Bloomington – Nate Davis certainly won't be able to use a lack of respect from Bill Lynch as any sort of motivator this weekend.
The second-year Hoosier coach is well versed in the abilities of many of the top quarterbacks who have gone through the Mid-America Conference in recent years thanks to his eight-year run as Ball State's head coach. During his run in Muncie Lynch's teams played against the likes of Ben Roethlisberger at Miami (Ohio), Akron's Charlie Frye, Eastern Michigan's Charlie Batch and Marshall's Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich.
Each of those who enjoyed a great deal of success in the MAC and then in the NFL, and Lynch isn't afraid to include Ball State's junior quarterback in the same sentence.
"These are all guys that have played not just pro football, but awfully good professional football," Lynch said. "Nate's right there with those guys."
It's hard to argue with Lynch's assessment of the Cardinals' 6-2, 217-pound signal caller. Davis shattered nearly all of Ball State's single season passing marks a year ago when he completed 270-of-478 passes for 3,667 yards and 30 touchdowns, leading the Cardinals to their first bowl appearance since 1996.
If anything, Davis has been even better this season. He's completed 66-of-88 passes (75 percent) for 916 yards and nine touchdowns, and his passer efficiency rating of 189.37 ranks him sixth nationally. While he doesn't have the same sort of dual-threat abilities that IU's Kellen Lewis does, he did rush for 235 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore.
"He's a big, physical guy who can really throw it," Lynch said. "He's very well coached. It's hard to get to him because he gets rid of it so quick. He's big enough to shuck off the first rusher. Kellen may elude them, Nate kind of throws them down."
Many believe this year's Ball State squad is the school's best since the 1996 MAC championship team, a squad that Lynch knows something about.
The current Hoosier coach was in his second year at the helm of the Cardinals' program and guided Ball State to an 8-4 record, a Mid-America Conference championship and a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl. The make-up of the two teams, though, is very different according to Lynch.
While this year's Ball State team relies on an explosive offense that is averaging 41.3 points/game in the season's first three weeks, Lynch's 1996 squad relied primarily on defense and the punting of Brad Maynard. A 12-year NFL veteran who is currently punting for the Chicago Bears, Maynard averaged 45.8 yards/punt in 1996 and was voted as the Mid-America Conference's Player of the Year.
"He could punt you out of problems, so we played the short field and the offense played from there," Lynch said.
After opening the year 0-3, the 1996 squad ripped off eight straight wins to earn the MAC title and a spot in the Las Vegas Bowl. Lynch says the styles of the '96 team and the '08 squad are completely different, but the opinions that this year's team is the best since that squad is justified.
"This is a really good football team," Lynch said. "This offensive team can score in a hurry, score from anywhere on the field, where (the '96) team played defense, punted the ball, and was pretty conservative on offense."
As good as Nate Davis is, he might not be the No. 1 concern for the IU defense this weekend.
Instead, it could be Ball State's 5'6", 184-pound tailback MiQuale Lewis. Lewis is averaging 121.0 yards per game this season, and gives the Cardinals the sort of balance that's been lacking in the last couple of games against Indiana.
With Lewis sidelined last year with a knee injury, Indiana limited Ball State to just 67 yards on 32 carries in the 38-20 Hoosier win. That's a similar story to two years ago, when Ball State managed just 41 yards on the ground in IU's 24-23 win in Muncie.
While making Ball State one-dimensional once again might be a recipe for success, Lynch knows it won't be easy to make it happen a third straight time.
"We did a good job last year against the run, but they're running the ball better," Lynch said. "Lewis is a difference maker."
Lynch also pointed to the presence of veterans on the offensive line, where senior tackles Andre Ramsey and Robert Brewster plus fifth-year senior center Dan Gerberry boast plenty of experience.
"Where they get you is they have so much balance offensively," Lynch said. "The numbers Davis puts up are incredible. But when they can run it as well as they do, it really puts you in a bind."
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