BY JARIN MATHENY | Ball State Sports Link
After a historic first game for Ball State football, one where it put up 652 yards of total offense, the Cardinals travel to South Bend for the first time ever.
But, this won’t be this first time in the last 12 months Ball State takes on a Top-10 Notre Dame team.
In case you somehow forgot:
This week isn’t about what happened in the past, however. Certainly, it’s a great memory for Ball State fans and one that can provide them hope for this week.
Here’s a little extra hope for those of you are still on the fence about Notre Dame.
The talk all off season long has been about the running back group for Ball State.
James Gilbert, Malik Dunner and Caleb Huntley deserved that talk after the way each of them played in the previous two seasons.
Left in the shadows however was now redshirt Junior Riley Neal. Last Thursday night, Ball State fans were reminded how well the Cardinals starting QB can truly play.
Neal, who currently ranks fifth on Ball State’s career passing yards list, caught the attention of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.
“He’s a quarterback who could lead a Power Five team. He’s got a live arm. He’s got some nice weapons around him. He’s got three quality backs, all quality backs, and they run them all into the game.”
If Neal plays like he did last Thursday, throwing for 250+ yards, not turning the ball over, and using his legs, Ball State has a very formidable QB to lead them into Notre Dame Stadium.
THE RUNNING BACK TRIO
Even if Neal throws for 250+ yards, the Cardinal backs are still going to be a substantial part of the Ball State offense.
Notre Dame held Michigan to a lonely 58 yards rushing last weekend. If that happens to Ball State on Saturday, the Cardinals are in BIG trouble.
For the run game, everything starts up front with RS Junior James Gilbert. Gilbert, who ran for 1300 yards during his 2016 campaign, looked like he was back in JG form on Thursday night.
He hit the century mark on only 14 carries, and had a touchdown. Gilbert is likely to be the feature back for Saturday’s game but it all can’t fall on him.
That’s where Dunner and Huntley become the extra bonus Ball State needs. Dunner featured alongside Gilbert briefly against CCSU, and his speed on the edge and ability to catch the ball out of the back field can create chaos for the Irish defense.
If Dunner can get past senior buck linebacker Drue Tranquill and bounce to the edge, he could be a killer to ND’s defensive backs.
A lot of the running game will depend on if the Ball State O-line can push into that linebacking crew. And if that doesn’t happen with frequency, Caleb Huntley becomes a crucial part of the run game.
Huntley is a mere 222 pounds. For lack of a better term, he is a tank running through defenses.
If Ball State needs two yards down the stretch, count on Huntley bullying some people up front. Overall, 150+ yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers from the running back group puts Ball State in a great position.
THE DEFENSIVE FRONT 7
Make no mistake about it, a Ball State win won’t come in just a shoot out.
The defense is going to have to be a major part of the operation for the Cardinals.
The cornerbacks and safety play for Ball State should be able to continue the young receiving core for Notre Dame.
Bryce Cosby will be a major factor in his first full game back from a knee injury, but the bigger issues lies on the front seven.
The Irish are known for a having a dominant offensive line. Against Miami (OH) last season, Notre Dame ran for 333 yards, averaging 8.8 yards per carry. Now, Josh Adams is no longer the front man for the Irish offense, but that doesn’t mean Notre Dame can’t carry the ball.
If Ball State is going to slow down the run game of the Irish its going to start up front with nose tackle Chris Crumb, and in the linebacking core of Christian Albright and captain Jacob White (pictured left).
If this group on the front end can slow down the run and force Brandon Wimbush to throw, the defensive backs of Josh Miller, Cosby, and Marc Walton could create turnovers.
It may be a little odd, but Morgan Hagee could be the most important part of a close game.
Hagee entered the Top 10 in the career scoring chart, but missed his lone field goal attempt last week against CCSU.
If the Cardinals are driving down the stretch and have a chance to tie or win the game with a field goal, you have to rely on Hagee to be cool, calm and collected.
A different environment lies in front of the seasoned kicker on Saturday.
Notre Dame is 6-0 all-time against Mid-American Conference opponents, including a 52-17 win over Miami (OH) last season. Since 2010, the only other MAC team the Irish have played was Western Michigan.
The Broncos lost 44-20 in South Bend. Ball State and Notre Dame kickoff at 3:30 and the Pregame Rush will start at 3:10 on SL Digital. Full coverage of the game will continue after.
Follow the action Saturday on Sports Link Digital with Alex Thomas and Jack Kizer: mixlr.com/bsusportslink