Halfway through the 2015-2016 season, Ball State isn't sitting very pretty. A scoring attack that's boosted itself forward is being held down by a defense that is frankly very bad of late. A date win reeling Georgia State may help the cause.
Ball State (2-4, 1-2) enters week seven with two decent wins under its belt, but also carries the wait of back-to-back conference losses that show the Cardinals will have to improve quickly to have an enjoyable rest of the season.
It's not a lack of scoring for the Cardinals, who put up 41 points in the most recent loss to Northern Illinois. Riley Neal and the BSU offense are finding ways to get six points. Neal's been better than most expected through his first five full games, throwing for nearly 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns. The Ball State rushing attack has also been contributing to the success of offense. Darian Green and James Gilbert have been splitting carries as Neal uses his legs as well. The Cardinals have scored eleven times on the ground.
So we're still wondering if Ball State's going to change its ways on defense. The Cardinals rank 111th nationally allowing 36.0 points per game. The struggles are both against the run (223 yards per game) and pass (276 yards per game). It'll have to change against a Georgia State offense that features a decent quarterback and a play-making wide receiver.
Ball State's defense is essentially wasting Neal's freshman season
Riley Neal is the real deal, but there's one thing left in the way of his development: Ball State's defense.
The Panthers (1-4, 1-1) are led by Senior QB Nick Arbuckle. The on-field leader has thrown for 1549 yards and 10 touchdowns through five games, but has also dished out six interceptions. Arbuckle isn't afraid to hit his second or third reads, either. Wide receivers Robert Davis, Donovan Harden, and Todd Boyd have all made visits to the endzone in 2015. They've got 310 yards receiving, 209 yards receiving, and 113 yards receiving, respectively. Oh, and we've not yet mentioned Arbuckle's favorite target. That man comes in the form of Freshman Penny Hart. The speedy, 5-foot-9 wide receiver has reeled in 29 catches for 410 yards and four touchdowns this season. Hart averages 15.2 yards per catch.
Kyler Neal leads the Georgia State rushing attack. Neal's 220 yards and two touchdowns show on just 57 carries show that the Panthers are a pass-first team. Demarcus Kirk, Taz Bateman, and Marcus Caffey may also see touches out of the backfield.
The Georgia State defense is one that has given up an average of 38.8 points per game, placing it 117th in division one football. The Panthers allow nearly three hundred yards through the air every game, leaving a nice little window open for Ball State quarterback Riley Neal to have himself a day. If Neal can get going a keep a solid flow, the Cardinals should be able to move the ball easily.
The end result of this matchup is going to depend largely on the Ball State offense. Scoring early will be a must for the Cardinals. If they can put themselves ahead by at least two scores in the first or second quarter the home team should be able to inject some confidence into its struggling defense, allowing the Cards to take over from there on out. If Georgia State keeps pace with Ball State, pressure will stick around. The matchup between the Panther offense and the Cardinal defense will tell the tale of this MAC vs. Sun Belt battle.