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Ball State Cardinals vs Western Michigan Broncos preview: Talkin' sMACk - Tag Team Edition

The Ball State Cardinals look to avenge a heartbreaking loss to the Western Michigan Broncos from a year ago on Thursday night in Kalamazoo. Our resident WMU and Ball State writers got together to discuss the MAC West battle.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Fitz (WMU): Remember, remember the Fifth of November. It's time for Lembo and company to come up to Waldo for Western's first home weeknight game since 2009, which was a season finale against Ball State as well. Ya'll ready for the fans who have been avidly awaiting this game for 6 years?

Sammy (BSU): Well, maybe. I'm ready. Hostile territory is fun for me, for Ball State football, I don't know. The Cards have looked lost at times on the road, but improvement is on the rise. The defense is improving week by week, and the offense looks set for a breakthrough game. You ready?

Justin (WMU): BSU is really going to need quite the breakthrough to mask the 50 points they will probably surrender. Speaking of surrender, there's still time, you know.

Fitz: I was at the 2009 Ball State game. It was Tuesday night game against a 1-9 Ball State team on the Deuce. It was time to send Tim Hiller off in style. It was an embarrassment. I've been ready for payback ever since.

Ball State has been "set for a breakthrough" seemingly ever since Riley Neal took over, but it has yet to happen. Why now?

Sammy: I think Neal's steady rise points us to 'Why now?'. The last two weeks, the defense has slowly improved as well. The Cardinals have allowed just 33 combined points in their last two outings. There's no reason why they can't do something similar this week. Expect big things.

Justin: There are plenty of reasons they can't do something like that this week. for starters, UMass and CMU, while at times potent offensively, are largely one dimensional. Some weeks they find the end zone a ton, others they out gain you and hold the ball longer and sneak out of town 23-21. This is exactly what happened in that CMU game in Muncie. The ultimate goal is to keep points off the board, but if WMU is able to hold the ball for nearly 40 minutes and gain over 400 yards of total offense this Thursday, you're going to have a bad time.

And that's the thing, WMU holds the ball for so long because they are multi dimensional and deep at the skill positions. They could probably let Pete Lembo pick whichever back he wants to face Thursday and still give up 200 yards on the ground.

Fitz: Also, don't forget about how solid the WMU defense has been playing lately. While they've struggled against pre-snap motion, they've been a rock for six halves of play with exceptions to the CMU 2nd and EMU 1st halves. However, even then it was a solid CMU passing offense trying to come back against the Broncos, or an EMU squad that go worn down as the game went on. In both games, the Broncos were able to win the turnover battle, which is something they've done in each MAC game this year having only turned the ball over once on a Jarvion Franklin fumble against CMU. It's hard to beat a team that doesn't shoot itself in the foot

Keith (BSU): It has everything to do with which Ball State team shows up. With an Eastern Michigan team, for example, it doesn't matter which team shows up. They're scrubs. At their best, Ball State is a top 3 team in the MAC. At their worst, Ball State is a bottom 3 team in the MAC. There are going to be a lot of points. A laughable amount of points. A game like this comes down to playmakers. Ball State has more of those. This game hits the over, WMU hangs, but I'm taking the Cardinals in my completely biased opinion.

Justin: Wait, those same scrubs you beat by 11 is probably the cards best win this season. I hope that isn't the "best" version of Ball State you're talking about. And as far as having more play makers, I'm not going to take anything away from Jordan Williams and KeVonn Mabon because they are studs, but I'm taking Davis and Braverman every time. To be honest, I'm not sure at what position on offense the cardinals are better than WMU.

BSU is really talented, but they just aren't there yet. And regardless of whichever Cardinal team shows up, I argue we haven't seen the best of WMU for an entire game, and it's far more likely WMU reaches its full potential at some point this season than Ball State.

Keith: Defending Eastern Michigan is not a good look for a Bronco, but you knew that.

Justin: Harder than defending Ball State's offense

Fitz: But if we're also comparing common opponents, WMU beat Central Michigan by 2, but ran out the clock inside the CMU 5 yard line to end the game. Ball State lost by 2. Even though the aggregate is only +4 in favor of the Broncos, I argue that WMU played MUCH better than the Cardinals, leaving more points on the board besides that no score at the end. The Bronco defense also shut down Ohio. Andrew Haldeman is quickly regaining his confidence. Darius Phillips still burns people on returns. There's a reason WMU is 4-0 in MAC play.

Sammy: Anyways, folks, this one is Ball State's. Don't believe me? You will on Thursday night, that's for sure. An improving defense and a solid offense, watch out KZoo. The Spoiler Alert is on.

Justin: A slight improvement on bad is still bad. Great offense beats great defense. It evicerates bad defense. Broncos get to hang out in first place for another week.

Fitz: Time to get bowl eligible and focus on the MAC West race.  WMU controls their own destiny and can't forget that.  These are the games that championship teams win, and it's time for the Broncos to show that they're in charge of the West for the time being.