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2022 MAC Football Week 12 Game Preview: Ohio Bobcats vs Ball State Cardinals

This primetime clash features teams battling to fulfill post-season aspirations.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Ohio at Penn State
Ohio’s Sieh Bangura and Company are coming off their best performance of the year, rolling up 194 yards on the league-leading Miami RedHawk’s defense.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ohio (7-3, 5-1 MAC East) travels to Muncie, Indiana on Tuesday night to face Ball State (5-5, 3-3 MAC East) with some critical team goals in play for each side.

Due to a tiebreaker with Buffalo, the Bobcats can punch their ticket to Detroit for the championship game against Toledo with a win over the Cardinals so long as Bowling Green loses once. (It just so happens BGSU plays at the same time as Ohio on Tuesday night, with the Falcons facing rival Toledo.) Whether that BGSU loss is on Tuesday or next week, Ohio still needs to get the job done against BSU.

Meanwhile, a 28-21 loss last week to Toledo derailed the Cardinals dreams of a MAC West title in 2022— but Ball State can still go bowling this year if they can get one more win. A loss to Ohio at home and the Cardinals face the prospect of traveling to Oxford, Ohio to face Miami in the season’s final game to get bowl-eligible.

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Tuesday, November 15, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time
  • Networks: ESPN2
  • Radio/Streaming: Both teams can be heard via the Varsity Network App.
  • Location: Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Indiana
  • Weather at Kickoff: 35 degrees, 50 percent chance of rain or snow, per
  • Spread/Total: Ohio are four-point favorites. The last six weeks, Ohio is 6-0 versus the spread per
  • Last Meeting: At Ball State on October 26, 2019. Ohio won 34-21.

Ball State Cardinals

Getting to Know The Cardinals

2022 prospects for BSU’s program outside of Muncie were low as shown by the preseason coaches poll, where the Cardinals were picked to finish last in the MAC West due to a major loss of proven talent like quarterback Drew Plitt, wideout Justin Hall, and Las Vegas Raiders’ practice squad defensive back Bryce Cosby.

However, through ten games, the Cardinals have exceeded outside expectations, even having a chance to take a tiebreaker lead of first place last week over Toledo. Unfortunately for BSU, they came up seven points short in a tight game.

That the Cardinals would be within one possession of the MAC West champs was no surprise, as BSU has been in a battle in every conference game this year, winning or losing by seven points or less.

If things go to script, Ohio will have to battle for four quarters for a chance to get the road win against a resilient BSU squad who has multiple comeback wins in the last eight weeks. The biggest deficit erased was 21 points against rival NIU when BSU stormed back to claim the Bronze Stalk in overtime.

Offensively, BSU’s scoring in MAC play has been a mixed bag as the Cardinals put up 30 and 44 points the first two conference games and 20 points on average in the last four contests, although one of those games was against Toledo’s great defense.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 08 Ball State at Toledo
Carson Steele and the Ball State offense shredded the MAC West champion Toledo Rockets’ defense last week for 198 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

While BSU hasn’t scored a ton of points lately, they have the talent to blow up the scoreboard any given week. The offense starts with Carson Steele who is one of the MAC’s best players, having all the attributes you want in a running back: speed, size (six-foot-one, 215 lbs.), agility, vision, durability, effort, etc.

Steele has brought it just about every game this year, cracking the century mark on the ground in eight out of ten games and leads the MAC in rushing yards (1,280) and rushing touchdowns (12). The Cardinal back has turned it up in the last two weeks with more than 190 yards in both contests.

Although BSU will lean on Steele for about 25 runs per game, the Cardinals like to take to the air as quarterback John Paddock leads the MAC with 401 passing attempts, 22 more than pass-centric DJ Irons and the Akron Zips.

Paddock has shown he can get it done as he is fourth in the MAC in touchdown passes (16) and yards per game (232), with the downside of leading the MAC in interceptions thrown with 11 (with some of those being the bad luck, tip drill variety).

Paddock has some staples in the passing game featuring wideout Jayshon Jackson, who is on the MAC leaderboard with 66 catches for 755 yards this year. Joining Jackson are two tight ends who are both regularly on the field near the offensive line or flexed out as a wide receivers. TE Brady Hunt is third on the squad with 34 receptions while six-foot-seven freshman Tanner Koziol makes the ideal target near the red zone, leading the Cardinals with six touchdown catches.

And the Bobcats’ shouldn’t count out six-foot-three, 205 lb. wideout Yo’Heinz Tyler as a redzone threat or explosive playmaker: while Tyler has only one touchdown in 2022 he came into the season with 21 career touchdowns.

Defensively, Ball State is playing just about as well as any MAC squad in keeping opponents off the scoreboard, allowing just 21 points a game on average over the second half of the season.

Unless there is a winter whiteout the Bobcats should move the ball offensively so a key for BSU in this one more than ever is probably red zone defense. Another key will be if the Cardinals defense can stop the Bobcat running game as BSU is allowing the most rushing yards per game in the MAC with 181 per contest while Ohio’s interior running game rolled up 175 yards in the second half last week against the MAC’s top rushing defense in Miami.

BSU definitely has impact players who can give the Bobcats offense headaches like linebacker Cole Pearce who has made a living in the opponents’ backfield this year, ranked 15th in the nation in tackles-for-loss with 13.5.

The Ohio Bobcats

Getting to Know the Bobcats

Like BSU, the preseason coaches poll had little optimism for the Bobcats’ prospects in 2022, pegging Ohio to finish 5th in the MAC East coming off a 3-9 record in 2021. The ‘Cats had other ideas about their season and after ten weeks are on the cusp of a division championship if they can close out the campaign with another win or two.

Ohio enters the contest playing just about as well as any MAC squad in all three phases.

Offensively, Ohio is getting it done at a high level through the air and on the ground which creates a nightmare scenario for opposing defenses about where to focus their efforts.

Ohio’s passing game features quarterback Kurtis Rourke, whose 3,087 passing yards are seventh in the FBS and just 216 yards shy of the program record for most in a single season.

A key for the ‘Cats passing game is they can create so many matchup problems due to their depth a wideout with at least four wideouts capable of dominating on any given play. Sam Wiglusz, James Bostic and Jacoby Jones all have more than 500 yards receiving this year while Miles Cross has 481 yards.

The tight end group has a pair of reliable receivers led by Will Kacmarek and Tyler Foster, who have a combined 26 grabs for 266 yards and three scores this year.

BSU’s opponents have had a fair number of chances the last four or five weeks to hit some explosive plays against single coverage but the throws were off the mark. As one of the most accurate deep ball throwers in the FBS, Rourke is less likely to miss those opportunities.

Ohio v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

The Bobcats’ ground game is gaining momentum in recent weeks with starting running back Sieh Bangura returning from injury to record a career-best 145 yards against Miami led by a dominant second half o-line performance featuring future All-MAC selection right guard Hagen Meservy.

Defensively, like BSU, Ohio has kept opponents off the scoreboard with regularity, surrendering a high of just 21 points in the last four weeks.

Countering Steele and BSU’s offensive line is a Bobcat defensive front seven that has been stout against the run lately, holding opponents under 100 net yards rushing in four of the last five weeks.

The ‘Cats’ defensive line features a talented pair of tackles clogging up the works in the middle with Kai Caesar and Rodney Mathews while defensive ends Jack McCrory and Vonnie Watkins been active with a combined 81 tackles and 6.5 sacks.

Behind the defensive line are All-MAC-caliber linebackers Keye Thompson and Bryce Houston, who have combined for 133 tackles this season.

A key for Ohio will be limiting the damage on the ground while continuing to hold up on the back end on pass defense, limiting explosive plays, which was an issue earlier in the season for the Bobcats. Ohio’s secondary should get some critical reinforcements this week to help the back-end work as safety Alvin Floyd returns from a targeting disqualification and starting cornerback Torrie Cox Jr. may return after missing most of the last game with the flu.

What to Expect

BSU has the talent, the home-field advantage, and an X-Factor like weather to help the Cardinals pull this one off, but Ohio is playing some of the best football in the MAC now on both sides of the ball and should have the advantage in this one.

Ohio has been playing relatively clean football in MAC play, protecting the ball and limiting penalties. If Ohio can continue to minimize its self-inflicted wounds it will be hard for a good BSU defense to stop the ‘Cats offense for four quarters. Ohio’s advantage in the running game match up over BSU’s rushing defense makes the Bobcats’ MAC-leading passing game all that more difficult to stop.

Ohio 37, Ball State 23