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2023 MAC Football Week 7 Game Preview: Ball State Cardinals vs. Toledo Rockets

It’s a tale of two very different trajectories in Muncie this weekend. Will the narratives be confirmed or does a new story emerge?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Ball State at Western Michigan Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Toledo (5-1, 2-0 MAC) will be looking to continue a big win streak, while Ball State (1-5, 0-2 MAC) will be looking for its first win over an FBS opponent this season when the two schools meet in Muncie Saturday afternoon.

For the Rockets, the matchup will be about taking care of business and securing bowl eligibility halfway through the season. For the Cardinals, it’s all about pulling off an upset and getting some momentum as we head deeper into the conference season.

Game Notes

  • Date and time: Saturday, October 14, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern
  • Location: Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Indiana
  • Network: ESPN+ (A valid subscription is required for viewing.)
  • Gambling considerations:
  • All-time series and streak: Toledo leads all-time, 26-21-1, and holds a two-game win streak.
  • Last Meeting: The word of the day was “PUNT”, as Toledo outscored Ball State 28-21 in a game featuring 22 boots on November 8, 2022.

Toledo outlook

NCAA Football: Toledo at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Defense powered Toledo to a MAC championship in 2022, but halfway through the 2023 season, it has been the offense carrying the load.

The Rockets offense is averaging 40.8 points per game, easily first in the conference and in the top ten in the FBS. With a bunch of playmakers healthy and in rhythm, expect Toledo’s offense to have another good performance.

Dequan Finn, who has been sharp throwing the ball this year, had the best rushing game of his career last week at UMass, as the fifth-year signalcaller ran for 172 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries.

Ball State has been weak against the pass, so we could see Finn and the Toledo passing game rely on big pass plays more. The Toledo O-line led by tackle Nick Rosi has been extremely sharp this year, making it possible for Finn to make plays while allowing just two sacks all season. In the receiver unit, Jerjuan Newton enters the week tied for the FBS lead in receiving touchdowns with nine — look for him to get closer to the Toledo school record of 17.

Toledo has run all of their opponents all year. In addition to Finn making an impact from the QB position, the running back tandem of Peny Boone and Jacquez Stuart has been incredible. Boone took over the starter role after Stuart missed three games with an injury and has 644 yards and seven touchdowns. He started the year as more of a short yardage back and quickly proved his ability to break off huge runs, which his 7.6 yards per carry clips shows.

Defensively, Toledo has been up-and-down recently. Last week, they allowed some big plays to UMass which has a solid passing game, but stiffened up in the second half. The Rockets have been solid against the run, thanks to good linebacker play, but look for some guys to step up in the pass rush and the defensive back unit to prevent big passing plays. Ball State’s offense has been struggling, so this game could be an opportunity for the defense to have a 2022-esque performance. A healthy Terrance Taylor could add to his sack total in this one.

Ball State outlook

NCAA Football: Ball State at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals had a tough non-conference schedule, but have not shown many signs of being competitive in MAC play as they sit at 1-5 after double-digit losses to Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan. Toledo is not the perfect opponent for them to get in the win column in conference play, but Ball State has the opportunity for a big win at home.

QB Layne Hatcher will look to get back in rhythm after a frustrating day at Eastern Michigan last week. He threw for 131 yards with a touchdown and an interception as the Cardinals offense put up just 10 points. Something to watch for is Ball State’s ability to create big passing plays which falls on the pass-catchers just as much as the passer.

Hatcher is averaging just 5.9 yards per attempt and his top two receivers WR Qian Magwood and TE Tanner Koziol have 53 combined catches, but for just 477 yards. A challenge for Ball State all year has been the offensive line, which has allowed 19 sacks, so that unit will need to step up to allow the passing game to succeed.

Ball State’s rushing attack has also been nothing special. Starting running back Marquez Cooper has 362 yards on 72 carries and one touchdown. The biggest rushing threat for the Cardinals may actually be third string QB Kiael Kelly who has 181 yards on the season including 94 on nine carries last week.

Similar to Toledo, Ball State’s linebacker unit has created a lot of havoc this year. The team’s leading tackler Cole Pearce also has three sacks and two forced fumbles. LB Sidney Houston Jr. also has plenty of tackles and a team-leading 3.5 sacks. Toledo’s offensive line has been solid but the Cardinals could provide a challenge for them behind these guys.

Unfortunately for the defensive back unit, CB Tyler “Red” Potts, who has a pair of interceptions and three pass deflections this year, broke his thumb two weeks ago against Western Michigan and will miss this game. Corners Jordan Riley and Jordan Coleman will likely be tasked with covering Toledo’s top receivers.

Game outlook

Toledo and Ball State are two teams that are just playing very different football right now. Everything is in play with MACtion in full swing, but it is hard to see an upset in this one.

Toledo’s offense should be able to keep rolling behind starpower in the air and on the ground. Ball State has been looking for some kind of breakout offensive performance this year and if they can get that, they can hang around in this one. If they don’t, this one won’t be close.

Prediction: Toledo 38, Ball State 10