5 keys for Notre Dame against Ball State: Stay healthy, test freshman

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Here are five keys for Notre Dame when it hosts Ball State at 3:30 EDT Saturday.


Overestimating opponents isn’t wise, but Notre Dame should stress injury prevention. Jumping to an early, commanding lead would help, and the Irish are favored by almost five touchdowns. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush might see a decrease in designed runs and should be able to concentrate on pocket passing. Right tackle Robert Hainsey, who suffered a calf strain before the season, could see a lighter workload. Notre Dame already lost defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa to a broken foot last week. The Irish wouldn’t want to lose another piece in a potential blowout.


The new redshirt rule allows freshmen to play four games without exhausting eligibility. A blowout could prompt Notre Dame to evaluate which freshmen could immediately contribute. Freshmen like receivers Joe Wilkins and Lawrence Keys III and rover Shayne Simon should see their first action. Others like quarterback Phil Jurkovec would benefit from reps in case Wimbush and/or Ian Book go down. Then there’s defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, whose role increased after Tagovailoa-Amosa’s injury. Only five freshmen saw time against Michigan: safety Houston Griffith, linebacker Bo Bauer, receiver Kevin Austin, cornerback TaRiq Bracey and Ademilola.


With quarterback Riley Neal in control, the Cardinals broke a school record against Central Connecticut State with 652 yards in their opener. The junior threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns on 23-for-30 passing. He also rushed for 37 yards and a score on six carries. Ball State’s offensive line did not yield a sack either. The defensive line duo of Khalid Kareem (8 tackles, 1.5 TFLs) and Jerry Tillery (4 tackles, 2 sacks) present a much bigger challenge. Pressure might rattle Neal, who has thrown 21 interceptions across 26 career games.


Notre Dame does not enter the match against Ball State with many pressing questions. The running back position, for instance, might work best as a one-two punch between Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. Ian Book’s two appearances last week — both handoffs — suggested there’s no ongoing quarterback competition. The Irish offensive line might test a few things, though. Notre Dame replaced Hainsey with Tommy Kraemer for 13 plays across two drives last week, elevating Josh Lugg to starting right guard. The Irish might wish to limit Hainsey as a precautionary measure while giving reps to the unit with Lugg and Kraemer. As a result of Shaun Crawford tearing his ACL, the Irish could also experiment with their secondary.


Notre Dame’s senior quarterback came out firing against Michigan, completing four passes beyond 15 yards in the first quarter. He treated the second half conservatively, and a couple poor decisions led to just 22 yards and an interception on 2-of-7 passing. Improving his accuracy would continue to boost Wimbush’s confidence. Wimbush was 12-of-22 (54.5 percent) on Saturday. Ball State cornerback Josh Miller will look to disrupt any pocket passing development. He ranked second in the MAC with 13 passes defended last season.

Notre Dame’s Jayson Ademilola (57) and Asmar Bilal (22) chase down Michigan’s Chris Evans (12) during last Saturday’s game in South Bend.

At Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, IN

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.


Series history: First-ever game

Betting line: Notre Dame by 34½