clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What We Learned from Ball State’s 17-16 win over Central Michigan

Both teams are still living on the razor’s edge when it comes to their on-field performances... but Ball State is seemingly built for it.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 25 Camellia Bowl - Ball State v Georgia State Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Saturday proved to be a telling day in Mt. Pleasant, as the Central Michigan Chippewas hosted the Ball State Cardinals for a typically-underrated divisional match-up.

On a beautiful fall day in the newly-christened Kramer/Deromedi Field at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, both teams churned back-and-forth machinations of drives, with Ball State ultimately finding that one drive more to put the game away.

The result saw Ball State pull to 2-4 with a 2-1 MAC mark, launching them to second in the division, while CMU fell to 1-5, starting a daunting 0-2 in league play.

It was a revelatory 60 minutes of game clock, so let’s get straight into it.

What is left to say about CMU’s issues?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve laid down a number of inherent issues with CMU’s performance over the 2022 season.

Whether that’s the exodus of talent on defense and at the tackles, the lack of confidence in offensive playcalling, timing issues with the passer and new fleet receivers or bad execution on special teams, it’s been a culmination of several issues which has resulted in CMU’s 1-5 start.

All of those issues came up in spades against Ball State for the most part (although the defense did much improve from the prior week), with several inert offensive drives which stopped before they started, drops or misses on basic pass, four points left off the board on special teams and uninspired, predictable off-script playcalling all dooming CMU to a loss in a game where statistically, they probably should have won.

This was a team who was expected to compete for the MAC West division title in 2022 despite the sheer number of losses they suffered in graduation and the transfer portal after finishing as a co-champion in 2021. (NIU went to Detroit on a head-to-head tiebreaker.) The fact they’re instead two losses away from sitting at home in the postseason for the first time since 2018 is, for all intents and purposes, disappointing.

2022 has been, unequivocally, one of the worst campaigns we’ve seen in the last decade. At current, the program lacks any sense of chemistry on either side of the ball, with miscommunication and ill fits for talent across the board. The coaching staff also seems obstinate to change, maintaining the course regardless of game flow or individual performance.

The preseason slate had some very winnable matchups to vulnerable opponents, and yet, CMU came out 1-3, with the lone win a tense result against an 0-5 Bucknell, who has given up 119 more points than they’ve scored (41 vs. 160.) The fact the FBS teams CMU faced are now a combined 14-1 only makes their current performance all the more frustrating, as it feels like they’ve regressed from Week 1, when they forced OK State to bring their starters back on the field to prevent an upset bid.

But there’s no use crying over spilled milk.

The reality is Saturday made Central’s expectations clearer: get to .500. They do not control their own destiny after losing to Toledo at the start of the league slate, so they must run the table to get to a guaranteed bowl game to salvage anything from a missed opportunity of a season.

There’s still a chance to turn things around, as the schedule eases up with crossover games against Akron and Bowling Green, but those aren’t easy wins in recent weeks, either. If they split these games going into the home stretch, CMU could be facing a true rebuild at year’s end.

Ball State’s defense came to play

Enough about the losers, though!

Let’s talk about Ball State’s defensive effort in this one, which was their most dominant performance of the season by a good margin.

The Cards held CMU to just 16 points and 340 yards on the day, with one touchdown each in the air and on the ground, preventing Lew Nichols from eclipsing the 100-yard mark (a hallmark of CMU wins historically) and rendering Daniel Richardson largely ineffective, as he finished 19-of-40, getting sacked three times.

The defense picked up seven tackles-for-loss as a unit, forced seven punts, had nine pass break-ups and gave up just five conversions on third down on 20 attempts by CMU’s offense. The Chips were so frustrated by the lack of progress, they actually went for it on fourth down six times, converting three times (all in the first half.)

Cole Pearce was especially a force at the linebacker position, collecting 10 tackles, two tackles-for-loss and two pass break-ups in coverage, while the defensive back duo of Tyler “Red” Potts and Nic Jones combined for five pass break-ups.

The Cards also forced and recovered two fumbles, with one getting returned by Sidney Houston for the score which gave Ball State their first lead of the day, granting BSU an additional edge defensively over the Chips.

All of this was done despite being on the field for over 36 minutes of game clock, a credit to BSU’s tenacity on the defensive side. This week will be a performance to build upon for the future, as their prior low mark against an FBS opponent was 34 points allowed vs. Georgia Southern.

Mike Neu has forged an identity for this team

Speaking of complimenting the offense, it’s clear that this is a team who is adaptable to the situations which fall in front of them. That’s an indication of a clear identity, something Mike Neu has been working on with his unit since coming back to coach his alma mater seven years ago.

On offense, this team feeds off of Carson Steele’s determination in the ground game, where he’s picked up 610 yards and five touchdowns in six games, and John Paddock distributing the ball to a number of pass catchers, including two all-around tight ends in Tyler Koziol and Brady Hunt (who have combined for 38 receptions, 443 yards and eight touchdowns) and a number of field-stretching receivers with clearly-defined roles such as Jayshon Jackson (42 catches, 496 yards, two touchdowns) and Yo’Heinz Tyler (36 catches, 344 yards, one score.)

Defensively, this is a unit which seeks to disrupt passing lanes with speedy defensive backs and versatile, side-to-side linebackers who can also create their own penetration on stunts. Pearce and fellow backer Clayton Coll (45 tackles, one tackle-for-loss, two pass break-ups, one fumble forced) are the type of linebacker the team seeks to deploy on-field, with their three starting safeties (Jordan Riley, Jaquan Amos and Malcolm Lee) all helping to fill in gaps in the run and pass.

Ball State’s excellence in pass coverage is noticeable; the unit has 38 pass break-ups already in just six games, including nine this week, with four interceptions so far in the season. They’ve also been efficient with turnovers; of the five fumbles they’ve forced, they’ve recovered four,

In a league which thrives on passing offenses (for the most part), BSU has created a team which serves as a thorny anti-thesis by building a reliable balanced offense and a defense which seeks to neutralize the big play and force teams into being one-dimensional.

If the Cards can continue to play such complimentary football based in methodical offensive drives and frustrating opposing gameplans on defense, BSU could be back to their winning ways after a down season in 2021.

CMU will face Akron on the road this upcoming week, while Ball State wraps up their non-conference slate against UConn at home. CMU will kick off their game at noon Eastern time, while Ball State will start their game at 2 p.m. Eastern.