The Ball State University Cardinals (2-0, 0-0) return to the gridiron Saturday at Mean Green Stadium in Denton, Texas to do battle with North Texas (1-1, 0-0). Last week against Army the Cardinals yielded a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage before rattling off 37 unanswered points in a 40-14 dismantling of the Black Knights. Ball State is the second MAC opponent of the season for North Texas, who lost a tough one to Ohio last week in Athens.
Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning continued his mission to rewrite Ball State record books last Saturday, throwing for 325 yards and 2 touchdowns en route to Mid-American Conference West Division Offensive Player of the Week honors. 15 of Wenning's 23 completions went for more than 10 yards and the senior quarterback hooked up with seven different receivers. Jamill Smith caught five passes for 83 yards and a touchdown to lead Ball State receivers. With leading rusher Jahwan Edwards out with concussion-like symptoms, BSU tailbacks provided enough of a threat to open up the passing game. Teddy Williams and Horactio Banks combined to rush for 109 yards with Banks scoring twice.
The Ball State defense looked significantly improved last Saturday. A week after being giving up three first half touchdowns to FCS opponent Illinois State, the Cardinals managed to hold Army to two scores. Ball State forced three turnovers against Army's triple option offense. Senior Nathan Ollie earned Mid-American Conference West Division Defensive Player of the Week.
The Ball State secondary will need to be on it's toes against a North Texas offense that can show some explosiveness. Senior quarterback Derek Thompson has thrown for over 5,000 yards in his Mean Green career under third year coach Dan McCarney. Coach Pete Lembo is impressed with the progress under McCarney.
"North Texas' identities on offense and defense fit together very nicely," Lembo said in his press conference. "You look over to the offensive side of the ball and there is a mix of one- and two-backs. There is a power running game with play action. You can see the growth from last year to this year."
The class of the Mean Green backfield is senior Brandin Byrd. Byrd rushed for 57 yards and 2 touchdowns on 7 carries against Idaho to open the season before being stifled for just 27 yards on 10 carries against Ohio. Byrd will split carries with sophomore tailback Antoinne Jimmerson. The Dallas product amassed 544 yards last season playing behind Byrd. Reggie Pegram, a Purdue transfer, could also see touches.
Ball State's high octane offense will look to exploit a North Texas defense that allowed 442 total yards last week against a balanced Ohio attack. The defense is led by senior linebacker Zachary Orr and senior defensive back Marcus Trice. In the North Texas home opener against Idaho, Orr was named Conference USA Defensive player of the week after recording 11 tackles and a sack against Idaho. Trice, an Oklahoma transfer, recorded 14 tackles and picked off a pass a week ago against the Bobcats.
"Everybody is keeping things inside and in front," Lembo said. "It's very hard to get explosive plays against them. They are a very physical team that is very much on the same page. It'll be a huge challenge for us."
The Cardinals kick off Saturday at 4 p.m.. The game can be seen on Fox Sports Net.