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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Ball State wide receiver Justin Hall jumps over Notre Dame safety Jalen Elliott during the second half of Notre Dame's 24-16 win in South Bend on Saturday.

Sunday, September 09, 2018 1:00 am

Notre Dame 24 Ball State 16

Irish victorious, but they're not smiling

Teams' 1st matchup closer than expected

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – There were a lot of long faces among the Notre Dame players after the Irish left the field Saturday.

Notre Dame safety Jalen Elliott intercepted two passes, running back Tony Jones Jr. scored two touchdowns and the Irish eked out a 24-16 victory over MAC opponent Ball State in front of an announced crowd of 77,622 at Notre Dame Stadium.

It was not a resounding victory and the players knew it.

“We're kind of all disappointed in the locker room,” offensive lineman and captain Alex Bars said. “We know we can execute and play a lot better.”

Coach Brian Kelly, on the other hand, thought his players might be being too hard on themselves and wanted to remind everyone that the Irish are 2-0.

“You can never apologize for winning,” Kelly said. “Winning's hard. First and foremost, you won a football game.”

Kelly wasn't content with the victory, which the Irish didn't clinch until the final minutes when Fort Wayne native Drue Tranquill recovered an onside kick, but he thought the problems Notre Dame had are fixable. One of his biggest gripes was that the Irish didn't play with the kind of enthusiasm they had in a resounding Week 1 victory over Michigan.

“Did we live up to the standards that we set in the way that we play?” said Kelly, who also blamed himself for not coaching better. “No. … You've gotta bring the energy necessary to play this game. It's not chess, it's football. It requires an energy that may have been lacking.”

The Irish did have that energy early in the game. They took the ball to start and gained 27 yards on the first play and 42 on the second. Later in that opening drive, Jafar Armstrong ran through a huge hole on the left side of the line and scored from a yard out to give the Irish a lead they would hold all afternoon.

It was the start of a big day for the freshman Armstrong, who gained 66 yards on 13 carries and also caught three passes for 61 yards, demonstrating his versatility.

That was as good as the offense looked in the game, however. The offensive line was inconsistent, often giving quarterback Brandon Wimbush little time to throw. Wimbush gamely hung in the pocket and took several big hits from fired-up Cardinal pass rushers – he was sacked four times – and threw for a career-high 297 yards. 

The quarterback also made some questionable decisions, though, and several times threw into coverage. Ball State (1-1) took advantage and picked off three passes, which helped the Cardinals keep the game close.

“Probably a D, D-plus,” Wimbush said when asked to grade his performance. “You can't throw three interceptions and win games that are gonna be vital to the team's success. … I'm not going to lack confidence, but I've gotta be better.”

The Irish defense carried the team across the finish line, with Elliott's interceptions playing a large role. Both picks, the first two of the junior safety's career, led to Notre Dame touchdowns, including a 31-yard run from Jones Jr. early in the second half that put the Irish in front 21-6.

Ball State had a school-record 652 yards in a Week 1 win over Central Connecticut, but managed just 349 against the Irish, despite running a whopping 97 plays. Linebacker Te'von Coney had a huge game, racking up 14 tackles, including three for loss, and adding a sack.

dsinn@jg.net