner, meanwhile, has 643 yards and 10 career TD, and had himself a super efficient game last weekend as well, picking up 51 yards and touchdown on just 5 carries.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals rushing offense, the Notre Dame defense can be absolutely stifling in the ground game. The Irish defense is 13th in the country in rushing yards allowed after week 1, thanks to defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s unit allowing just 58 yards on the ground in last weekend’s showdown with Michigan.

The front seven for the Irish is definitely the group’s strength, as Jerry Tillery (4 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FF last week vs. UM) and Jonathan Bonner anchor the interior, defensive ends Khalid Kareem (8 tackles, 1.5 TFL), Julian Okwara, and Daelin Hayes do a great job of getting upfield off the edge, and linebackers Te’von Coney (10 tackles, 1 FR), Drue Tranquill (7 tackles), and Asmar Bilal (4 tackles) all have the athleticism to chase down and securely tackle ball carriers before they can get out in space.


NCAA Football: Michigan at Notre Dame

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Revisiting Neal’s solid passing abilities, he has a number of promising targets out wide to sling it to this weekend. The group is led by Yo’Heinz Tyler, a big-play guy who is currently averaging 1 TD per reception and 41.5 yards per catch (i.e., he had 2 catches for 83 yards and 2 TD last weekend). WRs Riley Miller (4 rec, 65 yds) and Justin Hall (5 rec, 38 yds) provide a couple other nice playmakers out wide, and tight end Nolan Givan is a big, reliable guy to throw to as well (3 rec, 36 yds, 1 TD).

Unfortunately for Riley Neal, the Notre Dame pass defense has quite a few guys he needs to worry about. Julian Love is an All-American-caliber cover corner who has a knack for making plays on the ball and making QBs pay dearly (2 pick-sixes in 2017), and CB Troy Pride Jr. is a track star who seems to get better every week. Receivers will struggle to get separation on those two, and even if they do, they may have to deal with impressive Navy transfer Alohi Gilman (7 tackles, 2 PBU), junior Jalen Elliott (5 tackles), senior Nick Coleman (4 tackles), or even freshman Houston Griffith on the back line. All are capable of making some athletic plays, and Gilman especially was all over the field making plays against Michigan last weekend.


Michigan v Notre Dame

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

While the secondary is very good at what they do, the Irish defensive line’s ability to get to the QB might be even more impressive. The ND front seven finished last Saturday’s game with 6 QB hurries, 3 sacks (Kareem and Tillery), and 7 total tackles for loss. Kareem was the star of the show against Michigan, but guys like Hayes and Okwara (1 INT) are also incredibly athletic and fast off the edge, able to put major pressure on the QB. Tillery’s strength and athleticism in the middle is incredibly disruptive, and the linebackers, when blitzing, have the ability to make momentum-changing plays.

The Irish will be without DT Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who broke his foot in the Michigan game, but highly-rated freshman DT Jayson Ademilola will step in and gain a lot more experience because of that.

Overall, it’s hard to imagine the Ball State offense will be very effective against a defense who just largely shut down the Michigan offense (say what you will, but only giving up 1 offensive touchdown, with roughly 3 minutes to go in the game, is impressive against any team with playoff/conference title aspirations).

I think Ball State maybe strings together a few nice plays here or there and maybe grinds out a few field goals or a touchdown, but overall the Irish will continue to smother their opponents and make it easy on the ND offense to score enough points to win comfortably on Saturday.

Offensive Cardinal to Watch

Yo’Heinz Tyler

Not only does this guy have an unbelievably awesome name, but if the Cardinals have any hope of sticking around in this game past halftime, Tyler will need to continue his big-play ways and find a way to get behind the Irish secondary for huge gains. It’s unlikely he’ll get many opportunities, but without him creating some fireworks, Ball State will not be able to keep up.

Defensive Irish to Watch

Alohi Gilman

Gilman was a force last Saturday, and showed a clear ability to make plays. I like him to come up with one or two turnovers tomorrow as he plays a key role both in stopping the run and in shutting down any big plays through the air. Gilman will continue to earn a reputation as one of the more exciting players on a defense that’s full of them.

Halftime Fun Facts!!!!!

Best Names in the Game

  1. Notre Dame RB C’Borius Flemister
  2. Ball State WR Yo’Heinz Tyler
  3. Ball State DL Poni Tu’uta
  4. Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble
  5. Notre Dame LB Ovie Oghoufo
  6. Ball State RB Rashaad Poindexter
  7. Ball State DT Chris Crumb
  8. Ball State DL Tuni Ropati
  9. Notre Dame LB Asmar Bilal
  10. Notre Dame RB Jafar Armstrong

Keys to the Game, Brought to You By Former Ball State Students

Former Ball State Cardinals player Alex Andrus Giving Us Some Keys to the Game for Notre Dame:

  1. Stay hydrated
  2. Don’t allow too many Ball State fans into the game. Chirp Chirps are deafening
  3. A Cardinal will never defeat an Irishman in a head-to-head fight, unless the Irishman drinks too many Guinness beers. So only drink like 4-5 Guinness beers before the game
  4. I still have eligibility, but am on vacation. So another key is that I don’t end my vacation early
  5. Score more points
  6. Keep Riley Neal in check, he’s actually really solid
  7. Jerry/Larry/Terry Gergich has a time share in Muncie. I’ll let the analysts analyze what that might mean
  8. Be a Cardinal through it all**
  9. The end

**Editor’s Note: This is a reference to an article some of us friends of Al found about Brady Hoke leaving Ball State for San Diego State. Al, a committed recruit to Ball State at the time, told the reporter interviewing him that he was still a “Cardinal through it all.” Al would spend one season at BSU before injuries caused him to retire and transfer to Alma College. Unfortunately I cannot currently find the article, but will update this with a link if I do.

Ball State alumnus Zach Spoerner Gives Us 5 Key Factoids to Know about Ball State, and They’re All Definitely Accurate and Not Made Up or Inappropriate:

  1. It’s a liberal arts college, so football is not Ball State’s first priority. We play quidditch
  2. They no longer require the SAT or ACT to attend the university, and maybe soon they will not even require a high school diploma
  3. The town is called “Funcie,” because the locals in the town did too much meth and no longer can pronounce the letter ‘m’ due to “meth mouth”
  4. 90% of BSU quarterbacks cannot read or understand what the playbook is for
  5. Papa John’s wouldn’t even build them a stadium*

*Editor’s Note: ‘Papa’ John Schnatter is from Jeffersonville, Indiana and graduated from Ball State in 1983

Alternate Names for Ball State University, Ranked

  1. Testicle Tech
  2. Cojones College
  3. College of the Gonads
  4. Deez Nuts A&T
  5. Plums Poly
  6. Dangly Bits School of Design
  7. Testes A&M
  8. Marbles Military Academy
  9. Family Jewels Central
  10. CREATE YOUR OWN IN THE COMMENTS

Notre Dame Offense vs. Ball State Defense

Similar to the Ball State offense, the Cardinals defense looks pretty damn stout, statistically speaking, after one game against Central Connecticut (37th in total defense, tied for 8th in scoring defense). However, when you look at the actual talent BSU has compared to Notre Dame’s offense, it’s hard to make any predictions besides Notre Dame imposing its will on Ball State.

The Cardinals have a couple guys who could be nuisances to the ND offense — cornerback Josh Miller and linebacker Jacob White.

Miller was fantastic last season for Ball State with 14 passes defended (2nd in the MAC) while starting the entire season.

White, meanwhile, is a do-it-all guy in the middle of the defense (4 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU last weekend) who is as tough as they come. The dude played with a broken bone in his hand for most of 2017, but was still able to rack up 72 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss.

Miller is joined in the secondary by guys like Mitch Larsen (4 tackles, 0.5 TFL last week), Lamar Anderson (3 tackles), and Brett Anderson (3 tackles, 1 FF).


NCAA Football: Ball State at Indiana

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

All four will have their work cut out for them just trying to hang with Notre Dame’s HUGE receiving corps that includes rangy WRs like Chase Claypool (3 rec, 47 yds) and Miles Boykin (1 rec, 28 yds) and also big, athletic tight ends such as Alizé Mack (1 rec, 26 yds), Cole Kmet, and Nic Weishar.

Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush had a decent game against Michigan’s defense last week, but Irish fans are hoping he can look a lot more polished against a lesser group like Ball State’s defensive unit. Wimbush threw for 170 yards last weekend while completing 55% of his passes and averaging about 8 yards per attempt.

He threw a big touchdown pass to Chris Finke (3 rec, 55 yds, 1 TD), but that pass was tossed late and into double coverage, forcing Finke to go make an incredible play on the ball in order to come down with it in the end zone.

Furthermore, Wimbush did make a bad decision and throw one pick last week, so guys like Miller and co. will certainly be hoping he makes another mistake or two tomorrow and that they can take advantage of it. Part of making Wimbush throw picks is certainly to get the kind of pressure that Miami got on him last year or that Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary got on him last Saturday.

Ball State’s defensive line will be led by guys like Kendal Kendrick (3 tackles), James Jennette III (3 tackles, 0.5 TFL), Shannon Hall (3 tackles), and Chris Crumb (0.5 TFL). Unfortunately, none of those guys are anywhere near Winovich or Gary in terms of talent, athleticism, or speed, and so Notre Dame’s line should look better this weekend. Last weekend, guys like Robert Hainsey and Liam Eichenberg got burned periodically, so look for their play to improve greatly considering the inferior opponent.

White, meanwhile, will be tasked with probably the toughest job of anyone on the Ball State defense — running down, corralling, and tackling Irish runners when ND runs the dang ball. With All-Americans like Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars clearing the path ahead, ND backs Tony Jones Jr. (45 yards, 5 ypc) and Jafar Armstrong (35 yards, 2.3 ypc, 2 TD) will look to run much more rampant than they did against the likes of Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson. Furthermore, White and his fellow LBs Jeremiah Jackson (7 tackles, 0.5 TFL), Christian Albright (4 tackles, 1 QBH), Jaylin Thomas (4 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU), and Brandon Martin (3 tackles) will have to keep tabs on Wimbush at all times, considering the senior QB led the Irish in rushing last week and made the Michigan defense pay dearly on a few different occasions by making plays with his feet.


NCAA Football: Michigan at Notre Dame

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I expect the Irish to be able to run all over BSU, and so I think offensive coordinator Chip Long will stick with that as his main strategy. The ND offense should be able to blow Ball State out just by plowing ahead and wearing them down, and so I think the Irish ground game is going to have a big, game-winning day tomorrow afternoon.

Defensive Cardinal to Watch

Jacob White

He’s the heart and soul of the Cardinals defense, and considering the Irish’s line and backfield talent, he’s going to need to have a huge game and make lots of big plays to try to stop ND from just steamrolling his team.

Offensive Irish to Watch

Tony Jones Jr.

TJJ ran very well last weekend on limited carries against a great defense, so look for him to see an uptick in carries and to be even more effective against a defense that, although it has some talent, certainly is more susceptible to the ND running game than the Wolverines.


NCAA Football: Michigan at Notre Dame

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams???

The only thing I know is that Ball State’s kicker is named Morgan Hagee, and he was 6-for-6 on extra points last weekend but missed the only field goal he kicked.

Meanwhile, ND kicker Justin Yoon was 1-for-1 with a 48-yard field goal, and also knocked home 3-of-3 extra points. Between him and P Tyler Newsome’s typically solid punting, I think the Irish have a slight edge in special teams, despite a not great start to the year for the kickoff unit.

Alright, Let’s Predict the Result of This One

Notre Dame 47, Ball State 19

Why: There’s just no way Ball State can hang with the Irish in this one. ND is going to run all over them, Wimbush is going to drop in a few dimes on deep balls to Boykin, Claypool, and maybe someone new and fun like Kevin Austin, and the Notre Dame defense will continue to stifle, bend-but-not-break, and force a couple turnovers, per usual, to ice this one before the middle of the 3rd quarter (potentially by halftime).

Agree? Disagree? Chime in below in the comments to tell us your own predictions for the game and its happenings!!!!

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