Kevin Wilson and his Indiana football team will be looking for a 2-0 start to the 2016 season when they play Ball State tomorrow in the home opener for the Hoosiers. Kickoff is set for 4:00 EDT and the game will be televised on ESPNEWS. Peegs.com caught up with Andy Thorpe from BallStateInsider.com to get the latest on a Cardinals’ team that comes in with a 1-0 record.
Q - The Cardinals have a new coach in Mike Neu who was most recently an assistant with the New Orleans Saints. Talk about how the transition has gone for Ball State on both sides of the ball since he has taken over the program. What have been the biggest changes that you have noticed? How big is it to have a former player leading the program?
Andy Thorpe: The transition has been pretty smooth. Obviously, the offense will take on more of the persona of Coach Neu. They are attempting to be more fast paced and more apt to go with the strength in front of them and not press themselves into one facet (throwing vs running).
Defensively, that change has been a much bigger one in terms of scheme and style since the entire D staff is new. It has so far, proven to be a great transition.
There is a certain level of optimism and energy that has been missing the past few seasons. Having a coach that has major pride in the program versus someone that is just using the job as a stepping stone is a major difference. Neu wants to bring back the program to where they are the class of the MAC again. He is young and energetic as well, but the amount of pride he has in being a Cardinal is rubbing off on the program, on recruits and on fans.
Q - Who are the key players on the offensive side of the ball for the Cardinals that people should know about? Who are their top playmakers?
Andy Thorpe: Obviously it starts with the QB – Riley Neal. He is a big, gifted, talented player. He is still growing in his position and is coming off a tough opening game, but he is able to run and throw effectively.
At WR, you have KeVonn Mabon. He is a 5th year senior and is a big physical talent. He will get the majority of the looks from Neal and is a tough cover.
On the ground, you have the dual RB tandem of Darian Green and James Gilbert. They are similar in stature, but different in abilities. Green is a scat back style, speed runner that is effective in space. Gilbert is a straight ahead, ground it out between the tackles guy.
Q - In the opening game for Ball State against Georgia State the offense was somewhat of a mixed bag. The running game had a very good day, while the passing game seemed to struggle. What was working for the Cardinals on offense and what wasn’t? When Georgia State did slow them down what was the formula?
Andy Thorpe: The Cardinals were able to work a couple different blocking schemes together to keep GSU on their toes. They zone blocked and ran the inside zone effectively. They also have Neal, a good runner, that makes defenses stay honest against the read option. They also did some straight man blocking with the guard polling. It was truly a mixed bag on the ground.
What wasn’t working was the passing game. There were drops, there were off throws, there was pressure in Neal’s face. It came around in the second half, but the 1st half was awful. When GSU stopped BSU, it was more a situation when the Cardinals tried to work too much passing in and took the ball out of the RBs’ hands. Especially in the first half, Ball State came out with the idea it was going to throw a lot and work at a fast pace, but that didn’t work out at all.
Q - Ball State had an impressive defensive performance against Georgia State? Talk about their defense and what are the strengths and weaknesses of that unit. Who are the names to know on that side of the ball? What are the biggest concerns for the Cardinals on defense in their match-up this week with IU?
Andy Thorpe: New DC Tim Daoust brought in a new scheme and style. They are more attacking, they fly around more, there is more pursuit. Daoust has said all along that they will be a team that will stop the run first, which was a good thing with GSU because they had a new QB that was largely ineffective. They shut down the only other option GSU had (the running game) and clamped down on the short throws that the Panthers had a little bit of success with.
Names to know would be DE’s Joshua Posley and Anthony Winbush and LBs Sean Wiggins and Zach Ryan. Posley is a transfer from UC that has been rock solid since coming to Muncie. Winbush is an under-sized but athletic pass rusher that has a knack for the strip sack. Wiggins and Ryan are both very solid LBs, Ryan probably better against the run, Wiggins better against the pass.
The biggest concern would be the secondary. It is still a work in progress. Martez Hester is a sound 5th year Sr, but the DBs are a concern. There is a few younger, talented guys in Marc Walton and Joshua Miller, but they are largely untested. It will be interesting to see how the secondary stacks up against the Hoosier passing game.
Q - Special teams are always a big part of any game. What do you expect to see from that unit for the Cardinals? Who are the names to know there?
Andy Thorpe: Ball State has long been a solid program for special teamers and this year is no different. Punter Kyle Schmidt is a veteran who is an All-MAC caliber punter. Kicker Morgan Hagee has a strong leg and is extremely accurate. Darian Green is a great returner man along with KeVonn Mabon. Special teams for Ball State are always rock solid.