Notre Dame had a chance to beat up on a team from the MAC, get their starters some rest, and give their backups some valuable experience. They didn’t and ended up having to hold on for dear life over Ball State. Needless to say there was plenty to not like. Amazingly though, as I sat down to write this, I did have a bit of a difficult time coming up with five because so much of what I didn’t like can all be traced back to one thing. So let’s just jump right in.
1. The offensive game plan from Notre Dame
I am going to continue to beat a dead horse here, but the offensive game plan from Notre Dame needs to be placed in a trash can, set on fire, and then the ashes spread on the visitors sidelines so that the bad juju from them hopefully wears off.
Leading up to the game I had actually written that I hoped Brian Kelly and Chip Long would use the weekend to work on the passing game and not just rely on the run. I never imagined they would call a game that basically asked Brandon Wimbush to be a pocket passer while simultaneously negating his best asset – his legs.
Kelly can state as many times as he wants that there was not any effort made to limit Wimbush’s running plays but when your running quarterback doesn’t have his number called once on a run while the Irish struggle, I’m not buying it.
Notre Dame seemed to treat this game as an extra practice offensively – to work on some things. It nearly backfired horribly for them. While their were execution issues, the Notre Dame staff did not put their players in a position to succeed and they asked their quarterback – who showed signs of improvement in week one – to be someone that he is not. The fans want to get all over Brandon Wimbush, but the gameplan this weekend set him up to fail.
2. The lack of adjustments when the offense clearly was stuck in neutral
Usually when things don’t go as planned a coaching staff adjusts and goes back to what they know works. Clark Lea did it after the first drive. The Irish defense came out in some soft zone coverage that Ball State quarterback Riley Neal ate up as he led the Cardinals on a 19 play drive. Lea adjusted immediately and put his corners in press coverage. It worked.
When the Notre Dame offense struggled, offensive coordinator Chip Long and Brian Kelly had no answer. They just kept asking Brandon Wimbush to drop back and pass. They eventually called a few designed runs for him in the second half, but they still asked their quarterback to play with one arm tied behind his back essentially.
When the Notre Dame offense struggled, Notre Dame failed to make the adjustments necessary to jump start their offense. It ended up not mattering this week. If it happens again this season, most of the remaining opponents for the Irish will make them pay more than Ball State was able to.
3. Special teams struggles for a second week in a row
Notre Dame struggled in almost every phase of special teams again this week. There was a missed field goal, a kickoff out of bounds, and another bad day of punting. The coverage unites were OK this week, but with an opponent like Ball State it’s tough to know if that was a result of scheme or just talent taking over.
Justin Yoon’s miss was his first of the season and he’s made a 46 and 48 yarder already this season, so one miss ins’t cause for concern. Tyler Newsome’s punting, however, has been an issue both last week and this week now. His last punt of the day traveled27 yards in the air and he averaged less than 40 yards a kick. That is not going to get it done in tougher games where Notre Dame has to win the field position battle.
At some point, Notre Dame will also have to consider handing over the kick-off duties to Yoon. He’s capable to booming touchbacks almost every time. It might be time to just let him do it and work through Doerer’s issues in practice.
4. All of the turnovers
I said earlier that Brandon Wimbush was not put in a position to succeed this weekend with the game plan. That said, two of the interceptions he threw were the result of bad decisions. The third interception could have been avoided too. Wimbush made a good read but his pass got ever so slightly tipped before hitting Miles Boykin in the hands. Yes, the ball was tipped but when it still hits a receiver square in the hands, it needs to get caught.
Notre Dame is not going to win many games in which it turns the ball over three times. Against a Ball State three turnovers are surmountable. They won’t be against Stanford or on the road at Virginia Tech in a few weeks.
With Notre Dame’s defense the offense needs to simply be efficient and not turn the ball over to win most games.
5. The struggles of the offensive line
We knew there would be some regression with the offensive line after losing two top 10 NFL draft picks, but no one saw regression to the point of struggling against a defensive front like Ball State. Notre Dame couldn’t line up and maul Ball State the way that they should be able to given the talent gap. That is concerning. It’s not alarming yet since it’s still early in the season, but it is concerning.
When the offensive line struggled at times against Michigan it was understandable – and expected. Michigan has one of the best defensive front sevens in the country. It was not expected against a Ball State team that was one of the worst defenses in the MAC last year. Notre Dame’s starting five all have NFL talent so it’s not time to hit the panic button just yet, but the offensive line does need to make some major strides in a short period of time with the late September/early October schedule the Irish face.
For all of the bad from this game, there still was some good to come out of that and I dissected that in the weekly 5 Things I Liked column.
BONUS: No holding penalties on Ball State
This is another topic that has been beat to death on Twitter, but Ball State got away with numerous blatant holding calls right in the front of officials. The Cardinals ran 97 plays and holding was not called on a single one of them.
Hey guys watching this back I'm getting the sense #75 was not on the level yesterday. I'm two drives into this thing. pic.twitter.com/9yUwNW7x0g
— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) September 9, 2018