Following up a huge win over the Michigan Wolverines in last weekend’s season opener, your Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has moved up to the #8 ranking and moved on to a home tilt against the Ball State Cardinals this Saturday.
As a team that the Irish have never played, I felt it was my duty to once again reach out to experts on our opponent to understand things like what their QB is good at, who the defensive players to watch are, how the Cardinals stand any sort of chance as a 30+ point underdog, and whether Yo’Heinz Tyler’s name is superior to C’Borius Flemister.
With the help of my friends James Jimenez and James Snyder at Hustle Belt, as well as my Official Panel of College Football Fans (my friends), we cover everything you need to know for Saturday’s matchup.
Let’s dive right in!
1. How do you think Ball State’s year is gonna go in 2018? Is there anything you can glean from a 42-6 win over Central Connecticut?
James Jimenez: Usually, there isn’t too much to glean from such a beatdown, but honestly, it just means a lot for Ball State to win after a rough 2017 campaign which saw the Cardinals flounder due to a great variety of injuries and bad luck.
Both sides of the ball, after a bit of a slow start, looked really good and seem to be in prime condition to grow and learn in a pivotal third year for head coach Mike Neu. Everyone seems healthy and everyone (outside of an odd performance from Justin Hall) looked fairly decent. They’ll probably cause a bit of noise down the road.
James Snyder: Last season the Cardinals were brutalized with injuries unlike any team I have seen. I think the 42-6 win over Central Connecticut was a nice little warm up to the 2018 season, and shows that Ball State is clicking fairly well on offense.
A good Ball State team should roll over a team like Central Connecticut, and they did. I believe Ball State will have a solid year in 2018, and compete for a bowl game.
2. Tell me about Cardinals QB Riley Neal - what does he do well and what does he do not well?
James Jimenez: Riley Neal has a great chemistry with his receivers when he’s standing upright. He’s a traditional pocket passer with a great pocket presence who can cause damage with accurate passing.
Prior to his injury, Neal was on pace to have the highest passing completion percentage in the league (67.7 percent through three games). He’s not a true dual-threat kind of guy, but he’s got enough wheels to make defenders think twice as well. Having spent a year on the sidelines, he should be absolutely eager to get going.
That said, when the talent isn’t around Neal, it gets to be a bit of a hard time for him. His arm in terms of strength is okay, and his numbers can be at times padded by a lot of yards after catch from extremely capable receivers. That’s where he’ll probably have the most problems with Notre Dame: finding or creating an open receiver.
James Snyder: He is a gamer that really does a lot well, including moving his feet, and he generally doesn’t make a bunch of dumb decisions.
He doesn’t have a cannon, but does move the ball around the field fairly well.
3. Does Ball State have much of a running game, and do you think the Cardinals’ o-line will be able to get any sort of push against ND defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s front seven?
James Jimenez: Ball State runs three deep at the running back position, with James Gilbert leading the way as the bellcow back. Gilbert ran for over 1,000 yards in 2016 and looked prime to own 2017 before getting injured three games into the season. In 2016, Gilbert averaged a ridiculous 111 yards per game on the ground and touched the ball 251 times overall. He’s the lynchpin of this BSU offense.
Don’t count out the backups, either. Caleb Huntley (1,003 yards and three touchdowns on 210 carries in 2016 in relief of Gilbert) and Malik Dunner (579 total offensive yards and nine touchdowns in 2016) have shown themselves to be awesome changes of pace for the Cardinals as well.
The thing is, though, it’ll ultimately be up to the offensive line to produce holes for those backs to go through, and as it stands, I don’t particularly have a lot of faith in the line as it currently is to be able to hold up for too long.
James Snyder: Doubtful that they get much of a push, but that is the glory of the Ball State rushing game. They have Neal when the play breaks down, who rushed for 500 yards in 2016.
Like Neal, running back James Gilbert only played three games last season, and he rushed for 1,332 in 2016. He is a smaller, shifty back who is patient and can find holes without the line blowing people off the ball. If the ND line is too aggressive, both Neal and Gilbert can make them pay.
Caleb Huntley is a bigger back and Malik Dunner caught 4 balls out of the backfield against CC, so it wont just be up to Gilbert, either.
4. Tell me about the Ball State defense - is there anyone special on that side of the ball that ND fans might need to worry about?
James Jimenez: There are two names in particular which stand out to me: cornerback Josh Miller and linebacker Jacob White.
Miller is probably the best player in the secondary for the Cardinals, making 11 starts in 11 games last season with 14 passes defended (good enough for second in the league), and he’s regarded as one of the better corners in the MAC, despite low interception numbers (one INT with a touchdown return).
White played most of last season with a broken bone in his right hand, wearing a cast so as not to lose any time. You can’t question his toughness in that regard, and his numbers paced the defense as well, as he compiled 72 tackles, three sacks, and five tackles for loss in 2017.
James Snyder: This season is a mystery on that side of the ball. There have been a few bright spots, but no one has really stood out so far. This is the type of game where someone can make a name for himself, I suppose.
5. Is there a way you see Ball State staying in this game and having a chance at an upset? What would they have to do to be in a position to shock the Fighting Irish?
James Jimenez: They basically have to be perfect from the start. The running game will have to open up enough holes for the passing game to really get going, otherwise the Cards will be much too easy to fold. While BSU’s stable of backs rivals the talent on some P5 rosters, even they can’t hold back linebackers if they’re in their face constantly.
This is also a team which has done a lot of losing in recent years and will have to grow and learn how to win. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to keep their composure for too long. That said, if Gilbert can get going and the change-of-pace backs contribute on secondary downs, the Cards have several players on the outside numbers, including Justin Hall, Corey Lacanaria, Yo’Heinz Taylor, and Riley Miller who can make things happen.
James Snyder: With turnovers, there is always a chance.
WE INTERRUPT THIS VERY GOOD Q&A FOR SOMETHING INCREDIBLY STUPID: TIME FOR A WORD FROM PAT’S PERSONAL PANEL OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL FANS, AKA SOME BUDDIES OF HIS
This week, we’re bringing Hux back after his fantastic shit-talking of Michigan last week, and adding in Sergi AKA Serglock Holmes, a Ball State grad who is all about chirp-chirping and beating 34 1⁄2 point spreads. Here’s how our conversation about the game went:
Pat Rick: ND might have some huge games in the last week of September and first week of October.
Hux: All I see is Ball State on Saturday. Focused on the Cardinals.
Pat Rick: All I see is potential top 10 opponents two weeks in a row after ND plays 3 bad teams.
Hux: @SerglockHolmes How do you feel about Notre Dame looking past the Mighty Fighting Cardinals? No respect.
Pat Rick: LOVE that in this question my attitude represents Notre Dame’s football team’s attitude.
Hux: Ball State had 652 yards of offense last week. Only gave up 291. This isn’t the Little Sisters of the Poor or a Harbaugh-coached Michigan team we’re talking about. Publish THAT.
Serglock Holmes: It’s honestly too bad Aretha Franklin just died, because she could’ve taught the Irish a lesson about R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Hux: She’s DEAD...DEAD. Unlike the title hopes of Ball State Cardinals Football.
Serglock Holmes: LITTLE Irish Leprechauns still sour that BIG Charlie Cardinal embarrassed them in basketball last winter! Sad!
Hux: Personally can’t wait for @SerglockHolmes to start the chant “JUST LIKE BASKETBALL” as the time ticks down on the upset
Hux: (And by upset I mean lose by less than 34.5 points)
Hux: I’ll give you one thousand dollars to run on the field after the game and plant a Ball State flag in the middle of the field
1. I don’t know anyone who has paid actual American currency for a Ball State flag.
2. I’m sitting nosebleeds for this game and I would be winded and pass out before I even hit the field running down those stairs
Serglock Holmes: Imagine just a drunk, sweaty, adult breathing heavily, dry heaving and slowly dragging himself down the last 10 steps. Only to collapse at the field and on a desperate attempt, javelin-throw the flag towards the 50
Pat Rick: I would watch an entire movie based on that
And that was Talking About Ball State Football With Pat’s Friends. Now, back to our regularly-scheduled Q&A.
6. Who has the better name and why -- ND’s C’Borius Flemister or Ball State’s Yo’Heinz Tyler?
James Jimenez: Flemister is the better last name, certainly, but there’s no way in hell you’re beating Yo’Heinz for a first name. We’re talking about the best damn ketchup in the world, man. Hands down. I only wish receivers could wear numbers in the 50s so he could have the 57.
James Snyder: Yo’Heinz Tyler would if the NCAA wouldn’t have the number restrictions and he could wear the number 57. Kent State’s kicker last season has the last name Hynes and he wore 57.
7. Karaoke contest between Brian Kelly and Mike Neu. What song(s) does each coach sing, how does the audience react, who has the most charisma and stage presence, and who ultimately wins?
James Jimenez: Brian Kelly strikes me as a yacht rocker or a cool jazz standards sort of guy, so I could see him attempting something like “My Way” by Frank Sinatra and the crowd generally acting with some respect for trying to pull off such a tricky and technical song.
Mike Neu is gonna blast your face off with the hardest rock you can find, something like “You Give Love A Bad Name” by Bon Jovi, and get super into it. He might not be the *best* singer, but he’ll certainly pull it off with a heaping dash of enthusiasm. Give me Neu all day.
James Snyder: Kelly sings “Danny Boy” and brings down the house.
Mike Neu rolls his eyes and walks away. Thus, Mike Neu is clearly the winner.
8. You’re putting together a crew to pull off the heist of the century at a casino in Vegas. Which Ball State players do you select to help you and why?
James Jimenez: Okay, I’ve got it well planned out.
You need someone who’s an intimidating figure and can fend off some guards in case it goes wrong. Give me Jacob White and Tucker Young (a six-foot-three, 350 lb. offensive lineman who could throw people off with his young looks) to do that.
Khalil Newton, who’s really fast and shifty (he led the Cardinals in yards per reception with 15.6 per in 2017) and Malik Dunner are definitely going to be the guys to try and break into the safe and abscond with the money and such.
Riley Neal and Marc Walton as lookouts.
Kickoff specialist Ryan Rimmler, a native German and a business administration major, would team up with backup QB Elliot Charlebois (econ major) to figure out what to do with it post-heist.
James Snyder: Anyone with major leg injuries. Anyone else I wouldn’t be able to outrun if things turn bad.
9. Give me a game prediction — I need a score, a winner, and reasoning behind that prediction please
James Jimenez: The spread is at -35.5 in favor of the Irish, and I’m inclined to think that’s the end all be all. That said, BSU is also 4-1 against the spread and they’re fully healthy. They could make a push to within three scores (17-21 points) I think. I’m gonna say 42-27 Notre Dame is the final score.
James Snyder: Notre Dame 38, Ball State 24. ND will be on a bit of a let down after a huge Michigan contest, while Ball State got momentum in their first game, which was a glorified practice.
Also, the in-state part will be much more significant to the Cardinals. It will be closer than Irish fans would like early, but the overall talent gap will be too much to overcome for the Cardinals. Out of respect for the ND faithful, I refrained from making a “Tayler Persons for three to win it late” prediction. We are classy AF over at Hustle Belt.
I want to give a big-time shout out to the Jameses for answering all of my questions so thoroughly and thoughtfully and incredibly funnily. For any and all Ball State updates heading into the game, please be sure to check out the Hustle Belt site, as well as follow them on Twitter @HustleBelt.
Furthermore, please give James Squared a couple follows on Twitter for even more coverage and knowledge heading into Saturday’s Indiana-based contest. James Snyder is @morefball and James Jimenez is @AVKingJames.
Also, a final special thanks to my friends Hux and Sergi, who put together their unbiased, very accurate thoughts and arguments for this game. Our College Football Fan Panel was truly wonderful, per usual.
See you in my Game Preview on Friday — Go Irish!