Black Friday is a time of great deals, and perhaps there is no greater deal than watching the Miami RedHawks (7-4, 6-1 MAC) and the Ball State Cardinals (4-7, 3-4 MAC) match wits in Muncie in the latest edition of the Red Bird Rivalry. Miami is coming off of its fifth straight win and has locked up the MAC East title while Ball State is no longer bowl-eligible after dropping its last four games. Since the Red Bird Rivalry was instituted in 2016, the RedHawks have a three-game winning streak over the Cardinals.
Miami is coming into the game after putting on a historic defensive performance against Akron last week with a program-record 12 sacks. Ivan Pace took home numerous individual accolades, including MAC East Defensive Player of the Week as he registered six sacks on the night, making him one of three players in NCAA history to accomplish the feat along with Ameer Ismail and Elvis Dumervil. Unfortunately for the RedHawks, they needed an all-time showcase from its defense as they struggled to consistently move the ball on offense.
Brett Gabbert struggled mightily against Akron as he went 10-21 for 117 yards and two interceptions (including a pick-six that kept the Zips in the game). This has been the status quo for Miami in 2019 as Gabbert has a 52.6 completion percentage and a 7-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio in MAC play. The silver lining for the offense is the running game as Jaylon Bester and Tyre Shelton have combined for over 900 yards in seven conference games.
Meanwhile, Ball State may be one of the best seven-loss teams in college football as they lost their last three games by four points or less and have been competitive in all its games this season. Since entering MAC play, no team has been more committed to the running game than the Cards as they lead the league in attempts (341) and yards (1869) as Caleb Huntley is having a strong season with 858 rushing yards and six scores in conference action. Drew Plitt provides an excellent complement through the air as he has thrown for 2,601 yards, 21 touchdowns, and seven interceptions this season.
However, BSU’s defense has given up a ton of yards in conference play with an average of over 450 yards per game on top of 27 touchdowns allowed, which is the fourth-most allowed in the MAC. The strength of the unit is its pass defense as it has recorded seven interceptions and has held teams to a 55.7 completion percentage and just four passing touchdowns. Uzodinma Amechi and Antonio Phillips are disruptive on the back end with four picks and 11 pass break-ups between them.
As far as Friday is concerned, expect Miami to test Ball State’s defense on the ground as that’s what Miami wants to do and what BSU has struggled against all season long. If the Cardinals are able to force the RedHawks into passing downs, that might lead to possible turnover opportunities against a passing attack that is wildly inconsistent. On the flip side, the ‘Hawks will need to maintain their disruptive play on defense since the Cards have the ability to put up yards and points. It could be a long day if BSU can run the ball with some success, and it may lead to Ball State’s first win in the Red Bird Rivalry.