When Saturday dawned, fans of the Ball State Cardinals had to expect that their learning outcomes for the afternoon would be of the ugly variety. It was the first-ever trip to South Bend to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the same Irish that were 8th-ranked and hot off the heels of a victory over the Michigan Wolverines in week one. Ball State was coming off a big win themselves, over FCS Central Connecticut State, and hoping to keep momentum heading in a positive direction after a demoralizing 2017. Suffice to say hope is alive in Muncie. Here’s why...
1 - Riley Neal has all the throws you could want a QB to have at his disposal. Time and time again on Saturday, Neal was being praised by the broadcast crew as a prototypical pro quarterback, highly skilled, and one to keep your eye on. His performance on Saturday should give Cardinals fans hope that he is the next big thing in Muncie and the MAC. It’s safe to say that MAC signal callers are often the difference between a special season and one that’s business as usual. Ball State appears to have just that kind of person under center.
2 - This team plays with a different tempo and swagger. Last season closed with injuries galore and nine straight losses. It’s hard to find a swagger or confidence when losses occur in bunches like that. But this team knows that 2017 and 2018 are not the same beast. Whether it’s because of Mike Neu’s play calling or just maturity within the program remains to be seen, but the fact remains that the 2018 Cardinals are feeling themselves.
3 - Ball State didn’t seem significantly out of their depth in the speed arena. You would expect that against a top 10 opponent stacked with All-Americans and five-star talent that there would be a significant speed gap between a MAC squad and Notre Dame. It was surprisingly less than I expected. Whether that speaks to weather, Notre Dame’s lack of, or Ball State’s possession of, speed is something to keep an eye on with this Cardinals team as 2018 rolls on.
4 - This offensive line is full of grown ass men. I’ve followed Ball State for almost 20 years. I have not seen an offensive line have this much of a push to it since the 2008 season. And that team didn’t have to showcase it against a team like Notre Dame. As the big boys up front go, so goes the offense. The MAC needs to be concerned because this BSU offensive line is going to be a problem.
And though this is a MACtion-centered blog, there’s a bit of a takeaway for the Fighting Irish. Being...
5 - Great teams don’t look average against teams with less talent. After a win last week against the Michigan Wolverines, Fighting Irish fans were beating the drum for a potential national championship run. There’s an argument to be made that not every week can be an “up” week over a 13-game season and of course there’s an emotional swing after a rivalry win. But great teams do great things consistently and that wasn’t what was seen in South Bend on Saturday.