Inept Irish Stagger Past Ball State

Notre Dame turned in one of its ugliest offensive performances in recent memory, but Drue Tranquill of the Irish managed to recover an onside kick late in the fourth quarter to preserve a 24-16 victory over Ball State. While the defensive effort was businesslike and featured two interceptions by safety Jalen Elliott, the offensive line was embarrassed time and again by the Cardinal front seven. Notre Dame failed to establish a running game, while Brandon Wimbush repeatedly poured gasoline on the fire by throwing three interceptions and scrambling aimlessly around the backfield as play after play broke down. There were probably fewer than ten teams in the top 100 that Notre Dame could have beaten today based on their quality of play, and the Irish should be very thankful that the Cardinals are one of them.

The Irish, who were favored by five touchdowns, started fast by sprinting to an early score in under two minutes. Jafar Armstrong capped a five play opening drive with one yard plunge into the end zone, and it looked like a blowout in the making. The Cardinals answered quickly with a field goal behind the passing of Riley Neal and some blatant offensive holding that miraculously escaped notice by the referees. The action quickly deteriorated into an exchange of punts, although Notre Dame got close enough for a Justin Yoon field goal attempt early in the second period. He missed.

Later in the quarter, Elliot snagged his first interception and returned it to the Ball State 31. Tony Jones, Jr. wasted no time as he broke two tackles and outran the rest of the Cardinals to the end zone for a 14-3 advantage. Wimbush was picked off by Josh Miller late in the half, setting up another three-pointer by Morgan Hagee. The Irish could not mount a drive in the last two minutes and went back to the locker room at intermission with a 14-6 lead.

Notre Dame appeared to have more energy in the third quarter as Elliott stopped the opening drive by the Ball State with another interception. Wimbush immediately hit Miles Boykin and Chris Finke with passes and Jones, Jr. rolled in with his second score of the day. Leading 21-6 at the 10:37 mark, fans looked for the Irish to start running downhill and win going away. Instead, another interception by Wimbush and numerous negative plays put the crowd to sleep. Yoon came on late in the quarter to atone for his earlier miss with a 46-yard field goal, but the fourth period belonged to the Cardinals.

Neal led the visitors on a 79-yard scoring march, capped by a 10-yard strike to tight end Nolan Givan with 12 minutes remaining. Yet another errant pass by Wimbush set up a field goal attempt by Hagee, but it went wide. The Ball State defense held on the next series, but the Irish defense again kept Neal and the Cardinals out of the end zone. When Hagee converted a 49-yarder to bring his team to within 24-16, there were only 90 seconds remaining. Coach Mike Neu was forced to gamble on an onside kick, but Tranquill grabbed it to turn out the lights.

Let’s review the answers to the pregame questions:

Will the Notre Dame defensive front continue where it left off last week? The group was not as dominant this week, but Khalid Kareem continues to impress and Jerry Tillery proved he can create havoc when he is properly motivated.

Can the speedy Cardinals receivers burn the Irish for big plays? Justin Hall and others made some nice grabs, but they were all short range throws. The Irish secondary did not allow Ball State to get deep.

Will Wimbush improve his pocket presence and timing? No, and it was painful to watch him struggle.

Can Notre Dame’s offensive line get on a roll against this smaller opponent? The stunting 3-4 Ball State defensive front continually kept the Irish off balance to the point of embarrassment. Note that the Cardinals outrushed Notre Dame by 169-119 despite trailing the entire game.

Will the Irish return and coverage teams turn in a solid performance? Both were mediocre, but there were no disasters in the return game. We did see a missed field goal by Yoon, several short punts by Tyler Newsome and another kickoff out of bounds, but that’s the new normal.

Which Notre Dame freshmen will get on the field and have an impact? C’Bo Flemister returned kickoffs in a competent manner, while safety Houston Griffith dropped a certain interception in the fourth quarter.

Will the national pundits criticize Notre Dame for scheduling this game? No, but they might throw shade at Ball State for scheduling the Keystone Kops.

The victory also came with a high cost. Talented tight end Cole Kmet suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury in the fourth period. We will await further word on his status. There were no other injuries reported, although Wimbush and various offensive linemen may suffer the indignity of being thrown under the bus by their head coach in the post game presser.

40 thoughts on “Inept Irish Stagger Past Ball State

  1. john sullivan says:

    why does the nd qb continue to throw into double coverage??? if ya rush 3 and drop 8 means ya got a lot of running room for mobile qb

  2. Brandon Wimbush has not progressed at all in his time at ND. If Notre Dame is to make a run at the playoffs, Kelly needs replace him with Ian Book. If he doesn’t, then Kelly needs to go. i keep reading about how much more confident Wimbush is, bit he continues to throw it up for grabs. What a pathetic offensive performance today, not to mention at home. If Kelly sticks with Wimbush, then he obviously is a poor judge of talent.

  3. Wow. Where to begin. We look like an 8-4 team. Just disgusted and speechless. But hey, we will make a lot of money off the Shamrock Game, so I guess that makes it all better.

  4. for any of you who think brian kelly is the coach to take notre dame to the promised land, i suggest one thing: put down the bong and let it go! he is a joke for a head coach..going on year 9 and nowhere closer to a national championship then when he started. When Ball state takes u to the fourth quarter then u obviously are just going thru the motions. Name ONE big game he has won! an absolute pathetic excuse for a coach…overrated!!!!

    • Cubfansince1957 says:

      Kelly did win Oklahoma in 2012, and he had kind of a big win last week. He’s had a few other big wins over the years (Remember the Six! – they kind of creamed USC last year).

      Having said that, I’m really starting to get tired of hearing Kelly say “we’ve got to coach them up better”. His seat is starting to warm up in my opinion.

      • Robert A. McReynolds says:

        I agree that going into Oklahoma in 2012 and putting a pretty good beating on them was a big win, but seriously, other than that Brian Kelly has either lost or been blown out in big games that matter. Last year’s win against USC was against a very mediocre PAC 12 team. Keep in mind that that USC team also got schwacked by Wash St. You want to make a case for WASU being a powerhouse or even a playoff team?

        Brian Kelly is a terrible coach if ND is looking for elite success. You want to compete against UGA, Ala, Clemson, then you DON’T struggle against Ball Freaking St. They are going to face a team next week that is much better than Ball St. and don’t be surprised if they lose that game. I won’t. Why? Because despite this talent, Brian Kelly is a terrible coach and he needed to go yesterday.

  5. Michael Moravec says:

    This game was a joke. Kelly, Long and Quinn are either abysmal coaches or judges of talent or both. Eichenberg is a subway turnstile and Winbush just cannot process what is going on when he is in the pocket. . Why don’t we run more read/option or roll Winbush out where he is just as accurate as in the pocket and can (hopefully) be more decisive. Lots of open receivers that Winbush just doesn’t see, but he can sure throw into double coverage.

  6. what an embarrassment! The offensive line is simply offensive. no notion as to how to block or motivation to do so.
    you’d think they were facing Alabama.
    Wimbush is a great kid – but, he’s a running back not a QB.
    Book should replace him. However, even then the improvement will be limited unless the O Line wakes up and
    learns to block somebody.
    Prediction: Kelly will not make the needed changes: Losses to V. Tech, Stanford, USC, FSU and either Pitt or
    Northwestern. 7-5 w/ a crummy bowl.
    I really don’t know if the O Line problem is the O Line coaching or something else. Better fix it fast. Can’t blame
    it all on Wimbush either.

    • Totally agree that Wimbush is a RB, not a QB. His arm is strong, but he never throws a spiral or sees open receivers. Just don’t see why the new normal at ND is to play DOWN to your opponent’s level. Is it supposed to be more sportsmanlike? I’m confused.When we play some better teams it’s going to be REALLY embarrassing.

      • The offense I saw on Saturday will not be able to put enough points on the board to beat Stanford or Virginia Tech. Southern Cal out there probably will be a toss-up in ND’s current state as well. There’s three potentials already.

        Are two more losses really so outlandish if ND can’t score points?

  7. Why the surprise? All of the ineptitude ND displayed today are Kelly trademarks.
    QB never improves.
    OL gets whipped by inferior opponent
    Special teams suck
    Nail biter to the end against no name
    But ND rakes in money so who cares?

  8. I had to read at the 4 o’clock Mass so I didn’t get back until the 3rd quarter. They were favored by 5 touchdowns, and it was 21-6 when I turned on the TV.

    Wimbush threw an interception, the offensive line looked pathetic, Kelly turned beet red yelling at somebody, Wimbush threw another interception – plus ca change, plus la meme.

    A nike ad came on starring Colin Kaepernick – this was new.

    I’m outta here.

  9. That was two weeks of Offensive Struggles…the end of Michigan considered.
    There is a lot of individual talent. Where is the leadership on the offensive side?
    No chance to go back one version to Kelly get-out-of-the-way 2.0?

  10. Horrible use of all the talent (especially at the WR/TE positions..

    Kelly should be coaching in the MAC..

    What a waste of time and energy…

  11. Looks like the Wimbush of 2017; I was absolutely convinced Kelly was going to put Book in, but maybe I’m undervaluing the benefits of our QB throwing into triple-coverage or just up for grabs. Hainsey didn’t get punked this week like he did against Winovich from Michigan, but watching that O-line try to perform can be brutal. Can ND stretch the field at all? I keep waiting for the promise that was Alize Mack to come to fruition. How the h*ll did Ball State not call for a review on the ND fumble? So, many questions need to be answered, and asked. For the first time in my life I was so disgusted by uninspired, piss-poor play that I almost hoped ND got beat.

  12. Nothing is going to change. Kelly is locked in on Wimbush and is too hardheaded to admit that he is not a D1 QB. Wimbush thinks way too slow and cannot go through progressions and cannot throw a good pass. Passes wobble or are over/under thrown. Open receivers are not thrown to, instead he throws into double or triple coverage. But it is not all Wimbush’s fault. ND could not get more than two yards a carry or give the QB time to throw. There are a number of true freshman QBs playing. All I heard was how Jerkovic was the deal. I see him as our savior if he gets the chance. But….Kelly knows it all and will stick with Wimbush.. Too bad! There is no chance of a title with Kelly as head coach and Wimbush as starting QB.

  13. How embarrassing. Under Kelly ND has continued their fine tradition of playing down to their opponents. In this case way down against a MAC doormat. And I’m sick of the ND punditocracy at various publications always claiming that ND can’t be expected to play well after a big game like Michigan last week.

    ND under Kelly still struggles with week to week consistency unlike other top programs. We never know which team will show up to play..

    They deserve to drop out of the top 10. I’m now thinking this is shaping up to be a 7-5 or 8-4 season.

  14. I signature Kelly game. Underperform against a bad team, horrific special teams and no offensive identity, Is anyone surprised –8 years years in a row. I would also offer this thought up: for all the B Wimbush haters–he is our best running back, our most explosive player and although his accuracy is poor, lets face it–with no blocking and all the pressure on him it would be hard to do much better. The offense line with two pre season second team all Americans, is simply poor. I would also suggest they bench T Newsome, he is a below average punter who for every 45 yard punt launches a 20 yarder to set teams up in scoring position. Eight years of zero special teams and no changes in sight.

    • I agree. Wimbush was running for his life as soon as the ball was snapped for most of the day. Against a MAC doormat no less. He either had no time to set his feet or no time.

  15. wonder what can be done to improve Wimbush. who is the QB coach? oh–yeah — that super mobile, strong armed, great decision maker –that might explain a lot

  16. Allen C Sell,'62 says:

    Sorry, but I’ll say it again- – BW should not be the QB; also, BK is not a good coach! How many times do we have to see a team that is not prepared and so much wasted talent?! ND Football is becoming such a total embarrastment because of BW & BK. Bring on Mike Brey & Muffet .

  17. Watched the game on DVR to avoid commercials and time between plays. Based on what I saw, I think it’s safe to say that BW is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of QB. Makes the right reads about half the time and the other half he makes very questionable decisions. Two of the picks can be attributed to throwing into double coverage, and he was unnecessarily sacked at times when he could have easily thrown the ball away.

    The o-line also played poor. Not being able to push around a middle MAC level d-line given the size and athleticism superiority is alarming to say the least. This effort would not have been able to beat Vanderbilt today, or really anyone left on the schedule.

    A couple of dropped passes as well, but I don’t think they would’ve made a significant difference. We left about 6-13 points on the board simply due to lack of execution.

    Schematically, something needs to change to make BW more comfortable and the o-line needs to block better to make the running game more effective. I don’t think it’s time to pull BW for Book, but Book should start to get more playing time in a more split time type approach. It doesn’t traditionally work, but in this case given BW’s lack of improvement I think it will.

    • Irish Puncheur says:

      Ball State isn’t a middle MAC level team…They were 0-8 in MAC league play last year. Dead last. Your observations about decision making on plays where he took unnecessary sacks is spot on. Several times, instead of just throwing the ball away, he took large losses. If you watch his throwing mechanics, he was throwing almost sidearm all game off of his back foot. He has a hitch in that sidearm delivery that requires his body to sink down and the ball floats on him because his feet aren’t set. You can’t fix those bad instincts/habits in a week of practice. Folks can put their head in the sand and note that we are 2-0, still ranked in the top 10, whatever. He may have better days and the team may play well enough around him in many games to cover for these deficiencies. I’m just saying what my eyes are telling me.

  18. All I can say is ditto….pathetic ……oh, I forgot a win is a win (except when it isn’t)….rah,rah, rah. Do you think we have Alabama running scared yet?

  19. In case anybody read the above comments and thought we were blown out, Winbush passed for a career high 297 yards, moving ND to 2-0 and retaining their #8 National ranking.

    • He also threw three interceptions, took four sacks, had negative seven rushing yards, all against a MAC defense.

      • To be fair, didn’t one of those interceptions go right through Boykin’s hands? The other two were very much on Wimbush.

      • …..which led to 3 Ball State points. Good thing the O Line didn’t contribute toward those stats but that would be looking at this as a team game as opposed to a referendum on one position player. Until a consistent running game is developed, Winbush gives us the best chance the win. The larger point is that neither your nor I opinion matters in the larger scheme of things and sometimes folks just need to take the victory along with a chill pill and allow Coach Kelly and his paid staff to get ready for the next opponent. And after the next victory, then the next one, all the experts can get in here and continue to the post game pontification so we know how enlightened everybody is. What’s the point in all that?

        • When the same issues occur over and over and over, maybe it should be evaluated whether or not the “paid staff” is appropriate.

    • Robert A. McReynolds says:

      Guaranteed that #8 ranking is going away. Likely to be 10 at best. And for a career high against a MAC team I’m not impressed. 3 INTs!! This team is garbage and it starts at the Athletic Director, who only wants to cash in off of ND’s mystique, and trickles on down from there. These kids are super talented, but that talent is negated by poor leadership and coaching.

  20. Who can even stand to watch this trash? If you want anything to change, stop the cash flow. Screw the overpriced tickets, the over priced T-shirt and the over-hyped experience.

  21. How many years now has Kelly been saying, “We have to coach better”? Well, when will that start happening? Never as long as his buddy Swarbrick is around.

  22. There was a time when the Notre Dame football team, the stadium named after a legendary coach, even the very phrase – Notre Dame – invoked awe and respect.

    Today – 2 games in:

    A mediocre team, a mediocre coach, almost beaten AT HOME by Ball State. Even the announcers at the game had to notice that – Ball State didn’t seem very overwhelmed by the fact that they were playing Notre Dame in this legendary stadium with 80,000 or screaming supporters.

  23. Laurence Rossi says:

    Another in a long line of underperforming ND QB’s. CK seems to adhere to the “incumbent” line instead of thinking outside the box. Book is better, as may be some underclassmen, but we’ll never know. Frankly, Wimbush is unwatchable, but then so was Kizer, Golson, Zaire…anyone see a pattern here? Kelly also left a trail at Cincinnati as well.

  24. Terrible performance after a really good win. It’s easy to overreact to this game because they were awful all the way around but I’ll reserve judgement, Contrary to what Kelly said after the game, Wimbush clearly was told to limit his running as they thought this was an easy opponent and he should’ve been able to pass at will. I guess Kelly didn’t show them the Appalachian St/Penn St game or even Utah St/MSU game. Not good to be unprepared and unmotivated. After that performance if Wimbush isnt on a short leash I give up…


    As much fun as it is for us armchair qb’s to blame the coaches when Notre Dame plays down to the level of its sub-par opponent as it did (again) last Saturday, it’s not really their fault. No matter what Kelly says about “coaching them up” or whatever, it is the responsibility of the seniors to be leaders on the team and get them to play with some fire.

    I remember Chris Zorich and what a maniac he was on the field. It was said that he played with such fire that his teammates had to do the same thing for fear of the consequences – from Zorich – if they didn’t. So far I don’t see anyone even remotely like that on either side of the ball.

    • I feel like Te’von Coney evokes that fire. But I think championships are won in the trenches (Clemson / Alabama anyone?), and we don’t have a guy on either side of the ball that’s an enforcer in there. Maybe that’s the difference…Zorich was a DT.

  26. Its not all on Wimbush when the O line stinks it up and there is no consistent running attack to open up more play action. That being said, this starts to remind me of Golson’s last season. He played like he figured he would never be replaced and his bad mistakes early in the season came back to bite us against better teams in November.

    What would Saban do if he had Book watching? Bama is good because of the coaching and player depth. Players know if they don’t perform they will be replaced.

    Of course this is all moot if we don’t get better performances from the O line in coming games. We would not be able to determine if Book was the answer if he ends up getting sacked repeatedly which would be akin to when Brady Quinn first took the helm.