AUBURN, Ala - A game that started with sunny skies turned into a weather delay, a deluge of rain, lightning, and stormy weather, and finally turned out to be a lovely night, at least in terms of the weather, on The Plains. In an odd twist of foreshadowing, it was much the same way the actual game would turn out for Ball State.
The first quarter certainly provided some early hope for the Cardinals, as Kyle Hoke recovered a dropped punt by Auburn's Anthony Gulley on the Auburn 18. 4 plays later, MiQuale Lewis made it 7-0 with his 1st TD since the season opener against North Texas. Quale would finish the game with 53 yards on 15 carries.
Ball State would follow their first score by stopping the Tigers on 4th down, giving Kelly Page and the offense a short field on the Auburn 47 with a chance at a two-possession lead. That chance quickly faded as Zane Fakes fumbled on a 4th down pass that would have led to a Ball State first down. It was a controversial ruling whether or not Fakes was down that was upheld by review, and not one that Stan Parrish particularly agreed with. Visibly upset, refusing comment after the game, saying "if I say what I want to say, I'm going to be fined".
After forcing an Auburn punt, Ball State began it's next drive on their own 34, and after a first down and moving the ball into Auburn territory, Auburn finally began to look like an SEC team. A 3rd and 3 attempt by the Cardinals resulted in a Kelly Page sack, subsequent fumble, and an Auburn recovery on the Ball State 28, a 24-yard loss. Auburn would move quickly, needing only 4 plays for Chris Todd's first TD pass of the night, a game tying 6-yard completion to Tommy Trott. Said Page about his fumble, "Turnovers kill you. They kill momentum."
From there, with that momentum fading, Auburn began pulling away as they opened a 30-7 lead behind 30 unanswered points, pinpoint passing by Chris Todd, and Onterio McCaleb's speedy rushing. McCaleb would finish with 83 yards on only 8 touches, with a score. BSU's Ian McGarvey and AU's Wes Byrum would trade field goals before the half making it 33-10.
The third quarter saw Chris Todd notch his 4th and 5th TD passes of the night, tying a school record. He would finish with 287 yards, helped by a distinct characteristic of the BSU defense on Saturday to miss tackles, resulting in large gains. It was a theme throughout the night and one that cost the Cardinals. Ball State safety Alex Knipp said, "They have really good skill players. It comes down to technique. The missed tackles, each player has to do their own part of the defense."
Missed tackles aside, the defense for the Cardinals performed admirably against a fast SEC caliber offense. The big plays hurt, and went for points, but those were far fewer than many expected, and as Knipp hinted, can be limited with more attention to technique. DT Drew Duffin said, "I'm really proud of this defense. I've been here 4 years and never seen speed like that. Our interior and exterior defensive line did really well, and overall we're getting better as a team."
The 4th quarter provided a glimpse into the progression of the offense this season, as Kelly Page found Zane Fakes on a 1-yard TD pass with a lofted ball with exceptional touch. Stan Parrish even noted the softness saying, "I think earlier in the year he might have thrown a rocket out the back of the end zone."
Overall, the Ball State faithful should feel proud about this team, this result, and this season. 0-4 is nothing to celebrate, but each of those 4 has been better than the one before. Improvement is happening, experience being gained, and the Cardinals can now go into hostile environments in the MAC and be unfazed. The defense played well early, limiting Auburn's opportunities, making big stops, and forcing punts. The offense looked better than it has all season, doing a much better job of opening holes for Lewis, protecting Page, who didn't throw an INT against the fastest and most dominant defense he'll see all season. Most notable, and perhaps most important, this contest showcased some of the young talent like Zane Fakes, Eric Williams, and Travis Freeman, all players who will be the driving force of this program for the foreseeable future.
Optimism Comes from Ball State Loss
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