After win over Michigan, Irish face Ball State
Notre Dame’s defense was expected to be strong this year and by the results of last week’s very important win over archrival Michigan, it showed signs that it will live up to those expectations.
The Irish “D” came up with big plays at the right moments to preserve a 24-17 win over the No. 14 ranked Wolverines. One game does not make a season, but such a win will give a team a huge shot in the arm in preparing for the remaining 11 games. With Ball State today and a home game next week with Vanderbilt, then the first road trip to Wake Forest, all games in which the Irish will be favored, ND should head into the second big match up of the season, a home game with Stanford on Sept. 29, at 4-0.
Te’von Coney stepped up and led the Irish defense. Coney, who announced in January he would stay at ND for his senior year and not go pro, only added value to his worth come NFL draft time next year. The Irish middle linebacker had a game-high 10 tackles, two QB hurries, one which led to an interception by Julian Okwara, and picked up a Wolverine fumble by QB Shea Patterson, with 46 seconds left, to nail down the Irish win. It also handed Michigan its 17th consecutive loss on the road to a ranked team.
Others on defense who shined included Khalid Kareem, who kept the pressure on the Michigan quarterback, and defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, who completed the strip of Patterson leading to Coney’s fumble recovery.
Quarterback Brandon Wimbush got most of the credit on the offensive side of the ball. Wimbush did what he had to do, but there is much more work to be done. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 170 yards with a 43-yard touchdown toss to Chris Finke and an interception on an overthrow. His 125.4 pass-efficiency grade was about four points better that his season rating in 2017. He did against one of the highest rated defenses in the country. It is also obvious that he still needs work on his passing, especially the short pass routes. Backup Ian Book only ran two plays in the game but both were handoffs to sophomore Jafar Armstrong, who scored TDs on each play. Armstrong appears to have moved up to be a key part of the Irish backfield, filling in for Derek Williams, who is on a university imposed suspension. Wimbush was the leading rusher for the Irish with 59 yards on 19 carries. He also converted seven of 15 third-down opportunities and one fourth-down try.
Armstrong is an experiment gone right for head coach Brian Kelly and his offensive staff. With zero running back experience in high school, he was moved to the position by Kelly in the wake of Williams’ suspension. So far so good.
More on the game later.
Today ND faces Ball State for the first time. The Cardinals’ have an experience quarterback in Riley Neal. The 6-6, 225-poound QB has 5,476 career passing yards and 35 TDs into this junior red shirt year.
The Cardinals also have a fine running back in James Gilbert and a outstanding wide receiver in Corey Lacanaria.
Ball State was 2-10 last season, but to be fair the Cardinals had a lot of injuries to key personnel. The Cardinals opened with a win last week over Central Connecticut State, 42-6. The wins last year were over Tennessee Tech, 28-13 and UAB, 51-31. The losses were to Illinois, 24-21; Western Michigan, 55-3; Western Kentucky, 33-21; Akron, 31-3; Central Michigan, 56-9; Eastern Michigan, 56-14; Buffalo, 40-24; Toledo, 58-17; Nothern Illinois, 63-17; and Miami of Ohio, 28-7.
The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 3:40 p.m. scheduled kickoff.
IRISH NOTES ... Notre Dame, which started the season ranked 12th in the AP poll, moved up to No. 8 following its victory over MIchigan ... Had the NCAA not upheld its decision to vacate 21 wins by ND for its handling of an academic fraud case four years ago, the Irish win last week would have put ND back on top of Michigan as the all-time leader in winning percentage in the FBS .... It was a “green out” last week in ND stadium as the student body and a large majority of the fans were wearing green for the game, including the ND coaching staff .... ND’s offense still needs work as it sputtered a few times, but considering how good the Michigan defense is rated, it wasn’t all that bad .... Here are some more game stats. Running back Tony Jones Jr. finished with 45 yards on nine carries and Armstrong 43 on 15. Receiving had Finke had three catches for 55 yards and a TD and Chase Claypool three for 47... Backing up Coney’s 10 tackles was Kareem with nine. Kareem had two sacks for 24 yards in losses ... The game was a big ratings win for NBC. The 4.51 overnight rating made it the most-watched college football game on any network Saturday and tied the highest rating for an Irish football telecast on NBC in 12 years .... With a 48-yard field goal and three extra points against Michigan, Irish kicker Justin Yoon sits one point behind ND running backs coach Autry Denson for the No. 4 spot on the school’s all-time scoring list (282-281) .... Senior Finke’s first touchdown since 2016 came on a pass where he wrestled the ball away from Michigan safety Brad Hawkins in the end zone ..... Kareem’s nine tackles, including 2.5 for losses with two sacks, against Michigan earned the junior Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week honors in his first college start. Kareem, a native of Michigan, first sack of the season was for a loss of 16 yards and pushed the Wolverines out of field goal range .... Since finishing 10-3 in 2013, Ball State’s football team hasn’t fared well. The Cardinals are 15-34 overall and 7-25 in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in the four seasons since. Ball State showed improvement in last Thursday’s opener. Although their win came over an FCS program Central Connecticut State, the Cardinals broke a few school records in the win .... The NCAA’s new redshirt rule may ease the pain of losing sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa for most of the season .... Today, the Irish may suffer a little letdown in the early going, but should prevail over the under manned Cardinals of Ball State. Of course, in college football you never take anyone lightly. ND should be ready for this one. As your read this, I am in South Bend for the game.