The Ball State Cardinals were one of the biggest question marks of the Mid-American Conference season. After Saturday’s 24-21 loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini, questions remain but answers about the fight and effort of the Cardinals were answered several times over.
It was a tail of quarters in Champaign as both squads traded scores in the first stanza, Illinois dominated the second quarter, and Ball State laid claim to the third. The fourth quarter was scoreless until 2:06 when Illinois would reclaim the lead on a one-yard TD run set up by a 52-yard punt return by Mike Dudek. Ball State would have a final possession to attempt a tying or go ahead drive, but after 9 plays and 39 yards, Morgan Hagee’s 54-yard field goal attempt was blocked as time expired sealing the win for the Illini.
Ball State’s offense was sharp for the majority of the afternoon, racking up 204 yards passing and 171 yards rushing. Riley Neal would finish 21-34 for 204 yards and 1 TD through the air and 41 yards on the ground. James Gilbert would add 74 yards and 1 TD. One of the largest unknowns, the BSU receiving corps was led by Riley Miller, finishing with 86 yards and 7 catches, one of 9 Cardinals with a reception.
The lone black mark for the offense was their two turnovers, one of which led to an Illinois touchdown. Simply put, that cannot happen on the road against a P5 program if an upset is to occur. With the final spread being a one possession margin, turnovers can mean the difference between a big win on the road or another loss against a Big Ten squad. For Ball State’s young team, this was an opportunity missed, but hopefully a good foundation for learning and improving as MAC play looms.
Ball State (0-1) will be back in action next week at home against the UAB Blazers. Kickoff is slated for 3:00PM.