Come Saturday night Ball State (1-2) and Toledo (1-2) have a chance to quickly take a lead on their fellow MAC West counterparts on the grueling road to Detroit. Unfortunately for one of them though, that means they'll be in a hole before MAC play even fully kicks off.
This game is more than just a chance for both squads to get back on track versus a good opponent; is a game to decide who jumps out to a quick MAC West lead in a division where most people believe only three teams can compete for a spot at Ford Field.
For one, Ball State looks to put the last quarter of its previous two games in the past. The Cardinals have been held scoreless by their opponents in the final frame this season, being outscored 21-0 in what is arguably the biggest factor to the Cards' slow start.
On the other hand, Toledo is looking for a victory after having the pressure of the national spotlight on them over their last two games. The Rockets fell at home to Maty Mauk and Missouri before taking a loss from a Cincinnati team which hadn't played a single snap of football yet.
Toledo's defense was the biggest factor in the set of losses, giving up an average of 53.5 points on 543 yards of total offense to the Tigers and Bearcats. Toledo's defense looked poor in big games last year as well. This led to the hiring of Jon Heacock as the Rockets' defensive coordinator. Heacock's primary challenges this week will be stopping the Ball State running back duo of Jahwan Edwards and Horactio Banks. The two seniors struggled in the loss the to Indiana State, but thrived at Kinnick Stadium in a close loss to Iowa a week prior.
The two backs found it difficult to penetrate the front line of Indiana State's defense, forcing Lembo to hand the ball over to first year quarterback Ozzie Mann, which played right into the hands of a much improved Sycamore defense; one that had given up 73 points to IU a year prior and just 28 this year in Bloomington, Indiana. Mann had to throw 46 passes in the 27-20 loss, completing only 24 of them them for 266 yards and a touchdown.
Ball State's defense will be keying in on running back Kareem Hunt and quarterback Logan Woodside if they intend to stop Toledo's offense. Hunt went for 101 yards rushing on just 12 carries against Cincinnati, being the most efficient out any Toledo player on ground with more than just a few carries. Woodside was forced into throwing the ball more often then he would have liked, as UT was down 34-0 at halftime before Woodside clawed the Rockets back into the game, cutting the score as close 41-34 in the early fourth quarter. Woodside will be starting his second game of the season after UT lost Alabama transfer Phillip Ely in the 49-24 loss to Mizzou.
When the rubber hits the road on Saturday night expect both running games to flourish with Toledo being able to better supplement their running game with Woodside than the Cardinals will be able to with Mann. But don't write the Rockets for a win just yet, as the experience of the two upperclassmen in Ball State's backfield, along with an improved BSU defense will surely make this a game worth watching.