SOUTH BEND—Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly fell on his sword after his eighth-ranked Fighting Irish struggled offensively against Ball State in what many assumed would be a tuneup game.
”I obviously didn’t do a good enough job getting them up to play at the level they need to play,” Kelly said. ”Ball State did a great job coming into this game and doing what it needed to do. Their preparation was great, their coaching was better.”
On the scoreboard, it was a 24-16 victory for Notre Dame. But it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty.The Irish (2-0), coming off an emotional 24-17 victory over Michigan, looked lackluster against the Mid-American Conference foe whose campus in Muncie is a 2 1/2-hour drive away. The Cardinals (1-1) also played nothing like the 34 1/2-point underdogs they were labeled in the schools’ first meeting in football.Junior strong safety Jalen Elliott picked off Ball State quarterback Riley Neal twice – the first interceptions by a Notre Dame safety in the last 14 games – and the Irish turned them into a pair of rushing touchdowns of 31 and 1 yards by junior Tony Jones Jr. It gave the Irish a 21-6 lead in the third quarter, but Ball State wasn’t done.
”Hats off to Ball State,” Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill said after making nine stops and securing the victory by recovering an onside kick with 1:30 remaining. ”They came here and competed.”
Notre Dame outgained Ball State 414-349 but the Cardinals ran off 97 plays to Notre Dame’s 72 and controlled the clock for 8:44 more than the Irish.Following a 46-yard field goal by Justin Yoon that gave the Irish a 24-6 lead going into the fourth quarter, Nolan Givan caught a 10-yard scoring pass from Neal, who threw for 180 yards but completed just 23 of 50 passes. A 49-yard field goal by Ball State’s Morgan Hagee, his third of the game, closed out the scoring.Junior James Gilbert rushed for 72 yards for Ball State, which outgained Notre Dame on the ground, 169-117. Sophomore Jafar Armstrong led the Irish with 66 yards, including a 42-yard scamper up the middle in the first quarter that he followed with a 1-yard scoring run two plays later. Jones finished with 61 yards.The Cardinals’ 3-4 defense frustrated senior Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who threw for 297 yards but finished with minus 7 yards rushing as Ball State registered four sacks and picked off three of his passes.