On paper, 59-7 looks a lot worse than 24-14.
College football games aren't played on paper, although some schools might be more successful if they were. Missouri's 24-14 loss to Troy last Thursday was much more damaging than the 59-7 drubbing Ball State received from Purdue, as it knocked the Tigers out of the national rankings and raised serious questions about the offense.
Missouri can answer many questions with a strong showing against Ball State, although even a shutout would not cleanse the minds of Missouri fans. The Tigers should not have much trouble with this downtrodden Cardinal team, but Ball State does have a few impact players to be concerned with.
The Ball State defense was raked over the coals by Purdue. The Boilermakers rolled up 599 yards of offense--368 through the air and 231 on the ground. Ball State coach Brady Hoke was concerned with the amount of time his defense was on the field, as the offense ran 19 fewer plays than the Cardinals defended. Purdue racked up 34 first downs, compared to just 13 for Ball State.
Purdue has a strong offense, but those numbers have to be frightening for Ball State supporters. Missouri should move the ball well against this group, which only starts two seniors.
The Ball State defensive line is undersized and inexperienced. Senior tackle Conrad Slaughter is a playmaker, but is small at 6-foot-2 and 276 pounds. Redshirt freshman end Temidayo Macarthy has impressed the Ball State coaching staff with his athleticism. Nobody on this unit compares to Troy's Demarcus Ware, so the Missouri rushing attack should have a strong Saturday afternoon.
No seniors (or freshmen, for that matter) start at linebacker, but Donta Smith is developing well at the middle position. Having fought off injury troubles, Smith, a junior, anchors the defense and will have the enjoyable responsibility of chasing Missouri quarterback Brad Smith all over the field.
Strong safety Justin Beriault is Ball State's top tackler and, according to Hoke, likely the team's best player. He is the only player in the secondary with much experience, making him an impact player that Ball State needs. Ball State's top four cornerbacks have a combined one letter--owned by sophomore Randall Means--before this season. Missouri should test this group often and will likely find success.
Ball State uses a standard 4-3 defense.
Ball State boasts a playmaker the quality of which the Tigers have not seen this season. Wide receiver Dante Ridgeway is rewriting the Cardinal record book, just two games into his junior season.
Ridgeway will set the Ball State career receptions mark Saturday; he enters the game with 145 grabs, one shy of the school mark. He has flown through the record book after setting school records with 89 receptions for 1,075 yards last season. (His 10 touchdown grabs also tied the school record.)
Ridgeway should be matched up against senior CB Shirdonya Mitchell primarily, but Mitchell should get a lot of help. If Ridgeway can get on track early, the Tigers could be in for a game.
Sophomore quarterback Joey Lynch, the son of former Ball State coach Bill Lynch, took over the reins this season and has fared well. Despite little protection from his front five, Lynch has yet to throw an interception this season. He could be set for a breakout game against the Tigers, but he will not dominate by any means.
The Cardinals will be without leading rusher Larry Bostic, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Purdue. Bostic was not setting the world aflame but led the team with 114 yards on 30 attempts. A converted wide receiver, Bostic was replaced by senior Scott Blair, who led the team with 640 yards and five touchdowns last season, on the depth chart. True freshman Adell Givens is second on the team with 60 yards on 15 carries and should get some touches.
Two seniors lead the offensive line, with center Nick Tabacca the unit's best player. Guard Jeff Ramsey is the unit's other senior, although he is a little undersized by Big 12 Conference standards, at 6-foot-3 and 277 pounds.
The line has only managed 135 rushing yards on 70 carries, a paltry 1.9 yards per attempt. It also has allowed Lynch to be sacked nine times. The Missouri front four, arguably the team's most consistent group thus far, should manhandle this unit.
Ball State uses a pro-style offensive set, employing a tailback, fullback, tight end and two receivers in its base offense. Do not be surprised if Ball State follows the Troy game plan and attempts a trick play or two. Ridgeway will be the focus, of course; if the Tigers can slow him down, the rest of the Cardinals will go quietly.
Both teams have question marks and both have used their punter more than they would have liked so far.
Kicker Brian Jackson has made all four kicks he has attempted this year, including three field goals against Boston College. Jackson's career long is a 45-yarder that he made as a freshman in 2003.
After sitting out a season with academic issues, punter Reggie Hodges has been strong this season. He has already attempted 17 punts, averaging 42.4 yards per boot and dropping the ball inside the 20-yard line 10 times. Hodges has also had two punts blocked, giving the Tigers the edge in this category.
Ridgeway also operates as the Cardinals' punt returner, giving Ball State a legitimate threat there when they can force the Tigers to punt. Sophomore receiver Terry Moss handles the kick return duties, with a long return of 31 yards this season.
As it has against its entire entire nonconference schedule this season, Missouri's special teams unit should outclass the Cardinals' in athleticism. If the Tigers allow another punt to be blocked, momentum could swing rapidly into the visitors' favor.
Hoke said the Cardinals' confidence was shattered after the 52-point loss. A defeat of that caliber would rattle anyone, but the Cardinals fared well against Boston College in its season opener and likely lost any momentum gained by losing big.
Missouri is suffering through a difficult stretch as well. The circumstances surrounding the team's losses are completely different, but each loss hurt, a lot. Missouri has the potential to replicate what Purdue did to Ball State; they must do so. The Tigers need to jump ahead early to remind Ball State which team is a member of the Big 12. If they do not, the Cardinals could slowly gain confidence as the afternoon moves on.
Still, the Tigers should win the game handily. Another upset would torch the Tigers' season, an outcome that the coaching staff cannot--and will not--allow to happen.