Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. Ball State

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Saturday’s game will be the first matchup between Notre Dame and Ball State on the football field. The Cardinals are the 146th different opponent for the Irish.

Ball State set a program record with 652 yards of offense in its season opener against Central Connecticut State.

Ball State has only nine seniors on its roster. Only Illinois, with eight, has fewer seniors on an FBS roster.

QB Brandon Wimbush

Wimbush should be able to run all over Ball State’s defense if he needs to. But the Irish will likely try to limit his carries and let the running backs shoulder that burden. The matchup with the Cardinals should allow for Wimbush to show his improvement as a passer. Only six FBS teams finished with a worse passing efficiency defense than Ball State last season. Wimbush needs to take advantage of opportunities like this to gain confidence as a thrower. Can he hit a 57 percent completion rate in a start for the second time in his career?

DE Khalid Kareem

Kareem was a menace against the home-state Wolverines. Only linebacker Te’von Coney had more than Kareem’s eight tackles. The junior’s pass rush was effective too. He delivered Notre Dame’s first sack of the season and knocked Michigan out of field goal range. He also provided the initial pressure on quarterback Shea Patterson when he fumbled the ball on the final drive. The Irish will want Kareem to make Ball State quarterback Riley Neal uncomfortable after he wasn’t sacked in the season opener.

WR Justin Hall

Hall was the go-to target in Ball State’s passing game last season as a freshman. His 78 receptions were 48 more than the second-leading receiver and more than the second-, third- and fourth-leading receivers combined. He finished the season with 839 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Hall didn’t light it up in the season opener against Central Connecticut State, but he still led the Cardinals with five receptions. Expect quarterback Riley Neal to look Hall’s way often Saturday.

RB Malik Dunner

Dunner likely won’t lead Ball State in carries against Notre Dame. That distinction will probably go to James Gilbert, who turned 14 carries into 100 yards and one touchdown last week. But Dunner makes big plays in a number of ways. Five of his 12 career touchdowns have come on plays of more than 40 yards. He led Ball State in scoring (54 points), finished fourth on the team in receptions (18), and averaged 24.4 yards per kick return last season including a 93-yard touchdown against UAB.

Notre Dame’s Khalid Kareem (53) celebrates a big stop during Notre Dame’s win over Michigan last Saturday.
Running back Malik Dunner led Ball State in scoring last season with 54 points.