Dropping a 14-3 contest @Pitt last week, the Hoos fell to 2-2 on the season. This week, they return home for the final non-conference game on their schedule. The Ball State Cardinals come into town at 4-1, coming off a 31-24 win over Toledo. Ball State was 9-4 last year, with a loss to UCF in the St Petersburg Bowl. In 2011, they were 6-6 and did not play in a bowl.
The Hoos have never faced the Cardinals, but they have fared well against MAC teams in recent history, with wins over Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Akron (they also dropped a home game against Western Michigan in 2006.
This may be the last game this season that the Hoos are favored in, so they really need to come away with a win. A bowl game is an absolute necessity this season, and a loss here would just about end the Hoos bowl hopes.
Ball State Offense
WR: #3 Willie Snead - 5'11" 193 lb, Junior; #2 Jamill Smith - 5'8" 140 lb, Senior; #80 Chris Shillings, 6'1" 205 lb, Junior; #8 Jordan Williams - 6'2" 216 lb, Sophomore; #41 Stewart Turner - 5'9" 166 lb, RS Freshman; #82 Shane Belle - 6'2" 190 lb, Senior
LT: #75 Matthew Page - 6'6" 300 lb, Senior; #68 Jeremiah Harvey - 6'2" 300 lb, Sophomore
LG: #65 Jalen Schlachter - 6'6" 317 lb, Sophomore; #64 P.J. Scott 6'2" 293 lb, Junior
C: #62 Jacob Richard - 6'1" 285 lb, Sophomore; #61 Taylor Hoke - 6'1" 296 lb, Junior
RG: #70 Jordan Hansel - 6'4" 325 lb, Senior; #67 Nick Plavchak - 6'4" 301 lb Sophomore
RT: #66 Steven Bell - 6'4" 290 lb, RS Freshman; #78 Drake Miller - 6'4" 289 lb RS Freshman
Ball State's offense is very good. They are the only non-BCS conference team to have a player on all the big award watch lists. Wenning is on the Maxwell (best player) and O'Brien (best QB) lists. Snead is on the Biletnikoff (best WR) list. Fakes is on the Mackey (best TE) list. And Edwards is on the Walker (best RB) list.
Edwards has been hurt, missing two games this year. He hasn't been all that productive when he's played, although he had 89 yards and 3 TDs last week. Still, overall Banks has been the more impressive of the two this year. Edwards is a big, bruising, back though, and has 7 TDs already. Last year, Edwards had 1400 yards and 14 TDs, with a long of 75 yards. Banks is still a little bit more of a big play guy. We'll see plenty from both RBs.
The passing game is the more potent part of the BSU attack. Wenning is averaging over 330 yards passing per game, 10th in the nation. The BSU offense is 39th in the country overall, with their ground game ranking 91st. Last year's numbers were much more balanced, with the ground game ranking 28th, the passing game 47th and the offense as a whole 27th. Some of this is due to Edwards injuries, but some of due to the way Wenning is playing right now. Last year, Ball State ran the ball roughly 53% of the time. This year, they are running it about 44% of the time.
Snead is the real deal; he had 89 catches for just under 1200 yards and 9 TDs last year. This year, he's got 35 catches for over 600 yards and 4 TDs already. He's averaging 17.5 ypc this season. Smith is also a big play guy, but that weight number is not a misprint. He was initially a walk-on and he's likely one of the smallest guys in FBS football, including kickers. He's quick though. He was 26th in the country in KR last year. His 13.8 average on punt returns would've been good enough for 13th, but he didn't have enough returns to qualify. He also had 69 catches and 8 rushes. BSU likes to get the ball into Smith's hands, because he's so dynamic. Snead was a HS QB, but Smith is the guy the Cardinals often use on WR passes, he's 2-3 in his career with a TD.
Jordan Williams is the other guy who's been targeted a lot this year. He has 24 receptions on the season after playing mostly special teams last season. He did not have a single catch, although he did have a single rushing attempt. He's a much different WR than the other guys, who can make plays with his size and physicality. Despite being a starter, Schillings hasn't been very involved in the offense.
Fakes was third on the team in catches last season, with 57. He averaged just 8 yards per catch, but did have 5 TDs. Fakes is a bit smaller than many of the TEs the Hoos will see, which is why we'll see a lot of Curry, who's a much better blocker, while still providing a solid receiving threat. Fakes has 11 catches this season, with one TD.
Ball State's OL is unheralded, but solid. They are mostly pretty big, with an average of right about 300 pounds. Richard was a walk-on, but played in 11 games last year (including 4 starts). Scott is a junior college transfer in his first year of FBS football. The BSU OL hasn't seen a team with a DL as good or as athletic as the Hoos. The blitzes of Tenuta are also likely to pose some problems.
Ball State's offense is explosive. They score points in bunches. Their last ACC matchup was last season against Clemson and they lost 52-27. While BSU's offense was productive in that game, it was 45-10 at halftime and BSU did a lot of their damage late. Their lone first half TD was a 54 yard run by Banks. The Hoos defense absolutely has the ability to shut down this offense, but they'll have to be on their game, as they were last week.
Ball State Defense
Ball State is a 4-3 team that will run a lot of 4-2-5. This year in particular, they have been running a lot of the substitution defense simply because their secondary is deeper than their LBs. Last year's 3 start LBs all graduated. All were multiple year starters, and they were big losses. The guys replacing them are inexperienced. They are also small, although they are fast. Calloway in particular has tremendous speed for a LB. Still, if the UVA OLs can get into the second level, our RBs should have success running. If we're successful running the ball, Ball State will probably be forced to stick with the 4-3 defense, which takes talent off the field for them.
The Cardinals' defense is ranked 86th in the nation this year. They are 101st in rushing yardage allowed and 59th in passing yardage allowed (54th in passing efficiency allowed). They are just 89th in TFLs and and 74th in sacks. The way that they have stopped teams is with turnovers, as they are 10th in turnovers forced with 12. Last season, however, they forced just 14 turnovers on the season, 107th in the nation. Other than that, almost all of their numbers this year are better than last year's.
Half of the BSU sacks have come from their 3 LBs, as they often have to blitz to generate pressure. This was not the case last year, as Newsome had 8.5 sacks of his own and Ollie had 4. So far this year, that duo has combined for just 2.5 sacks. The DL isn't bad, and Newsome has NFL potential as a pass rusher. He would most likely be a 3-4 OLB though, in the NFL. The Hoos OL will look better at run blocking this week, just because they are facing a smaller, less dynamic front 4. Their pass blocking hasn't been nearly as bad as their run blocking, and with the exception of Newsome, they shouldn't have a ton of trouble this week.
At LB, Ingle has some NFL potential also, due to his speed. He has another couple of years to improve before he gets to that point, but his speed at 230ish pounds is legit. He can run with TEs and RBs and can cover a flat zone. He leads the team in tackles. Ryan is 2nd in tackles and has basically been all over the field, impressive for a walk-on redshirt freshman. Lee played a couple of seasons of D-II ball before transferring to Ball State.
The Cardinals' secondary is led by Brian Jones. He's third in tackles, and he has 3 fumble recoveries on the season. Hurley is coming on as a freshman. Garrett and Patterson are both solid veteran cover guys, but neither are really great DBs. Conaway is a guy the Cardinals are very high on, he was a late qualifier, who greyshirted last year, but came in this year ready to go. He may start over Patterson, although Patterson is still the more complete player. Whoever doesn't start will be the nickel guy, and will see the field plenty.
We all know the Hoos OL has been struggling. Even against VMI they had trouble getting things together, although they eventually clicked and put up 49 points. Ball State's defense is much better than VMI's, but also much worse than Pitt's. There isn't a player on Ball State who can impact a game as much as Aaron Donald did last week. Jonathan Newsome is the best player on the Cardinals defense, but he's going to be facing Morgan Moses most of the afternoon, which will be a big challenge for him. His quickness could give Moses some problems, but overall I'm not too concerned.
Ball State has trouble stopping the run. If the Hoos line up and simply pound the football over the left side of the line, they should be productive. But, with changes coming to the OL and the WR corps, the staff is going to want to see how things shake up. We'll likely see continued struggles, at least early. Later in the game, the Hoos superior size and talent could wear down the Ball State defense and put up some points.
Ball State Special Teams
PK: #1 Scot Secor - 5'8" 166 lb, Junior
P: #12 Kyle Schmidt - 6'2" 228 lb, RS Freshman
KR: Smith; Edwards
Secor is a very good kicker, with 50+ yard range. His long this year is 48, but he's attempted up to 54 yards. Schmidt is nothing special, but he's solid. He averages about 41 yards per punt.
Once again, the possibility of a big return is possibly, with both Smith and Edwards being dangerous. With the possibility that Ian Frye will be out, the Hoos will be relying on an untested kicker. Sims' first two KOs have both been of the shorter variety, although neither has given up much of a return. That would be acceptable. Frye's tendency to put every kickoff in the same spot could prove problematic if he does play, because Ball State will put Smith on that side and give him chances to make plays. He hasn't had many opportunities this year to return punts, and is averaging just 3 yards per return.
Ball State has proven to be solid this year in punt coverage, but poor in KO coverage. If Shepherd and Mizzell are healthy this week, one of them could provide a spark with a big KO return. It will be interesting to see if Terrell is still the PR after his disastrous week last week. We may see Shepherd handle those, or perhaps somebody else. Tim Smith is a guy I'd like to see get a shot.
Ball State's offense is legit. While they haven't faced a defense as talented as the Hoos, they've put up points on a lot of people over the past few years. Their defense, on the other hand, is terrible. Significantly worse than the Pitt defense that the Hoos faced last week.
If the Hoos are able to get things going offensively, this game could get out of hand quickly. A home game, coming off a bad game, the offense will want to show what they are capable of. A few big plays could really get the crowd into it, and take Ball State out.
However, the longer the game goes with the two teams close, the more frustrated the offense will get, and the more impatient the fans will get. Ball State has big play guys, and one play from them could really turn the game.
Personally, I think the Virginia offense is close, and just needs the correct matchups and some things will click. A slight change in personnel and scheme could be all they need.
Prediction: Hoos 31, Cardinals 10