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2020 MAC Football Game Preview: Ball State Cardinals at Miami RedHawks

The RedHawks begin their MAC title defense in the Redbird Rivalry against Ball State.

Miami Ohio v Ball State Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

After a most unusual offseason, we will finally have some #MACtion as the reigning MAC champion Miami RedHawks host the Ball State Cardinals in the latest edition of the Redbird Rivalry to kickoff the 2020 MAC season. In 2019, the Cards picked up a 41-27 victory at home over the ‘Hawks, although Miami has won the last two meetings in Oxford.


Game Info

When: November 4 (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. EST

Where: Yager Stadium, Oxford, Ohio

Watch/Listen: Watch on CBS Sports Network, listen on WLBC 104.1 FM (Muncie, Indiana)/ WMOH-AM 1450 (Hamilton, Ohio), WFMG-FM 101.3 (Richmond, Indiana), WDBZ-AM 1230 (Cincinnati, Ohio), WONE-AM 980 (Dayton, Ohio), WKBV-AM 1490, 100.9 FM (Richmond, Indiana)

Weather: Clear, crisp day with a high of 63 degrees and a low of 45 degrees

Odds: The RedHawks are 2.5-point favorites with the over/under set at 56.5, per ESPN


Series History

Miami currently leads the series 19-13-1

Largest margin of victory: 49-3 Miami win in 2003; 55-14 Ball State win in 2013

Longest win streak: Miami - five games from 1979-1987; Ball State - three games from 2008-2013

Current streak: Ball State broke a three game winning streak for the RedHawks last season in a 41-27 victory


The Cardinals

Quick Facts (all stats from 2019):

Points per game: 34.8

Points allowed per game: 34.1

Yards gained per game: 463.0

Yards allowed per game: 424.7


The RedHawks

Quick Facts (all stats from 2019):

Points per game: 24.1

Points allowed per game: 28.1

Yards gained per game: 309.1

Yards allowed per game: 381.9

We have ourselves an intriguing QB matchup to open the season as Drew Plitt of the Cardinals is coming off of a strong 2019 campaign that saw him throw for 2,918 yards (third in the MAC), 24 touchdowns (first in the MAC), and seven interceptions. Meanwhile, Brett Gabbert had moments of impressive play and is seeking to build off of 2,411 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, and eight interceptions in 2019.

Both squads also boast solid receiving corps as both of their leading receivers return in 2020. For Miami, Jack Sorenson looks to improve on a 2019 season where he posted 44 receptions, 568 yards, and four scores, while BSU’s Justin Hall has some big play ability as he registered 61 catches, 684 yards, and six TDs. Look for deep threats James Burns and Yo’Heinz Tyler to make an impact for their respective teams as well.

The running game will be an interesting matchup as dynamic RBs Jaylon Bester and Tyre Shelton will be out for the ‘Hawks due to an injury in the preseason, so Davion Johnson will get the start at RB with Zach Kahn potentially spelling him. Johnson saw some action in 2019 with 172 yards on the ground and 128 through the air while Kahn was a contributor as a RB as well as on special teams last season. However, there is no doubt who the RB is for Ball State as Caleb Huntley was third in the MAC with 1,275 rushing yards to go with 12 touchdowns.

The two offensive lines in the game are comparable as BSU boasts three senior OLs with Kaleb Slaven and Curtis Blackwell manning tackles while Anthony Todd handles center duties. Tommy Doyle and Danny Godlevske lead the charge for Miami’s offensive line, which is experienced as any in the MAC.

Defensively, Miami brings back a lot of starters on a defense that was third in the conference in yards allowed. The back end remains a strength with Manny Rugamba and Sterling Weatherford. The departure of Doug Costin leaves a big hole in the middle of the DL, so Kameron Butler will have to build on his 5.5-sack season from a year ago.

The defense of the Cards will have to take the next step this if it expects to be a contender as it was 11th in the conference in passing yards allowed last season. Christian Albright and Jordan Williams are playmakers on the second level as they combined for 20.5 TFLs and eight sacks in 2019. Amechi Uzodinma II made a name for himself last season in the secondary as he hauled in five interceptions.

Special teams might be the difference in the game, and Miami is going to rely on freshman Dom Dzioban to handle the kicking duties. Dzioban went 90% on field goal attempts during his senior season and went 50-51 on PATs. With the departure of Maurice Thomas, explosive WR Jalen Walker will be the kickoff returner starting out.

Ball State will also be breaking in a brand-new kicker this season as either Jack Knight or Jacob Lewis will get the starting nod, but Nathan Snyder brings back a big leg at punter as he had 11 punts of 50 yards or more and downed 16 punts inside the 20 yard-line (and had three punts blocked).


Predictions

The arrival of #MACtion comes with a lot of things. The lack of non conference games will make it hard on the defense and special teams units (less so for the offenses in this game since there are so many returners). I feel like this game is going to blow past the over in what will be one of the most entertaining games in college football this week. For Miami to win, Gabbert has to keep the offense on the field while the defense finds a way to contain Huntley. For Ball State to get a statement win, the Cards have to win the field position battle and the defense has to win third down.

At the end of the day, Miami just has too much talent. The defense is good enough to contain Ball State, while Johnson is capable of stringing together some solid runs. Gabbert will be an effective manager of the game, and the RedHawks will escape with a 34-27 victory to open MAC play.