Whenever you think Brian Kelly has figured it out, he lets you know you have no idea. Following last weeks big win against Michigan, the formula seemed to be in place. Lead with the run, challenge defenses with Brandon Wimbush’s legs, throw over the top of them with play action. After all, why play Wimbush if you have other plans in mind? It all made sense.
So naturally, Notre Dame countered the conventional wisdom with 35 drop backs from the quarterback against overmatched Ball State, and just five called Wimbush runs. Wimbush delivered the performance you’d expect with that kind of ratio, with some dazzling throws and some throws that could be characterized as whatever the opposite of dazzling is. He finished the day with 297 passing yards, three interceptions, four sacks, and 8 yards on those five called runs.
As you’d suspect, the offense was disjointed, finishing with 414 total yards, with just 117 rushing yards, the three turnovers, and a missed field goal. Brian Kelly, welcome back.
I’m including Asmar Bilal with the two other stars, because he’s played really good football the first two weeks as well. Te’Von Coney is on pace to finish the regular season with 144 tackles and 21 tackles for loss, Bilal with 54 tackles, and Tranquill 96 tackles. Notre Dame’s defense (and team) aren’t going to be anything without stellar play from Tranquill and Coney, so this is great to see. Bilal though has been a surprise, and is really going to play a big role when Stanford comes to town. He was once thought of as someone stealing snaps till Notre Dame goes nickel and put Shaun Crawford on the field. With the injury to Crawford, Bilal playing well become more of a necessity and he has delivered.
Despite a deflected pass off of his hands that ended in an interception, Boykin was key to the passing game, with several big catches over the middle to give Notre Dame life. He finished with six receptions and 119 yards, looking every bit like the reliable target the Irish offense needs him to be.
Quite the turn of events for Elliott, who figured to be the back up to Nick Coleman at safety next to Alohi Gilman, then Crawford went down, Coleman moved to nickel, and Elliott was the starter again. He responded yesterday with his first two career interceptions and seven tackles. After five tackles against Michigan, included one that stole the soul of a wolverine tight end, Elliott has made the most of his early opportunity. Elliott was one of my Now or Never features over the summer, along with Bilal, and I mentioned regarding both of them to watch out for the second season post-BVG gains we might see. Both needed development out of high school, neither got it under their original coordinator, and it looks like competent coaching has paid off mightily for both players.
Jafar Armstrong/Theo Riddick comparisons
It was all on display Saturday, with Armstrong bursting up the middle for long gains on the ground, and running seam and corner routes out of the slot to gash the defense through the air. He has even taken to sticking the ball out for needless reasons while going into the end zone a la Riddick, so he has fully embraced the role.
It's funny that Kelly compared Armstrong to Riddick and now Armstrong is sticking the ball out across the goal line when he doesn't have to just like Theo did. pic.twitter.com/QThG0q5GJC
— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) September 7, 2018
The Offensive Line
They struggled against Michigan, which was understandable because Michigan has got some real dudes on defense. However, when the same struggles appear against Ball State, there is a problem. The Cardinals registered 10 tackles for loss against Notre Dame, including four sacks, and four other quarterback hurries. They were in the backfield for Notre Dame consistently, costing them about 50 yards in lost yardage. In 41 carries against Ball State, the running game produced just 117 yards, 2.9 per carry. That’s not good. Even without running their quarterback, the line should be able to produce more than that. It goes without saying, Notre Dame won’t be anything this season if that group doesn’t get it figured out. They have introduced new players in new positions, so this wasn’t totally unexpected. But struggles like this against one of the worst defenses they’ll see doesn’t bode well.
The Kicking Game
Yoon missed a field goal from inside 50 yards, Tyler Newsome continues to throw in a dud punt every so often, and Jonathan Doerer can’t seem to figure out how to kickoff. The most troubling is Yoon, because he’s the best of the three, and because Newsome and Doerer have struggled before, so it’s kind of a known thing. However, if Notre Dame is going to employ a full-time special teams coach, then this sort of thing can’t be happening, full stop.
Figure out how to kickoff the way you want, figure out how to get your senior captain to be more consistent. This riff raff on kickoff has already cost them a touchdown.