Notre Dame entered Saturday ranked 8th in the country and as a 34.5 point favorite overly a lowly MAC opponent. Notre Dame will exit the weekend with a lot of questions and very few answers following a 24-16 win over Ball State. The Irish looked lifeless a week after taking down the Wolverines and had to hold on for dear life against a team they should have dominated just by playing their “B” game.
Notre Dame had an opportunity to dominate an opponent and save their starers some work a week after a slugfest. That didn’t happen as the Irish struggled at times in all phases of the game although none more painfully obvious than on offense where they put up just 24 points on a Ball State team that had one of the worst defenses in the MAC a year ago.
Let’s crack open this week’s post game 6-pack. None you may need an actual 6-pack after watching that game.
1. Notre Dame’s offensive game plan this week was terrible
Before diving into the play of the quarterback, let’s start with the offensive gameplan because it was a flat out terrible. We heard all summer long that Notre Dame was going to call games for the player that Brandon Wimbush is and not who they’d like him to be. Today they called a game for a pocket passer – not an athletic quarterback who makes plays with his legs more than arm most days.
Notre Dame didn’t call a designed quarterback run until the third quarter. After the pounding that Wimbush took last week, it made sense to limit his hits, but his best asset right now is his scrambling ability and Brian Kelly and Chip Long took that out of the arsenal completely in the first half. They didn’t move the pocket for Wimbush until the second half either. Both areas were somewhat corrected at half time, but the game plan coming in was a train wreck.
The Notre Dame running game was too entirely too much east/west against an opponent Notre Dame should have been able to dominate. On the game Notre Dame averaged 3.0 yards per carry on 40 carries against Ball State. That is simply embarrassing.
If the game plan was predicated on Notre Dame making an effort to save hits on Wimbush they should have just started Ian Book because Kelly and Long devised a gameplan that highlighted all of Brandon Wimbush’s weaknesses. So much for calling the games for the player Wimbush is.
Bottom line, the Notre Dame offense gained just 416 yards and scored all of 24 points on one of the worst teams in the MAC. Notre Dame’s lack of scoring also prevented the Irish from getting their reserves some valuable snaps this week. Instead the starters had to play the entire game when they should have been on the sidelines by the middle of the third quarter.
2.Brandon Wimbush was erratic at best
So the game plan did not do Brandon Wimbush any favors today. He is not ever going to be a quarterback that is going to dropback and pick a defense apart. He was asked to do that today so it’s almost natural that he would struggle when asked to do things he doesn’t excel at.
The wide receivers didn’t do Wimbush too many favors either. Avery Davis short armed a would be touchdown without any defenders around him in the second quarter. Notre Dame ended up not scoring on the drive. Miles Boykin had a pass bounce off his hands right to a Ball State defender. The pass was tipped slightly but it also hit Boykin squarely in the both hands.
That said, Wimbush made more than enough errors of his own that Notre Dame’s offensive struggles weren’t just the fault of the game plan.
Wimbush threw three interceptions on the afternoon, but easily could have had four or five. A couple of Wimbush throws that probably should have been picked off feel to the ground when Ball State couldn’t haul them in. He ended the day 17 of 31 for 297 yards which are actually pretty decent numbers for him.
Stats aside though, this was one of the worst performances we’ve seen from Wimbush over the last two years. By the second half he was clearly uncomfortable in the pocket and even sacked himself once when he panicked on a three man rush that he had the talent to easily escape.
After last week’s promising start to the season for Wimbush, it’s almost back to the drawing board for him and Notre Dame after what we saw today.
3. The Notre Dame defense played way too many snaps and was inconsistent
The Notre Dame defense was on the field way too much against Ball State. Part of that was their own fault. While their offensive counterparts didn’t help much this week by failing to ever establish any sort of offensive rhythm, the defense was inconsistent.
It started on the first drive of the game when Ball State marched down the field in 19 plays. It doesn’t matter than the drive only netted three points on a field goal. It lasted 19 plays. That shouldn’t happen against a bottom feeder from the MAC. After that drive the defense adjusted and played more aggressive coverage, but a week after a dominating performance against Michigan, they looked just OK against Ball State.
The defense did do some really good things again. It was great to see the safety position produce an interception – or two even – with a pair of picks from Jalen Elliott. Tevon Coney had another monster game with 14 tackles, 3.0 TFL, and his first sack of the season.
In a week that Notre Dame should have been able to get their backups playing time, they ended up running their starters into the ground and it took it’s toll on the defense as the game wore on.
4. The offensive line needs a lot of work
We knew the Irish offensive line would take a bit of a step back after losing both Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson in addition to offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, but the play of the line that last two weeks is a bit concerning at this point. Notre Dame couldn’t push around a smaller, inferior defensive line like Ball State. Last year Notre Dame pushed around the defensive lines of Michigan State, USC, and NC State.
New starter Liam Eichenberg had another rough day at the office, but he wasn’t alone in his struggles. Even veterans like Sam Mustipher had rough outings today. Jeff Quinn has a lot of work to do over the next few weeks because a performance like this one in a couple of weeks against Stanford and the Cardinal will eat the Irish line alive.
5. Seriously, not one holding call all day?
If you follow Notre Dame football on Twitter, this was one of the hot topics throughout the game. Ball State kept the Notre Dame defensive line in check at times but they also were not called for a single holding penalty in over 100 plays. Really? There was not one play where the undersized and overmatched Ball State offensive line didn’t hold? Somethng tells me that is highly unlikely.
6. Special teams were spotty for a second week in a row
Jeff Quinn isn’t the only position coach with work on his hands the next few weeks. Brian Polian has his work cut out for him with his special teams units after another rough week. Jonathan Doerer pushed another kickoff out of bounds, Justin Yoon missed a 45 yard field goal, and Tyler Newsome had another poor day punting the football.
Newsome’s struggles are particularly concerning since he is a 5th year senior and captain. He punted the ball five times against Ball State for an average of just 36.4 yards with a long of 43. None of his punts landed inside the 20 either so the lack of yardage isn’t from a few pooch punts skewing his average either. Simply put, Notre Dame needs better punting out of one of their captains.
Two weeks into the season Notre Dame’s special teams appear to be more of a liability than a weapon at this point. That needs to change in a hurry.