SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jalen Elliott had a pair of interceptions that No. 8 Notre Dame turned into touchdowns and the Fighting Irish held off stubborn Ball State 24-16 on Saturday on a day when its offense was frustrated much of the game.
The Irish (2-0), coming off an emotional 24-17 season-opening victory over Michigan, looked lackluster against the Mid-American Conference foe whose campus in Muncie is a 2 ½-hour drive. The Cardinals (1-1) also played nothing like the 34½-point underdogs they were labeled in the schools’ first meeting in football.
After going the entire 2017 season and last week without an interception by a safety, Elliott picked off a pair of Riley Neal passes that the offense converted into a pair of rushing touchdowns of 31 and 1 yards by junior Tony Jones Jr. for a 21-6 lead in the third quarter.
Following a 46-yard field goal by Justin Yoon that gave the Irish a 24-6 lead going into the fourth quarter, Nolan Givan caught a 10-yard scoring pass from Neal, who threw for 180 yards but completed just 23 of 50 passes. A 49-yard field goal by Ball State’s Morgan Hagee, his third of the game, closed out the scoring.
The Cardinals’ 3-4 defense frustrated senior Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who threw for 297 yards but finished with minus 7 yards rushing as Ball State registered four sacks and picked off three of his passes.
Ball State: The Cardinals, who have just nine seniors on the roster, showed that they could be a factor in the MAC race after injuries to Neal and running back James Gilbert last year factored into a nine-game losing streak.
Notre Dame: After receiving the game ball following last week’s victory, Wimbush couldn’t get things going with his feet as the Cardinals closed his running lanes. His longest gain rushing was 9 yards.
Notre Dame: The Irish, who rose from No. 12 to No. 8 after the win over Michigan, could lose some ground but should remain in the top 10.
Ball State: The Cardinals visit Indiana on Saturday.
Notre Dame: The Irish host Vanderbilt in their third straight home game.