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2022 Week 13 Midweek MACtion Preview: Ball State Cardinals @ Miami (OH) RedHawks

A Tuesday night. A rivalry trophy. Bowl eligibility at stake. What more can you ask for?

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

Game notes

  • Time and date: Tuesday, November 22 at 7:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN+
  • Location: Yager Stadium — Oxford, OH
  • Spread: Miami (OH) (-3)
  • ESPN FPI: Miami (OH) has 62.2% chance to win
  • All-time series: Miami (OH) leads, 21-13-1
  • Last meeting: Miami (OH) 24, Ball State 17 — October 23, 2021
  • Current streak: Miami (OH), 2 (2020-21)

Three reasons why you must watch this game

  1. Bowl eligibility is at stake. The Ball State Cardinals are 5-6. The Miami RedHawks are 5-6. The winner improves to 6-6 and goes bowling in December. The loser watches their season end Tuesday night. The same high stakes are shared by both teams in this matchup.
  2. It’s the Red Bird Rivalry. Ball State and Miami use similar color schemes and both teams are represented by bird mascots. So in 2017, the Red Bird Rivalry trophy was created for the annual matchup between the interdivisional opponents. Thus, a rivalry trophy is also at stake.
  3. It’s midweek MACtion, and last week proved to us how great midweek MACtion is. Whether it was the chaotic 42-35 finish between Bowling Green and Toledo or the Western Michigan-Central Michigan rivalry taking place in a blizzard, midweek MACtion had something for everyone last week. While there won’t be snow in Oxford, OH on Tuesday night, it’s still Tuesday night football — for the final time in 2022.
Miami Ohio v Ball State
Ball State celebrates with the Red Bird Rivalry trophy after winning the 2019 matchup over the eventual MAC champion Miami (OH).
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Ball State Cardinals outlook

Ball State (5-6, 3-4 MAC) is receiving its third and final shot at bowl eligibility. The Cardinals spent their prior two weeks pitted against potential MAC Championship Game participants Toledo and Ohio, and neither game wound up in their favor. But the loss to Ohio was even more costly as Ball State watched star running back Carson Steele leave the game with injury after a brutal head-on collision with the turf.

Steele is Ball State’s offense this season. The running back ranks ninth in the FBS in rushing yards with 1,376 and the true sophomore has 12 rushing touchdowns in addition. Steele utilizes his 6’1”, 215 pound frame and impressive weight room numbers to shed tackles at a jaw-dropping rate. Last week, the midgame injury left him four yards shy of his sixth consecutive 100-yard rushing game. With his status in doubt Tuesday, Ball State must reimagine its offense, but the Cardinals could still lean heavy on the run game with Will Jones and Vaughn Pemberton out of the gate.

Jones is another downhill-running power back like Steele, and Tuesday could be the final time the longtime program veteran suits up in Cardinal colors. Although his usage has dipped with the rise of Steele, Jones was a steady contributor for the 2020 MAC champion squad. He posted 89 yards and a touchdown in Ball State’s first-ever bowl win over San Jose State, demonstrating his potential to thrive as a No. 1 back. Pemberton has received at least one carry in all 11 games and averages 3.2 per contest, but his usage should ramp up against Miami. Operating behind one of the MAC’s strongest offensive lines, Ball State hopes to sustain its excellence in this facet of the offense.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 25 Camellia Bowl - Ball State v Georgia State
If Carson Steele is unable to go, running back Will Jones looked poised to handle more than four carries for the first time this season. The longtime offensive staple has 818 rushing yards and six touchdowns in his Ball State career.
Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While the running game typically thrives, Ball State remains in search of magic in its passing attack, which is primarily assisted by the tight ends and wide receiver Jayshon Jackson. After a disastrous 13-of-35 performance against Toledo, the Cardinals improved in this regard last week — faring 29-of-48 for 273 yards, the team’s highest output since Oct. 1. John Paddock retained the No. 1 QB role all season and will start his 12th game of 2022 this Tuesday. He threw 48 passes last week due to playing from behind and the absence of Steele, so the Bloomfield Hills, MI native will have a large role in dictating how far Ball State’s offense goes in the regular season finale.

On defense, the Cardinals have been more refined lately, although they took a step back against Ohio. In a 5-game stretch prior to the 32-18 loss to the Bobcats, Ball State allowed 21 points per game, and defensive fortitude contributed to the majority of the Cardinals’ five wins this year. The defense’s specialty resides in the linebacker group where Clayton Coll and Cole Pearce line up. If Coll’s 104 tackles weren’t impressive enough last year, he has the opportunity to exceed that total Tuesday night if he racks up six on Miami. Alongside the reigning All-MAC linebacker is Pearce, who leads the team with 13.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, so he’ll spark the backfield invasion against the RedHawks.

On the back end, the safety tandem of Malcolm Lee and Jordan Riley is where Miami’s attention should be. Lee is a fifth-year senior possibly suiting up for the last time, and he’s brought the heat in his final season with 67 tackles and two forced fumbles. Riley is a major reason why Ball State’s passing defense sharply improved in 2022, as he broke up 10 passes and accumulated 88 tackles in the first 11 games of the year.

Miami RedHawks outlook

Miami (OH) (5-6, 3-4 MAC) thwarted off Northern Illinois in the snow last Wednesday night to keep the bowl dreams alive. Bowl eligibility has become the standard in the Chuck Martin era at Miami, and the program is seeking its fifth consecutive non-losing season under the tenured head coach.

The burning question for the RedHawks is, who starts at quarterback Tuesday? Brett Gabbert returned Oct. 22 after suffering a late-game injury in the Week 1 loss to Kentucky. Fresh of his best showing of the year, a 20-of-26 showing for 244 yards and three touchdowns against Ohio, the 2021 All-MAC quarterback was a surprising scratch from the lineup with an ankle injury last week. Instead Aveon Smith, who started the majority of Miami’s game this season, reclaimed his starting duties for the Northern Illinois game.

The offense functions differently under Smith, who is more of a dynamic runner than Gabbert, but doesn’t stretch the field vertically to the same degree. Smith dashed through the snow en route to 105 yards and two touchdowns to upend the Huskies. He exhibits a 52 percent completion rate on the year and averages 130 passing yards in seven starts, so expect Miami to keep the offense more grounded in the event Gabbert — who burns a potential redshirt for appearing in one more game — does not return.

Plenty of running backs receive substantial repetitions in Miami’s offense. The feature back is typically Keyon Mozee, but the team’s leading rusher missed the Northern Illinois game, leaving Tyre Shelton and Kevin Davis as the primary options to bolster the run alongside Smith. Shelton, a staple in the offense since the 2019 MAC title season, added 43 yards on a team-high 16 handoffs in the win and could be the leader of the stable if Mozee remains out once again.

Miami’s most impactful skill position player is a member of the receiving corps, however. Mac Hippenhammer has been the overwhelming No. 1 option this year, whether Gabbert or Smith is under center. With 46 receptions and 656 yards, Hippenhammer more than doubles the next highest output of any RedHawk. He is responsible for eight receiving touchdowns, while no other member of the roster exceeds one. Hippenhammer is an excellent route runner with explosive playmaking ability, so he’ll be the main focus in Ball State’s film study. Other frequented options complementing the third-year RedHawk receiver are Indiana transfer Miles Marshall and tight end Jack Coldiron.

Mac Hippenhammer ranks fourth in the MAC with eight receiving touchdowns on the season. He enters Tuesday fresh off of back-to-back 100-yard games.
Photo by Graham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When it comes to stopping the run, nobody in the MAC does it better than Miami. The RedHawks limit opponents to 124 yards on the ground per game at a 3.6 average. There’s plenty of firepower scattered throughout the team’s 4-2-5 scheme, but the veteran linebacker duo of Ryan McWood and Matthew Salopek strikes the most fear into running backs. McWood ranks among the top 10 FBS players in tackles with 107 on the season, and the inside backer is two weeks removed from a 19-tackle masterclass against Ohio. Salopek is the chief backfield specialist on the roster, racking up 7.5 tackles for loss in a campaign featuring 95 tackles.

Miami also features the more threatening pass rush in this matchup — one averaging 2.4 sacks per game led by the recent rise of defensive end Brian Ugwu, who has four sacks since Oct. 22. However, Ball State is the second-most impenetrable offensive line in the MAC, so spearheading this pass rush is a challenge Miami must be up for, especially if the Cardinals exceed 40 passing attempts like they have seven times this season. The secondary, led by John Saunders Jr. and his two picks and nine pass breakups, hopes to benefit from this mutualistic relationship with the pass rush in order to secure bowl eligibility for the fourth straight season, excluding the abbreviated 2020 campaign.


The statuses of Carson Steele and Brett Gabbert certainly have impact on the result of bowl eligibility for both teams. Ball State’s offense must prove to be multidimensional on a consistent basis in order to win this game, especially if Steele is unable to take the field. Miami specializes in stopping the run, so the Cardinals look due for another game with 40 to 50 attempts through the air. Thus, Ball State needs a stellar performance from John Paddock, as well as significant yards after the catch by Jayshon Jackson and the receivers in order to produce a winning offensive output.

For Miami, Brett Gabbert and Aveon Smith bring different offensive philosophies to the table, but the RedHawks have shown the ability to win under both approaches. Smith has found his groove in the running game, which could inflict plenty of damage on Ball State's 109th ranked run defense if he starts. Gabbert will test the waters downfield more often and the connection with Mac Hippenhammer would be the most explosive element of either offense in this matchup. But the reason Miami has the greatest advantage is its defensive execution. With Ryan McWood and Matthew Salopek manning the unit, expect the RedHawks to clinch bowl eligibility and celebrate with the Red Bird Rivalry trophy on their home field Tuesday night.

Prediction: Miami (OH) 27, Ball State 17