The Ball State Cardinals and the Western Michigan Broncos played another instant classic, this time with the Broncos winning 37-30. Sean Tyler provided the game-winning touchdown on a 60-yard touchdown run halfway through the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals took a 16-14 lead into halftime, then Ball State running back Carson Steele scored a touchdown after a muffed punt in the third quarter to give the Cardinals a 23-14 advantage. The Broncos answered immediately with a touchdown drive of their own to keep the game within reach.
Ball State almost made enough plays to win this game, but they couldn’t get off the field on defense enough to seal the win. Tyler’s touchdown run was the seventh lead change of the game with plenty of time left for a few more. The Bronco defense forced the Cardinals off the field with a turnover on downs, and the Bronco offense executed a perfect 4-minute offense to close out the game.
If you want a deeper delve into the nuts and bolts of the game itself, please revisit our game recap and then return to this page for the in-depth analysis.
Without any more delay, here’s the takeaways from WMU’s win over Ball State:
How Western Michigan won
The Broncos won the game despite losing the turnover battle and moving the ball fewer yards per play. It wasn’t highway robbery, but those are strong indicators of winning the game. Western Michigan did hold slight advantages in field position and explosiveness to even out the analytical analysis.
The actual issue Ball State had was how unevenly their plays were distributed. The chart below shows how the distribution of yards on each play.
This chart is essentially a summary of success rate. While the Broncos had fewer yards per play, they did hold an advantage in success rate. Success rate sets yardage expectations for specific down and distances and the percentage it gives is how often the offense was “successful.”
Ball State doubled the Broncos in 20+ yard plays and those outliers buoyed their yards per play. They had too many plays go for less than four yards to sustain drives. The Broncos had about the same number of plays achieving less than four yards, but more than doubled the Cardinals in plays from five to nine yards. Those plays make getting first downs much easier.
Inefficiencies and all, Ball State had the lead halfway through the fourth quarter. They were able to get to that point by hitting on big plays to score touchdowns and a great field goal kicker that was able to salvage three drives.
The Ball State defense just couldn’t get off the field when they needed to. Bronco head coach Tim Lester has been aggressive on fourth downs since he arrived in Kalamazoo. He’s had trouble finding a consistent field goal kicker, which may have forced his hand.
Saturday, the Broncos were 6-17 on third down attempts. On the failed 11 attempts the Broncos went for a fourth-down conversion five times. There is a sixth attempt on the last play of the game but the Broncos were not trying to convert that play. They were successful on four of the five attempts, and two came on drives that ended in a touchdown. The Cardinals win the game if they can force a turnover on downs on those two plays.
This game was tight, and those plays were high-leverage moments that the Broncos won.
When Western Michigan had the ball:
The Western Michigan backup quarterback is...
Jack Salopek scrambled for yards during the first drive of the game and left the game after taking a hard hit into the boundary. Right away Saturday we learned that Mareyohn Hrabowski is the backup quarterback in Kalamazoo.
He was used sparingly last season as a running quarterback, and change-of-pace player. His role hasn’t changed much. His one pass attempt was wiped out of the box score by a penalty on the defense. He did not appear in the Michigan State game, but if Salopek leaves the game again, Hrabowski is the guy.
The Western Michigan wide receiver room is not a concern
Coming into the season, the only receiver on WMU’s roster that returned a catch in 2021 was Corey Crooms. There were a lot of questions about the younger players on the roster and the transfers brought in. Through two weeks, those have been answered.
The Broncos are going to force the ball to Crooms and make sure he gets his touches, but he’s not the only threat. Boston College transfer Jehlani Galloway has eight catches on the season and is tenth in the MAC in yards per catch. Redshirt freshman Blake Bosma is a reliable set of hands over the middle of the field and the rest of the younger guys have caught the passes they should catch.
Jaquan Amos is a playmaker in the secondary for Ball State
Safety Jaquan Amos transferred to Ball State after three seasons at Villanova, and against the Broncos, he was a do-it-all defender. He made three tackles for loss and broke up one pass. The Cardinals played a five-defensive back base package and made him the safety that charges up in run support.
In the two games this season he has 14 total solo tackles, 16 total and three for a loss. Those tackles-for-loss puts him in a tie for fourth place in the MAC. In his role on the Ball State defense, he should rack up the stops throughout the season.
The Cardinals are still missing Brandon Martin
The lack of short-yardage stops is screaming for a linebacker to step in and make some plays. Brandon Martin is more than capable but injuries have kept him out so far this season. He is using his seventh year of eligibility to be on the roster this season, hopefully, he can see the field soon.
When Ball State had the ball:
The skill positions at Ball State will make them a dangerous team
As quarterback John Paddock gets more comfortable in the Ball State offense, the rest of the offense will get better and better. The skill positions around Paddock are solid. Running back Carson Steele is a tough runner that can break a big gain. The top three wide receivers each average more than ten yards a catch.
Receivers Jayshon Jackson, Amir Abdus-Salaam and Yo’Heinz Tyler have 12, 12 and 10 catches respectively. Paddock is spreading the ball around and it’s paying off, each has more than 100 yards receiving on the season. Every position has players that can produce and they will surprise someone this season.
Consistency is an issue for the BSU offense through two weeks, but the kicker can help
The Bronco defense got the Cardinals behind the chains and off the field seven times on fourteen drives. That is their problem to solve to turn close, one-possession losses into wins.
Their two most likely drive outcomes were falling behind the chains and the drive ending short of the endzone and an explosive play for a touchdown. Their kicker, Ben VonGrunten, bailed them out with two 40+ yard field goals. Mike Neu needs to put his faith in his offense from the Western Michigan three-yard line, but getting three points on a fourth-and-three attempt from the 27 is an asset.
Defensive tackle Braden Fiske is going to be a menace in MAC play
Braden Fiske punched a ball loose against Michigan State and did it again against Ball State. If he forces 12 fumbles this season, he’ll win MAC Defensive player of the Year. The Ball State fumble was officially credited to Ryan Selig, but Selig didn’t ball up a fist, punch at the ball, then the ball was free. Fiske did.
Fiske leads the Broncos in tackles for loss and is tied for third on the team in total tackles. Ten tackles from a defensive tackle in two games is great production. He’s going to be on the radar of opposing coaching staffs from here on out.