The Ball State Cardinals (3-3, 2-1 MAC West) finally wrap up their non-conference slate this week on their home grounds, hosting the independent football program UConn (3-4).
Both teams are coming off road victories, as the Cardinals took down the Chippewas on Saturday afternoon, while the Huskies reeled off a fairly dominant victory against FIU under the Saturday lights in Miami.
A win for either side here would be very pivotal to their future ambitions, as it would get them one step closer to securing a postseason bowl bid. It would also continue some positive momentum, as both Ball State and UConn have won their previous two games coming into this contest.
That makes this late-season non-league tilt a fairly important one to consider watching:
- Time and Date: Saturday, October 15, 2022, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.
- Network: ESPN3 (A subscription is required for viewing.)
- Location: Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Indiana
- Spread/Total: Ball State is a 9.5-point home favorite, with an over/under of 47.5, per OddsShark.
- All-time series: Ball State has won all three of the prior contests between the two teams, with the last game being played to a 24-21 result in Storrs, Connecticut in 2002.
Getting to know the Huskies
The Huskies are a very intriguing group in their first year under new head coach Jim Mora Jr., who took over the program under tumultuous circumstances and has managed to squeeze out three wins so far out of a group which had won four games over the previous four years under Randy Edsell.
This is a team which has managed to perform despite bitter circumstances, as expected starting quarterback Ta’Quan Robertson, a former Penn State transfer, was injured in the first quarter of the first game, forcing UConn to scramble for solutions.
The light bulb has seemingly gone off in the last two weeks, as UConn has won both on the comeback trail (19-14 over Fresno State at home) and in dominating fashion (33-12 vs. FIU on the road). They’re looking for a third-straight win and a fourth win overall, which would mark their best season since 2015, when they Huskies finished 6-7.
The offense is led by a true freshman in Zion Turner at quarterback, who won the job after Robertson went down with injury. He’s currently 76-of-132 for 661 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions with an additional 99 yards on 47 carries.
The Huskies have three running backs they depend upon to generate yards, though they’ve been in-and-out with injury. The X-Factor on the roster is Devontae Houston, who has ran for 235 yards over the last two games, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in both games with just five yards lost. Victor Rosa is depended on for short-yardage situations, with four of the team’s nine rushing scores on 197 yards.
Aaron Turner (23 receptions, 219 yards, two touchdowns) and Kevens Ciercius (10 receptions, 148 yards) are the only receivers who have been healthy enough to play all seven games for the Huskies, and will likely lead the Huskies again in this game.
The Huskies have made their bread defensively over the last few weeks, dominating a wounded Fresno State on sheer yardage and frustrating FIU by forcing them to settle often.
Mitchell Jackson leads the Huskie defense with 75 tackles, including four tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in the middle of the defense, while Texas Tech transfer Brandon Bouyer-Randle also highlights the front seven with 47 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, a sack and two interceptions. Eric Watts, a six-foot-six, 268 lb. defensive tackle, leads the team in both tackles-for-loss (five) and sacks (three), with five QB pressures to boot. Tre Wortham is UConn’s best cover back, with three interceptions and two pass break-ups with fellow back Chris Shearin leading the team with four break-ups.
Placekicker Noe Ruelas is 7-of-8 on field goals, with a long of 54 yards on the year, while punter George Caratan averages 40.3 yards per punt on 38 boots, with seven punts inside-the-20.
Getting to know the Cardinals
The Cardinals have felt pretty punchy lately after struggling for consistency in a 1-3 start to the season, with a grind-it-out win against CMU last week and a furious comeback rally in overtime against NIU two weeks back to show their potential in two completely different sets of circumstances.
They seem to be reaching their top speed at the right point in the season, as winning this contest would go a long way towards showcasing their legitimacy in the MAC West title race. Make no mistake: this is a game which Ball State should win on talent and home field advantage.
The Ball State passing offense is one of the most efficient in the country, standing 30th in the NCAA with 276.7 yards per game and 12 touchdowns through the air over the last six games. First-year starter John Paddock has filled in admirably for the graduated Drew Plitt, completing 166-of-260 passes for 1,660 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions, and has had plenty of targets to distribute the ball to. The tight end pair of Tanner Koziol (21 rec., 227 yards, five touchdowns) and Brady Hunt (17 rec., 216 yards, three touchdowns) have been especially helpful in moving the ball forward, with Jayshon Jackson leading the outside receivers with 42 receptions for 496 yards and two touchdowns.
But don’t let the passing numbers tell the whole tale: this is a team who loves to run the ball.
Carson Steele is the do-it-all back for the Cards, toting the ball 136 times for 610 yards and five touchdowns, while also hauling in an additional 15 receptions for 68 yards. The Cardinals like to get Steele going early so they can drain clock and keep possessions alive, gradually opening up the passing game as the clock progresses.
Defensively, this group is a bit of a gamble, ranking 104th in the country in total defense, giving up an average of 416.8 opposing total yards per game. They’re especially brutal in rushing defense, giving up an average of 189.7 yards on the ground per game— but that’s by design, as this is a team built to stifle high-flying attacks. They’ve given up only nine passing touchdowns and 227 yards per game.
Clayton Coll is the leader in the clubhouse in tackles, with 45 overall. Jordan Riley has been fairly good from the safety spot as well, with 43 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, a sack and six pass break-ups. Cole Pearce has been an excellent interior backer, with 38 tackles, a team-leading 6.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks and two pass break-ups. Defensive tackle Tavion Woodward is the team’s leading sackmaster, with two on the season. Six Cardinals overall have at least one sack apiece.
Their defensive secondary is suffocating, with the quartet of Nic Jones (seven pass break-ups, two interceptions), Riley (six pass break-ups) and Tyler “Red” Potts (five pass break-ups) and AJ Uzodinma III (five pass break-ups, one interception) all proving reliable in coverage.
Ben VonGunten is 10-of-13 on field goals, while Luke Borrow, who averages 41.15 yards per boot and has 14 inside-the-20 punts on 33 attempts, won Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against CMU.
What to Expect
This should be a winnable game for Ball State on sheer talent alone, and that advantage should be further expanded upon by being the host.
BSU should be able to take care of a weak passing attack, and with the way they play football defensively, turning UConn into a one-dimensional team is not a bad thing even if that one dimension happens to overlap with the opposing team’s strength.
UConn has a way to go with their rebuild, while Ball State has everything to play for going into this one. Ball State should handle this pretty easily if they take the contest seriously. A sluggish start like they had against CMU last week could present danger.