The good, the bad and the boring: A brief history of Notre Dame against MACtion
J.J. Post | Friday, September 15, 2023
MACtion. It’s a phrase every college football die-hard is familiar with. And for good reason: the Mid-American Conference represents so many of the things that make college football great. It’s remained geographically sound in the face of consistent realignment. A model of parity, it hasn’t had a repeat champion in over a decade. Best of all, it frequently schedules games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. How can you not love it?
Despite its prized place in niche college football lore, MACtion has only come to South Bend five times (not counting a 2015 matchup against UMass, who was MAC at the time but is no longer in the conference). Saturday’s game between Notre Dame and Central Michigan will make it six, with the Chippewas attempting to break the Irish’s unbeaten record against MAC foes. Here’s a look at Notre Dame’s five previous encounters with MAC opponents. Some went easily. Some didn’t.
2021: Notre Dame 32, Toledo 29
The inaugural “Peacock game” for the Irish was not a contest that came without nerves. Entering on the back of a thrilling overtime win on the road against Florida State, things started out easy enough for Notre Dame. It took just over two minutes for Jack Coan to lead the Irish down the field, finding Michael Mayer for a four-yard score.
But after that surgical first drive, things got dicey. Concern really set in right before halftime, when Toledo defensive back Chris McDonald jumped in front of a Coan pass and raced to the end zone with less than a minute left in the second quarter. An energized Rockets squad led 16-14 at the break.
Things didn’t get any less murky in the second half. Notre Dame would eventually retake the lead early in the fourth quarter thanks to a conversion by Jonathan Doerer. A 55-yard score by then-sophomore and then-running back Chris Tyree on the next Irish drive figured to set Notre Dame up well to run away with the contest.
But Toledo wasn’t done. Going 89 yards in just six plays, Toledo scored their first offensive touchdown of the game to cut the Irish lead to two. Then, with Notre Dame driving on their next possession, a Kyren Williams fumble put the Rockets in position to win the game. Sure enough, with 95 seconds left in the contest, DeQuan Finn raced to the end zone for the visitors.
Finn’s touchdown would prove a costly mistake, however. His opting to run into the end zone instead of kneeling the ball down at the goal line gave Notre Dame the chance to get the ball back and respond. And respond Notre Dame did. The Irish went 75 yards in three plays, culminating in another Coan to Mayer touchdown. Notre Dame left the stadium 2-0 on the year, with fans breathing a collective sigh of relief.
2019: Notre Dame 52, Bowling Green 0
Toledo was the Irish’s closest call against a MAC squad, but Bowling Green proved quite the opposite. Notre Dame jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. The Irish had 35 before halftime.
Ian Book was surgical under center for Notre Dame, completing 80% of his passes to go with five touchdowns. It was all good for the Irish, who nearly doubled the Falcons in total yardage. Seven Irish players registered at least two carries as Brian Kelly went down the depth chart in the game’s late stages.
2018: Notre Dame 24, Ball State 16
2018’s Notre Dame/MACtion crossover was more 2021 than 2019, much to the displeasure of heart rate monitors across Michiana. The game was never truly in doubt. The Irish led by double digits for most of the contest, and only a late Cardinals field goal only brought the gap to one score until 90 seconds remained in the game. But it was far from a pushover.
The Irish didn’t play terribly. But they did play sloppy. Brandon Wimbush threw a trio of interceptions, an early red flag in a season where Book would eventually take over as the team’s starting quarterback.
Notre Dame’s defense, to its credit, played about as well as could have been asked. Ball State quarterback Riley Neal threw the ball 50 times, completing only 23. He also threw two interceptions.
Despite the lackluster showing that Saturday, the Ball State game turned out to be a part of one of Brian Kelly’s most successful Notre Dame seasons. The Irish followed up the win with 10 more, earning the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff, where they’d eventually fall to the soon-to-be national champion Clemson Tigers.
2017: Notre Dame 52, Miami (Ohio) 17
This one got out of hand quickly. On the second play of the game, Josh Adams broke free for a 73-yard run, setting the table for a rout. The score was 45-14 by halftime.
The Irish ground game rolled against the RedHawks, with three players combining to rush for four total scores. Notre Dame had amassed 333 yards on the ground by the game’s conclusion, averaging a whopping 8.5 yards per carry.
2010: Notre Dame 44, Western Michigan 20
Notre Dame’s first game against a MAC opponent featured a contest that missed the mark of a true blowout, but it was still far from a nail-biter. Despite a long touchdown from Michael Floyd on the Irish’s first play from scrimmage, the Broncos kept things close in the first half. Most notably, Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder engineered a 10-play drive in the final two minutes ending in a touchdown that cut Notre Dame’s lead to 10 heading into the break.
But the Irish eventually pulled away with ease in the final 30 minutes. The Irish defense allowed barely 100 total yards in the second half as Brian Kelly earned his fourth win at Notre Dame.