Ball State Preview: Eastern Michigan

Mid-American Conference play begins for Ball State on Saturday when they travel to face the Eastern Michigan Eagles.

Ball State, fresh off a humbling 56-23 loss at Texas A&M, begins Mid-American Conference play on Saturday when it travels to Ypsilanti, MI to battle the Eagles of Eastern Michigan. It is the first MAC game for both teams and both teams enter the game at 1-1.

Eastern Michigan is coming off an impressive 48-29 victory over Wyoming last weekend. The Eagles offense was able to throw for 340 yards from the arm of redshirt sophomore QB Brogan Roback. They were led on the ground by Shaq Vann who compiled 129 yards and 2 touchdowns including a 74 yard TD burst.


Two Headed QB?

Ball State saw true freshman QB Riley Neal excel during the second half of the Texas A&M game stepping in for the largely ineffective Jack Milas. Riley, a sturdy 6-5 217 athlete, ran well and also completed 11 of 19 passes in the second half in leading the Cardinals to a 20-7 advantage in the second half (of course largely against the Aggies reserves). With this performance, and the fact that the Cardinal coaching staff burned Neal’s redshirt in the process, everyone expects to see more of Neal this weekend. That includes Head Coach Pete Lembo.

“Both Jack and Riley will share reps (this week in practice), which they’ve basically done so far,” Lembo said during his weekly press conference. “We’ll see how the week goes, but I am assuming that both guys will play this weekend.”

Neal gives the Ball State offense an added element of being able use his running ability AND his arm to get yardage. Milas, largely a pocket QB, is basically a 4-yards-and-fall guy, while Neal has the speed and athleticism to pull the ball on the read option and get 10-15 yards, which he did a couple of times against the Aggies.

The Irresistible Force Versus .. the MOVEABLE Object?

Through 2 weeks, the Ball State offense has been led mostly by the running game. Sure, Milas threw for over 300 yards against VMI in the opener, but almost all of the scoring came via the ground game. The same was true last week as the Cardinals were able to put together scoring drives thanks to the legs of So. Darian Green and true frosh James Gilbert. So far the Cardinals have been able to compile 234.5 yards a game running on 5.9 yards per carry.

So how does that factor into Saturday’s contest? Well, the Eagles defense has been porous against the run (yes, we know that Wyoming is a run first team), but they have given up an FBS level worst 349.5 yards per game and 7.1 yards per carry. This has to have the Cardinals offensive line and trio of RBs licking their chops.

Speaking of Freshmen

Not only has Neal and Gilbert been a force in their first collegiate games, but the Cardinals have also used a trio of fellow newcomers so far this season.

First is Kicker Morgan Hagee, who has been perfect in his 5 field goal attempts and also on extra points thus far. The true freshman from Plainfield, IN with the small frame and the big leg, has been a very bright spot and a surprise out of the 2015 recruiting class.

Also having played are DBs Armani McNulty and Marc Walton.

Injuries from the TAMU Game

Ball State will be without DT Darnell Smith for the third time this season because of a knee injury. In his place, the group of Kevin Willis, Julian Jackson, et al have played well. Listed questionable for the week is Carlutorbantu Zaramo, who was injured during the TAMU game and is expected to sit out this week. His loss stretches the deep DT group a bit, but just means that JUCO transfer John Whitman and true freshman Kevin Thurmon move into the 2 deep.

Also listed as questionable is OG Jeremiah Harvey. In his place will be Vinnie Palazeti who played well in reserve of Harvey, who was injured during the first quarter of last week’s game.

Positive Takeaways From Last Week

Despite the lopsided loss, the Cardinals showed fight in the second half and did not fold. The Cardinals also picked up some solid performance from a handful of players.

RBs Green and Gilbert both had solid games against the vaunted Aggie defense. Green picked up 99 yards and a touchdown and Gilbert added 70 and another score.

The offensive line, which even lost a starter in the first quarter, played outstanding against the pass rush of the Aggies. TAMU sacked Arizona State’s QB 9 times in week one, but the Cardinals only gave up one sack – when Neal (a freshman in his first game), rolled out of the pocket and into the awaiting arms of the Aggie defensive line.

Speaking of d-lines, the Cardinals oft maligned Squad started showing flashes of potential ahead on Saturday. Despite being down both starting DTs (Smith and Zaramo), the Cardinals were able to generate a solid amount of pass rush, generating 4 sacks and a handful of hurries. Josh Posley, the Cincinnati transfer, had 1 sack and 2.5 tackles for loss, while speed rush specialist Anthony Winbush got the triumvirate of sack, strip and fumble recovery against he Aggies backup QB. Adding to that performance was Willis who added a sack of his own.

Beer for SALE!

EMU is testing out beer sales for the game this weekend. Apparently, pours of craft brew will go for $7 a pop. I assume that the Eagles are hoping the beer sales spark revenue and maybe added attendance for the team that is typically last amongst MAC schools in attendance figures.

Prediction for Saturday: The Cardinals 2-headed QB and ground game prove too much for the Eagles and they pull away with ground and pound in the second half – 49-24.

Ball State Insider Top Stories