The Ball State Cardinals host the Western Michigan Broncos in the first Mid-American Conference football game of 2022 on Saturday afternoon, giving us an early card fight for the main event battle that should be the MAC West title bout.
Both teams lost to their Power 5 opponent to open the season, with Western Michigan losing to Michigan State and Ball State losing to Tennessee.
Both are starting quarterbacks that had their first career starts last week.
Ball State’s quarterback John Paddock looks more productive on paper with a better completion percentage and almost a yard advantage in yards per attempt. Paddock didn’t take a sack, but he did manage to throw two interceptions, iuncluding one on the first pass attempt of the game. He was depended upon to throw often due to the game flow, as the Cards fell behind by three possessions early in the first half.
Jack Salopek had trouble staying upright and was sacked seven times by the Michigan State defensive front. Despite the sacks, he looked more composed than a redshirt freshman usually does and showed enough to believe he could be the guy in Kalamazoo for seasons to come.
The real difference between these two teams is on the defensive side of the ball. The Volunteers took advantage of a rebuilding Cardinal defense, while the Bronco defense showed off a lot of their strengths against the Spartans. The Broncos had their usual enemy, the big play, make multiple appearances, but they were in the game much later than the Cardinals with similar offensive outputs.
The recent history between these two programs is more explosive than a firework, with the headliner matchup between these two teams is the 2020 classic that decided the MAC West champion, a game which included a game-deciding minute-long play featuring 16 laterals.
Last season, the Broncos came in 12.5-point favorites and lost by 25, immediately giving up a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. In 2018, the Broncos won a 35-31 game and the fourth quarter featured four lead changes. The Broncos went for the win in the first overtime in 2017 only to be stopped on a sloppy read option.
The games between these two rarely go to script, making the matchups either exciting or anxiety-inducing, depending on what sideline you cheer for.
- Time and Date: Saturday, September 10, 2022, at 2:00 pm Eastern time
- Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required.)
- Location: Schuemann Stadium in Muncie, Indiana
- Spread/Total: The Broncos are a 6.5-point favorite with an over/under spread of 52.5 points per OddsShark.
- All-time series: Western Michigan leads the all-time series 26-22, but Ball State is 3-1 in the last four.
The Western Michigan Broncos through week one:
The Broncos scored 13 points in East Lansing and left more on the field. A penalty replaced a touchdown with a field goal and two fumbles in plus territory, one in the redzone, left more to be desired from the WMU offense.
They were able to hit some big plays, mostly on the ground. Salopek found a ton of space in the first half on a designed quarterback draw that went for 61 yards. It was pretty clear that he has more mobility than his predecessor, Kaleb Eleby, but he wasn’t going to outrun the Spartan's secondary.
The failures were in efficiency and keeping negative plays in check. Allowing seven sacks is a major concern for an offense with a young quarterback and three new starters on the offensive line. The defensive front from Ball State will be a different level of athlete and scheme. If the Broncos continue to allow too much pressure or negative plays, they might be forced to get the ball out more quickly and limit the downfield shots.
They should be fine in the long term for overall efficiency but will they be fine in the second week of the season? It could easily be a deciding factor on Saturday.
The Broncos have two well-known players to every defensive coordinator and one they will get acquainted with soon. Running back Sean Tyler and wide receiver Corey Crooms are the playmakers that the offense is going to run through. They lead their respective position groups in touches last week.
Tight end Blake Bosma is another redshirt freshman that has already made an impact for the Broncos. Against Michigan State, he had five catches for 35 yards. The average per catch isn’t impressive but having a reliable safety valve for short completions over the middle or in the flat can be a huge asset for a new quarterback.
The defense showed signs of being able to carry the weight of the Bronco football team, but Michigan State was too much. Their issue was a familiar one: they gave up five touchdowns in total and four of them came on drives where the Spartan offense had a play of 40 yards or more. Three of them were touchdown passes of at least 41 yards or more.
That’s a concerning issue for the Bronco defense. A problem that lingers for multiple seasons is probably not personnel. Just last season, the Cardinals beat this team by doing exactly what the Spartans just did. Drew Plitt was the quarterback at the time, but the receivers are still there. Yo’Heinz Tyler scored touchdowns of 21 and 24 yards. Jayshon Jackson caught a 30-yard pass, and other touchdowns were scored on a 33-yard pass and the previously mentioned 75-yarder.
The Broncos need to get this problem under control or no lead will ever be safe. That’s generally true in #MACtion, but spotting the other team easy points due to breakdowns, mistakes or over-aggression will cost them dearly.
Braden Fiske had a spectacular game against Michigan State and could be a major disruptor against Ball State. He had a tackle for loss that forced a punt and punched a ball loose that WMU recovered. A repeat performance would get the attention of the MAC offensive coordinators and demand attention.
Corvin Moment, or any of the linebackers, will be another tackle for loss specialist in the run game. If the Broncos play the way they want, the linebackers are going to be getting in gaps and forcing long conversion attempts on third downs.
All of the cornerbacks are likely to see the field again this week and finding the right fits at the right time will be crucial. DaShon Bussel had a quiet night at Michigan State which is a good thing for cornerbacks. He should be strong again, but Dorian Jackson will be looking to make a bounceback. The early big plays were against him and Keni-H Lovely and Anthony Romphf each showed enough to earn playing time.
The Ball State Cardinals through week one:
The Ball State Week 1 opponent came in unranked nationally but looked like that could change soon. Tennessee is not the hot mess they once were. They won’t challenge for the SEC East title, but second in the division isn’t insane.
All that to say the Cardinals were not playing a vulnerable, middling Power Five team. Their ten points are not what they wanted, but it was always going to be a tough game for them.
The game in Knoxville got out of hand early and forced the Cardinals to be one dimensional to try to keep the pace. It didn’t help that the running game was having no success. Starting running back Carson Steele had 11 carries for 27 yards. His longest rush was six yards. The offense ran the ball 27 times total for 74 yards. That’s a 2.7 yard average.
Paddock didn’t look comfortable in the pocket, but made some great passes. Tennessee was very content to give space then come up and tackle. Paddock took advantage of the cushion and had some easy completions.
There were two interceptions that were bad passes. The first was the opening play of the game on a trick play that was messy from the start.
Ball State tries getting tricky and throws an INT on the very first play of the game LMAOOO pic.twitter.com/gKp7PFuRxW— @ (@FTBeard7) September 1, 2022
The second was on a deep ball that was underthrown. The play call on the first interception was risky, but the second was poorly delivered pass.
It’s not all doom and gloom, this pass was on time and in a perfect location. On another, he stood in the pocket and delivered an on target pass just before two defenders smacked him. The Ball State passing game will be fine.
Yo’Heinz Tyler is back for his fifth season in Muncie, and he is joined by Jayshon Jackson and Amir Abdur-Rahman. Tyler and his six-foot-three frame is a fantastic redzone target and led the Cardinals in touchdown catches a year ago. Jackson returns as the leader in catches and yards, while Abdur-Rahman transfers from Vanderbilt and replaces Justin Hall. Paddock has a strong group of receivers to throw to, and they might be able to give the Broncos fits Saturday.
It’s tough to get a read on the Ball State defense after one week against Tennessee. They used an interesting alignment along the front with only five or six players in the box on most plays. Three down linemen and at least two linebackers was the base set. Sometimes a defensive back sat at the edge of the box and sometimes it was a normal 3-3-5 look.
No matter how many were along the lines or in the box, their defensive front was overmatched against Tennessee. The only sack they registered was for a one yard loss in the first quarter. The only other negative play was on the final play of the game when the snap went over the quarterbacks shoulder and was recovered for an 18-yard loss.
The rest of the game had some poor tackling and bad reads on read options. Too many piles went forward for four yards or more for the defense to get the Tennessee offense off the field.
The secondary was painfully close to breaking up some passes or intercepting them, but close doesn’t count. Senior cornerback Amechi Uzodinma II almost had a sure pick-six and showed good closing speed on passes in front of him. Sophomore safety Jordan Riley was productive with the only sack and one of two passes broken up.
Fifth year senior, and co-defensive player of the year in 2020, linebacker Brandon Martin was held out of the game against Tennessee, but might be back in action this week against the Broncos. The Cardinal defense would love to have him back in action.
When the Broncos have the ball, they won’t move at the same pace that Tennessee did. The Cardinals at least have that going for themselves. Western Michigan will do everything they can to establish the running game. The new offensive coordinator Jeff Thorne is committed to upholding the offensive identity the Broncos have built over the last decade, plus it should remove some pressure from a young quarterback. The Broncos should be able to move the ball in this game, but they need to finish drives better than they did a week ago to make it count.
When the Cardinals have the ball they have a quarterback that can push the ball downfield and receivers that the Broncos have struggled with in the past. The Bronco defense is not the Volunteer defense and should have more success, especially if they can get some big plays in early. Expect the quick passes to continue for the Cardinal offense to neutralize the Bronco front seven.
It seems like the 6.5 point line as about right, but games between these two teams are anything but predictable. The Broncos do just enough to win in Muncie.
Western Michigan 31, Ball State 28.