- Time and date: Tuesday, November 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPNU
- Location: Dix Stadium — Kent, OH
- Spread: Kent State (-7)
- ESPN FPI: Kent State has 74.6% chance to win
- All-time series: Ball State leads, 21-8
- Last meeting: Kent State 41, Ball State 38 — November 23, 2021
- Current streak: Kent State, 1 (2019)
Setting the scene
It’s that time of the year again! Welcome to midweek #MACtion season! There is football on your screen on Tuesday and Wednesdays again. It’s always a fun time of the year when the MAC moves to the forefront of national exposure on weeknights, where bizarre outcomes and stat-lines are produced, and stars like Jordan Lynch, Jaret Patterson, and Maxx Crosby rise on everyone’s radar.
Our first midweek #MACtion game of 2022 is an interdivisional contest between Ball State and Kent State in the town of Kent, OH. The Golden Flashes need the wins to start piling up to extend their stretch of .500+ seasons to four — which would set a new program record. Meanwhile, Ball State hopes to continue its surprise season and crawl to the doorstep of bowl eligibility with a win. It’s a battle of the birds at Dix Stadium, and best of all, it’s on national television.
Ball State Cardinals outlook
Ball State (4-4, 2-2 MAC) finished 6-7 last season with a senior-heavy roster. While considerable roster turnover was expected to set the Cardinals a step back in 2022, head coach Mike Neu has kept his squad competitive. Outside of Ball State’s season opener loss to College Football Playoff contender Tennessee, the Cardinals have refused to take a game off, holding a fourth quarter lead in every single outing.
What is working with this young team? When building a program, it’s always important to start with a sturdy foundation, and that’s exactly what the Cardinals have in their offensive line. Ball State is adept at pass blocking and run blocking alike. Quarterback John Paddock has been surrounded by a figurative forcefield, as his line has only surrendered seven sacks in eight contests.
Meanwhile running back Carson Steele — a 6’1”, 215 pound force — is having a standout true sophomore season out of the backfield. If Steele’s true freshman 891-yard campaign wasn’t impressive enough, Steele is up to 890 yards through eight games, and he has eight rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown, and a boatload of hurdles over defenders on his résumé.
Paddock has done a solid job in his first year as the starting quarterback. He averaged 46.6 passing attempts per game in his first five contests, but that number dipped to 30.7 in Ball State’s last three matchups. So as Ball State shifts to more reliance on the run game, Paddock’s passing stats have understandably seen a drop-off. But the quarterback previously demonstrated the ability to fire for 400 yards when given the reps, and he has talented receivers at his disposal such as Jayshon Jackson, who has two games featuring 10 receptions and 110+ yards in 2022.
Defensively, the Cardinals are on the upswing after allowing just 19 points per game in their last three outings. Substantial pressure at the line of scrimmage is one of the reasons the unit has thrived as of late, producing 11 collective sacks across those three contests. Defensive end Tavion Woodard and inside linebacker Cole Pearce are at the forefront of the pass rush, combining for 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss this fall. But this front seven wouldn’t be nearly as stout without the presence of Clayton Coll, a tackling machine who continues to bottle up opposing run games. This aspect of the defense is improving and Ball State’s last two MAC opponents both averaged under 3.4 yards per carry.
In the secondary, the team’s greatest weapon is cornerback Amechi Uzodinma, a longtime veteran who first established himself as an All-MAC caliber player in 2019. Uzodinma’s experience has certainly shown through the first two-thirds of the regular season, where he boasts a team-high eight pass breakups along with an interception and 25 solo tackles — seven away from matching his single-season best.
Kent State Golden Flashes outlook
Kent State (3-5, 2-2 MAC) picked up an important win in its last outing by surviving Akron in the Wagon Wheel rivalry. The Golden Flashes were down many key pieces in this contest, including starting quarterback Collin Schlee and reigning First Team All-MAC receiver Dante Cephas. While the status of these key components of the offense is unclear, the Golden Flashes still have plenty going for them on that side of the ball.
Kent State finished in the FBS top three in rushing each of the past two seasons, and the running back largely responsible for those numbers remains in the lineup. Marquez Cooper has been on a tear lately, and his heroics allowed Kent State to surge past the Zips in the absence of a starting quarterback. Cooper’s last four outings involve games of 240, 166, and 137 rushing yards, and the Golden Flashes have expressed comfort in handing him the ball over 30 times per game. Bryan Bradford serves as a reliable secondary back, as he enters Tuesday fresh off a season-high 61 yards. The 6’0”, 251 pound junior is no stranger to going up on a Tuesday, and it was on that day of the week in 2020 when he set his career-high in rushing with 113 yards.
The rushing attack will receive an even greater boost if Schlee his healthy. Schlee is skilled in running the RPO just like his predecessor Dustin Crum, and the quarterback has 339 rushing yards under his belt this year. He also has his moments as a passer, and while Kent State doesn’t consistently fire for 300 yards per game, Schlee exceeded this threshold in two of his three starts against MAC competition. If he remains unable to go, Devin Kargman will get the nod, looking to build on his 213-yard, 2-touchdown aerial performance against Akron.
The status of Cephas is also something to monitor going into this matchup, as he was removed from the Akron game with a lower-body injury. The star wideout traditionally delivers on weeknights with three consecutive 100+ yard outings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If he is sidelined, Kent State still has talent in the corps with the speedy Devontez Walker (616 yards and seven touchdowns) and veteran Ja’Shaun Poke, who recently returned to the lineup in October.
Kent State is always stacked at the skill positions under head coach Sean Lewis and offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder. The defense has remained more of a question in recent years, as the Golden Flashes currently rank 118th in total defense with a bit more concern in defending the pass as opposed to the run. Kent State’s secondary suffered a setback in late October when safety Antwaine Richardson suffered a season-ending injury. To counter Ball State’s passing attack, the Golden Flashes will rely heavily on cornerback Montre Miller, who has 35 tackles and two interceptions on the season, as well as the defense’s leading tackler in safety Nico Bolden.
The offenses are stronger than the defenses in this matchup. Although Ball State has shown improvement on the defensive side of the ball lately, Kent State’s offense has an explosive element which could keep this on the higher-scoring side. If Collin Schlee and Dante Cephas play, the Golden Flashes’ up-tempo offense becomes even more multidimensional, as the passing attack becomes as potent as the run.
Kent State’s offense has the firepower to crack the 30s, but Ball State should see considerable success given its advantages in the trenches, its respectable run game spearheaded by Carson Steele, and the playmaking of receivers such as Jayshon Jackson. Midweek #MACtion games are no stranger to close results, so expect the 2022 slate to start out entertaining with a back-and-forth barnburner in Kent, OH.
Prediction: Kent State 34, Ball State 31