Notebook: Anticipated Notre Dame youth movement stuck in a time warp
SOUTH BEND — So much for a youth movement?
Two games into the 2018 season and equipped with a new redshirt rule that encourages freshmen participating, eighth-ranked Notre Dame is sort of stuck in a time warp so far.
Perhaps the closeness of its games — 24-17 over Michigan and, surprisingly, 24-16 over five-touchdown underdog Ball State, Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium — has contributed to the slow rollout of first-year players.
In the opener against Michigan, Irish head coach Brian Kelly played five freshmen: safety Houston Griffith, linebacker Bo Bauer, cornerback TaRiq Bracy, defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola and wide receiver Kevin Austin.
That’s the fewest true freshmen to play in an opener in the Kelly Era. The high point is 10 in three different seasons — versus Texas in 2015, versus Rice in 2014 and versus Temple in 2013. The previous low was six in Kelly’s first season, 2010 against South Florida.
Saturday against Ball State, three more freshmen made their debuts — rover Shayne Simon, offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson and running back C’Bo Flemister, the latter as a kickoff return man. All five who played in the opener also saw action against the Cardinals (1-1).
Flemister returned three kickoffs for 65 yards, with a long of 26 yards. Bauer recorded his first career tackle for the Irish (2-0), and Griffth was the only other freshman to crack the stat column against Ball State with a pass breakup that was nearly an interception.
With the new redshirt rule that allows up to four games of participation without burning a year of eligibility, Kelly could conceivably play all 27 freshmen in 2018 at some point.
Heavy heart for Neal
The day before Ball State quarterback Riley Neal threw a scare into the eighth-ranked Notre Dame football team, he had to endure some unsettling news back in his hometown of Yorktown, Ind., involving his father, Jesse.
According to the Muncie Star Press, FBI agents on Friday morning raided the Yorktown home of the elder Neal, a longtime police officer and investigator for the Muncie Police Department. He is also a former Ball State football player.
FBI spokeswoman Chris Bavender told the Star Press that the search was a result of "court authorized activity" and that agents executed "a federal search warrant." Bavender told the papers that no arrests were made on Friday.
Riley Neal was 12-of-33 passing for 100 yards and two interceptions through the first three quarters on Saturday, but went 11-of-17 for 80 yards and a TD in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals were rallying.
He added 35 rushing yards on seven carries for the game.
By the numbers
With four pass breakups Saturday against Ball State, junior cornerback Julian Love leaped over Cole Luke and Shane Walton and into a tie for third (27) with Luther Bradley on the Notre Dame career list.
Harrison Smith is one PBU ahead of Love in second place all-time. Clarence Ellis, whose season record Love broke last season, is the Irish career leader with 32.
• The 97 offensive plays Ball State ran Saturday are the most of the coach Brian Kelly Era. The total surpasses by one the 96 Northwestern ran in a 43-40 overtime upset of the Irish in 2014.
It was just the 10th time in the Kelly Era that an Irish opponent has hit the 85-play mark or more.
• With three extra points and a 46-yard field goal Saturday, senior kicker Justin Yoon leapfrogged Irish running backs coach and ND all-time leading rusher Autry Denson for fourth place on ND’s all-time scoring list.
Yoon has 287 career points. Just ahead, by a single point in third place, is former Irish kicker Kyle Brindza.