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2019 MAC Football Week 4 Game Preview: Ball State Cardinals at NC State Wolfpack

Things could get offensive at Carter-Finley Stadium Saturday night as two teams in the top 50 in scoring in the FBS face off.

Indiana v Ball State Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Ball State Cardinals (1-2) head to Raleigh, North Carolina to take on the North Carolina State Wolfpack (2-1) at 7:00pm ET on ESPNU.

Ball State will be pitted against old MAC foe Dave Doeren, current head coach of the Wolfpack and former head coach of the Northern Illinois Huskies.

The betting experts have the Wolfpack as a 19-point favorite heading into this game, while ESPN gives the Wolfpack an ‘87.7%’ chance to win according to its ‘Matchup Predictor;’ but me, i’m not so sure I agree. I think it will be a closer game.

At the very least, I think both teams will know a lot more about themselves at the end of this one.

Ball State lost by ten to a couple of FBS squads, Indiana Hoosiers and the Florida Atlantic Owls. If Ball State comes up short of a bowl bid by a game, the FAU game is one they may look back upon with regret, having four turnovers.

NC State’s two victories were not entirely impressive, rolling FCS squad Western Carolina 41-0 and thrashing the Eastern Carolina Pirates (ECU) 34-6. NC State’s win over ECU might have lost some of its luster after Navy made the Pirates walk the plank last week, 42-10.

But you play who you play, and NC State played well and won.

NC State lost last week to the West Virginia Mountaineers 44-27 in its biggest test of the season.

Ball State can play some offense in 2019, led by QB Drew Plitt who is off to a hot start by completing over 70% of his passes for 1040 yards and 11 touchdowns. And Plitt is doing an improved job of taking care of the football as he has three interceptions in 119 attempts this season as compared with eight interceptions in 131 attempts in 2018. Plitt is going to help his team win games if he can continue to manage that turnover number.

In addition, the wide receiving corps may just be the strength of the squad based on early returns. Plitt has hit five different receivers for explosive plays this year including longs of 36, 40, 45, 46, and 50 yards. The group is led by the 11th ranked player in our top 25 MAC players of 2019, Riley Miller. Miller has 14 grabs for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. Receivers Antwan Davis and Justin Hall have also combined for 29 catches, 384 yards, and four touchdowns, giving the Cardinals a solid starting trio.

Running back Caleb Huntley has been effective for the Cardinals, averaging 4.7 yards per carry with 231 yards and two touchdowns.

NC State is probably the most well-round squad the Cardinals have faced, doing most things solidly, avoiding the lows and not yet reaching the highs.

I expect the Wolfpack will try to establish the run this week after throwing for 48 times last week tying to catch up with the Mountaineers last week. The Wolfpack appears happy to run the ball when they can.

Ball State has done solid job in run defense on the whole, ranking 54th in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game. This is an area where we might learn something about both squads because NC State has run the ball well in the first three weeks, ranking 37th in the FBS in rushing yards gained.

NC State has a first-year starter at QB in Matthew McKay. McKay has done well in managing the game, with no turnovers but only three touchdown passes. McKay has done more of his work in short-and-intermediate routes but has connected on two passes over 40 yards this year.

I think we could find out some things about Ball State’s pass defense this week. Out of all the areas, for me, the Cardinals pass defense is probably the biggest unknown; so if McKay is able to pile up the passing yardage, my concerns about the Cardinal’s passing defense will grow.

The Wolfpack will be looking to improve in the area of third-down conversions where they are currently ranked 98th in the FBS, converting 34.9%.


Prediction

I don’t see NC State covering the spread in this one at -19. Ball State clearly has some playmakers in the passing game and has been solid in run defense. Barring turnovers or injuries, I see Ball State being able to put some points on the board. NC State does many things pretty well, but has not shown offense explosiveness of the kind that would be catastrophic to the Cardinals’ chances.