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2016 Week 3 Preview: Ball State Cardinals vs. Eastern Kentucky Colonels

Clear your schedule, it’s the home opener in Muncie

NCAA Football: Ball State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Neu in the Scheu for the first time since ‘92. Actually ‘93, but that doesn’t rhyme.

The 2016 Ball State Cardinals (1-1) started the season with a pair of games on the road, and after a win at Georgia State and a loss at Indiana, they’ll kick off the home schedule when they welcome the FCS level Eastern Kentucky Colonels to Scheumann Stadium on Saturday. Head coach Mike Neu will return to the field where he dazzled as quarterback en route to being named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 1993.

It’s the second trip to Indiana this season for the EKU. The Colonels opened the season with a 45-24 loss to Purdue in West Lafayette on September 3rd. Last week Eastern Kentucky scored its first win of the young season, taking care of the NAIA’s Pikeville Bears, 55-14.

Eastern Kentucky is a good FCS team, after last week’s win they’re knocking on the door of the Top 25. That’s no thanks to Maty Mauk. The disgraced former Missouri quarterback, dismissed from the Tigers football program in January of this year for multiple levels of jackassary, threw seven passes at Purdue, two were picked off, and did not appear in the win over Pikeville. In fact, multiple QBs could see snaps against the Cardinals. Maybe it’s Tyler Swafford, maybe it’s James Smith. Neither should prove particularly worrisome for Ball State.

Instead, EKU will make the focus the rushing attack. Jared Sanders hit 100 yards on 16 carries in the win over Pikeville and was dynamic as a kick returner in the loss to Purdue. In short yardage situations, expect Eastern Kentucky to go to Henry Enyenhi. The 5-foot-11, 215 pound bruiser tallied 63 yards on 10 carries last week, and has some Big Ten experience to his credit. Enyenhi played at Illinois last season, appearing in seven games.

There’s talent on the defensive side of the ball for Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels hung with Purdue for a half, largely a credit to their defense, before the Boilermakers pulled away. The names to know are linebacker Jeffrey Canady, the team’s leading tackler, and defensive back Kiante Northington who forced a pair of turnovers in the win over Pikeville.

Saturday will be a good opportunity for Ball State to let quarterback Riley Neal air it out a little bit before conference season starts. The Cardinals know what they have in the rushing game. Four BSU running backs, Darian Green, Teddy Williamson, James Gilbert, and Malik Dunner make the Ball State ground attack impossible to ignore. Through two games however, Neal has been underwhelming. He’s completed about half his passes, a touchdown and three picks and hasn’t taken many shots deep down the field. Continuing to establish a good on field rapport with receivers KeVonn Mabon and Corey Lacanaria will be a focus on Saturday against the Colonels.

Eastern Kentucky is outmatched in this one. Expect bigger numbers from Neal, and a dominate yet unsurprising day from Ball State’s stable of running backs. The Colonels lack a passing game worth focusing on, so the Cardinal defense can feel comfortable making the rushing game its focal point. Ball State will aim to put this one away early and work on some things before traveling to Florida Atlantic for a September 24th meeting with the Owls. Kickoff on Saturday is scheduled for 3pm ET.