Saturday in Bloomington, Indiana, the Ball State Cardinals and Indiana Hoosiers will meet at Memorial Stadium. The winner takes the throne as the lone undefeated FBS team in the state of Indiana, while the loser will have to wait until 2018 for a measure of revenge. Hustle Belt caught up with Kyle Robbins from The Crimson Quarry, SB Nation’s Indiana Hoosiers site, for some thought’s on this weekend’s matchup.
1. Big week, man. We both started slow last week before blowing out our opponents in the second half. What was your biggest takeaway from IU's 34-13 win to open the season?
Uh, well -- not a ton. Indiana's defense looked much, much better, but FIU's offense leaves something to be desired. Richard Lagow has talent and the possibility to replace Nate Sudfeld in a more-than-admirable manner, but looked at times like he was making his first collegiate start. Other than that? We'll wait for a larger sample size to judge. Indiana got a win on the road again against a possible bowl team on a weird Thursday night. That's fine. Any hot takes, positive or negative, about that performance are probably hyperbolic.
2. Looks like the biggest matchup this weekend will be Ball State's rushing offense against IU's rushing defense. What's the name Cardinal fans should know before Saturday?
I'm not sure that'll be the biggest matchup per se, but it's certainly Indiana's biggest possible area for weakness. Again, I'm not going to over-read into an excellent one-game performance against the run from the defense. The Hoosiers are still young and a little small up front, and that's an area I'll imagine someone will exploit before the season's out. Keep an eye on Pat Dougherty at the defensive tackle position -- he supplanted Ralph Green III on the depth chart this week after a big performance filling in for Green during his suspension at FIU.
3. How much does Indiana have to do offensively to get past Ball State?
Hmmmmmmmm. From my understanding of this Ball State team, I don't think a ton. Remember how Indiana's defense was miserably awful last year and probably cost Indiana at worst an 8-win season? Well, yeah, Ball State's gave up more total yardage than Indiana in 2015 and was measurably worse in Defensive S&P. In the MAC. You know all that, and you probably know that's not very good!
Again, I'm not totally 100% certain that Richard Lagow is good yet -- Indiana didn't ask much of him through the opening three quarters despite an extremely solid stat line. But he's got as much or more arm talent than Sudfeld, and Indiana's offensive line and talent at the playmaker positions should be more than enough to lift him up. Indiana had little problem moving the ball against FIU, but finishing drives were a problem. If the offense doesn't bog down in the red zone, I don't see this particular Ball State defense giving Indiana much in the way of trouble.
4. Indiana was down a point entering the fourth against FIU. How important is starting quickly against Ball State?
It'd be nice for a confidence standpoint for Indiana to come out and put Ball State away early. Indiana's defense got most (or all) of the press praise after FIU. A healthy lead early on might give Indiana's offensive coaching staff to give a chance to really open up the playbook and loosen the strings on Lagow just a bit to really see what the offense can do. I think that's something most Indiana fans would like to see before jumping into the Power 5 portion of the schedule starting with Wake Forest in two weeks.
5. Some Hoosier fans have longed viewed Ball State as a "little brother" in the state of Indiana. Did you see any of the Georgia State game? Do you know about us, or are we a blip on the radar before Big 10 play?
Okay, loaded question here. Let's give some context here, but a short answer: If Indiana football is making the progress it (and its fans) believe it is, Ball State can't be anything more than a blip on the radar. Or even on the radar at all.
It hasn't always been that way -- I don't think any Indiana fan disrespects the program Ball State has had over the last decade or so and the players it's produced. Most Indiana fans are well aware Ball State's won the last three meetings between the schools. Ball State kicked the shit out of Indiana in 2008. Ball State's come far closer to a BCS-level bowl than Indiana has in decades. Pete Lembo did a nice job after Brady Hoke left town. Nate Davis, Dante Love, Keith Wenning, Willie Snead. Ball State has been over the last decade a very, very, very good MAC football program.
That said, there's been a lot change for both programs since the last meeting in 2012. Both Ball State wins this decade over Indiana came in the 1st and 15th games of Kevin Wilson's tenure and the Hoosier program was in a hellacious place. The cupboard was quite bare after Bill Lynch left, and Wilson's only FBS win at that time had come over UMass -- who you might recall was transitioning to FBS at the time from FCS. Fun!
But since that time, Indiana's gone 10-3 in out of conference play -- the last loss coming in 2014 on the road at Bowling Green. It's gone from close losses to Ball State and Navy to close losses to Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Iowa. Recruiting patterns have changed. Indiana competes against other Power 5 schools for players now -- whereas it was common for Indiana recruits to only have MAC offers all through the early and late aughts. Indiana now looks far more like a real Big Ten program than it ever has at any point in the last 20+ years, and it has the talent to handle lesser opponents.
At the same time, Ball State's gone in the other direction. Most Indiana fans that follow this sort of thing know recruiting trailed off for Pete Lembo toward the end of his tenure. There were defensive struggles. There were struggles to replace Keith Wenning. Ball State doesn't feel like a program that was punching above its weight any more, like it was back eight or so years ago. Mike Neu might get things back on the right track. He might not. But, now, Indiana is the bigger program, in the bigger conference, with far bigger fish to fry than Ball State.
6. Ok, prediction time. The spread in Vegas is Indiana by 18ish as of Wednesday afternoon. What do you think?
I'm hesitant to say Indiana will cover, because Indiana football generally follows few rules of logic. But I'm just not a big believer in Riley Neal scoring enough points to make up for the leftover defensive deficiencies of the Lembo era to keep pace with a Kevin Wilson offense. Simmie Cobbs should be back for Indiana, the rust should be knocked off, and I'd expect a better offensive show from the Hoosiers than what we saw in Miami. Indiana 44, Ball State 17.
Be sure to head to The Crimson Quarry to scratch that Indiana Hoosiers football itch. Kickoff at Memorial Stadium on Saturday is scheduled for 4pm ET.