Wednesday, September 5, 2018

No. 8 Notre Dame and Ball State meet for the first time ever in an in-state showdown

Photo Credit: Robin Alam- Icon Sportswire

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

Since beginning play in 1887, it is hard to believe the No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1-0) have not connected with the Ball State Cardinals (1-0). Things will change on Saturday as the two teams hook up for the first time on the gridiron at Notre Dame Stadium.

Ball State is coming off of a 42-6 victory over Football Championship Subdivision opponent Central Connecticut State. The Cardinals put on an offensive clinic, compiling over 650 yards of offense and setting a new school record. 

Following a disappointing 2017 season with a 2-10 mark, the Cardinals continue to look forward to the future. In the next several years, Ball State will take on several Power Five opponents including Kentucky, Tennessee, Penn State, Michigan, NC State, and Indiana. 

“So now moving on to Ball State, a talented offensive group lead by Riley Neal. He’s an outstanding quarterback,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in Tuesday’s press conference. “He’s a quarterback that could run a Power Five team. He is an NFL prospect.”

Neal threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Central Connecticut State.

“He’s got some nice weapons around him,” Kelly said. “He’s got three very good backs, all quality backs, and they run him into the game.”

Ball State’s backfield is highlighted by James Gilbert and Caleb Huntley. Gilbert was All-Mac First Team in 2016 before missing a large chunk of the 2017 campaign with injuries. Gilbert rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries last week. Huntley filled in for Gilbert last season and became the leading rusher on the Cardinals in 2017. Gilbert had eight carries for 73 yards in the opener.

The Irish jumped to No. 8 in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls following a 24-17 victory over No. 21 Michigan on Sept. 1. While the team was jubilated following their week one rivalry win, they are still not satisfied with where they are at.

“What we learned is that we have to finish off an opponent,” Kelly said. “We had opportunities to put Michigan in a very difficult position, and we did not, and so I think we learned a lot from that experience.”

Brandon Wimbush led the Irish offense against the Wolverines with 170 yards and a touchdown through the air, while also adding 77 yards on the ground. Jafar Armstrong had a solid first game in a Notre Dame uniform contributing 43 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns.

The Irish look to open with two straight victories as they continue on their three-game homestand to start the season.