The Irish are 2-0. The Irish are 2-0. The Irish are 2-0.
Notre Dame’s first two outings have produced a cornucopia of emotions and reactions, most recently Saturday against Ball State when Brian Kelly’s squad felt it could have played more productively than what Irish fans saw in Notre Dame Stadium.
Yet, the record is 2-0 — and Kelly and his players can celebrate the fact they retained their No. 8 national ranking based on weekend action around the country.
Notre Dame returns for a third straight home game this weekend versus Southeastern Conference foe Vanderbilt (also 2-0 following wins against Middle Tennessee and Nevada).
Consider some leftovers from Notre Dame’s victory over Ball State:
- Energy, emotion and focus are musts. Notre Dame has a more-than-capable football team in 2018, yet the Irish cannot assume anything. They need to play with passion and execute at a high level – no matter the opponent. That point hit home with emphasis against the Cardinals. Whatever the reason, Notre Dame’s preparation last week did not compute to crisp play against Ball State. Point made. Reality suggests Irish players heard all week how they were supposed to win by four or five touchdowns. That meant absolutely nothing Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
- Let’s run it again. Notre Dame felt pretty good about its running game after outgaining Michigan by 74 ground yards against a highly rated Wolverine defense. That same feeling was not there a week later after Ball State outgained the Irish by 52 yards on the ground. Kick aside Jafar Armstrong’s 42-yard burst on the second play from scrimmage – and Notre Dame’s next 40 rushes accounted for only 75 net yards (including a net negative-seven yards from Brandon Wimbush’s 11 attempts). The consensus in the Irish camp is that they are better than that – and they’ll have to be, given what’s ahead.
- The Notre Dame defense likes its numbers. The stats say the Irish defense has allowed two combined offensive scores in its two games combined – one each by Michigan and Ball State. If Notre Dame can stay anywhere near that pace, the Irish will have a chance to win a lot of football games in 2018. Against Ball State Notre Dame faced a dangerous quarterback who was the catalyst for program-record Cardinal offensive numbers the previous Saturday. While Ball State won the time-of-possession battle by more than eight minutes, that did not translate into enough points to pave the way for a Cardinal victory. That’s partly because Notre Dame in the middle two periods combined forced Ball State quarterback Riley Neal into 5-of-21 passing for 36 yards. It’s partly because on seven of Ball State’s 14 possessions the visitors managed seven yards or fewer. And it’s also partly because the Irish limited Neal to a 46 percent pass completion rate for the day.
- The quarterback is always a lightning rod. As Brian Kelly noted after the Ball State game, a quarterback always seems to receive more credit and more blame than he deserves. That may be truer at Notre Dame than some other places. So it was with Brandon Wimbush on Saturday. He threw for a career-high yardage total – and he also threw three interceptions. At his best against Ball State, he was masterful throwing the ball into open spaces in the Cardinal secondary for repeated 20-yard gains. The Irish will build on that.
- Home sweet home. The Irish schedule for 2018 just happens to produce four home games among the first five games. Notre Dame needs to take advantage of that. The Irish are two for two defending their home turf – and winning at Notre Dame Stadium in September can provide momentum in a long list of areas.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.