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Notre Dame needs ‘to define who we are’

Ball State v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 08: Brandon Wimbush #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is tripped up by Brandon Martin #9 of the Ball State Cardinals at Notre Dame Stadium on September 8, 2018 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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As Notre Dame’s offense stalled during Saturday’s 24-16 victory over Ball State, Irish head coach Brian Kelly did not consider changing its leader. Those struggles began early — consecutive three-and-outs followed the opening drive’s touchdown, both series gaining one yard apiece — and continued late as Notre Dame (2-0) looked for the knockout blow, managing just a field goal on its final five competitive possessions, along with two interceptions from senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

Wimbush finished the day 17-of-31 passing for 297 yards with three interceptions and four sacks absorbed.

“What I wanted him to do is go through his progressions, be better with his footwork,” Kelly said Sunday. “That’s really all we talked about on the sideline. Making sure that he was doing the things that are most important. His footwork needed to be better, his read progression and his decision-making.

“We weren’t in a position of looking at changing quarterbacks.”

Kelly offered no indication such a shift may occur this week, either, but the turnovers cannot continue if the Irish expect to keep winning.

“We put the ball into their hands three times,” Kelly said. “We cannot turn the ball over three times against Vanderbilt and expect to win.

“[Wimbush] was really good with the football against Michigan. We’ll have to get back to that kind of really good decision-making against Vanderbilt and everybody else who we play on our schedule.”

Similarly, Kelly doubled down on the Notre Dame offensive line, a unit that did not handle the Cardinals pass rush well, something neither fifth-year left guard Alex Bars or fifth-year center Sam Mustipher shirked after the game. Joining those two, junior right guard Tommy Kraemer and sophomore right tackle Robert Hainsey both started last season, though it was in a timeshare at tackle.

“To go in and pull one of those guys out of the starting unit, you’re really taking a major step back to do that because they have so much experience,” Kelly said. “We have to get them playing at a higher level, more consistent level, and a more physical level.”

The only true newcomer to the line this season was junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg. His job is also not in jeopardy.

“You’re going to live with some of the things, some of the mistakes with Liam, because he’s a first-time starter.”

Relying on first-time contributors creates some of the offensive hiccups, Kelly said. Notre Dame is still in the process of finding its playmakers, hence freshman C’Bo Flemister returning kickoffs in his career debut (three for 65 yards with an average finish at the 27-yard line) and freshman receiver Kevin Austin getting a target in the second quarter.

Whomever those playmakers are, the offense begins with the quarterback, and that quarterback is Wimbush.

“We need to define who we are,” Kelly said. “It’s important that as we develop our passing game over these next four, six, eight weeks, however long we’re playing here, that we are cognizant of who we are, who Brandon is.”

The only injury worth noting, Kelly said, was sophomore tight end Cole Kmet’s ankle, which will require further evaluation this week.

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