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Ball State Cardinals vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles football preview: Talkin' sMACk

We've got our first intra-conference game of the season, and it's at Rynearson Stadium.

Andrew Mascharka (The Eastern Echo)

Our first intra-conference matchup of the season is finally upon us. The Ball State Cardinals (1-1) are coming off of a big road loss against a ranked Texas A&M Aggies squad while the Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-1) just picked up a huge road win over the Wyoming Cowboys.

Like last year, we'll be having fun with our MAC game previews by taking a fan of each school and let them get a little lippy for the buildup. For this game, I'll be taking the side for EMU while Sam Barloga will be for the Cardinals.



Sam: That's... great. Finally letting you guys drink away all the pain, huh? Maybe that will finally convince some long lost alumni to come drink and watch his team dwell near the bottom of the conference. I bet there's double the amount of people at the Patio then there are actually in seats come Saturday; I don't blame them one bit.

Alex: Attendance jokes, eh? Can't come up with anything better? Listen, bud, if you wanted to say something funny, all you had to say was "Ball State's defense." Seriously, 36 points to VMI? I'm not even talking about you guys not being able to stop the run, let's look at that passing defense. Giving up 338.5 yards per game through the air? Missing Patterson much?

Sam: You got me, there. I'm going to quote myself a lot in these next few sentences. It's so bad that focusing solely on the pass is taking away from the bigger picture. The Cards have given up more than 1,000 yards of total offense through two games. From the second quarter onwards versus VMI (I'm going to give them a bit of a pass on the A&M game, because, you know, A&M), the Keydets averaged nearly 8.5 yards per play. So, yeah. It's really scary.

Alex: Thanks for providing the optimism there. Plus with Brogan Roback having played as well as he did last week against Wyoming, I'm pretty confident that he and the rest of the Eagles will have a grand old time and not disappoint like they did in the season opener. Not to mention Shaq Vann and Darius Jackson's value at running back. The two combine for 71 touches (carries and catches) for 467 yards and six touchdowns: that's 6.6 yards per touch. Can't wait to see how they do coming off of the successful weekend in the mountains and get your Cards with their hands on their hips early.

Sam: Sorry, everything's not going to be sunshine and rainbows. When you love someone/something you have to tell the truth sometimes. Our defense is bad, but OFFENSE! That's been solid at most times so far (Again, A&M is going to win the SEC, so that first half is kinda a wash in my book). Jack Milas looked comfortable versus VMI, but was unable to get anything going versus the Aggies, and some fans are upset. Why? I don't know. He had one bad game, Riley Neal had one good half. Apparently this is enough for some fans to want to ditch Milas. Did they not watch the VMI game?! Because Jack was pretty stellar in that one. He finished 34-for-52 for 338 yards and a touchdown. In the first half of the VMI game, he was 23-for-34 for 246 yards passing. Darian Green has put some work in as well. He scored four touchdowns versus Keydets, and he also ran for nearly 100 yards at Kyle Field. So, I think we can both agree on something: Both of these sides have struggled defensively, but the offenses have been spectacular at times.

Alex: Sure, Texas A&M is an SEC team, but that doesn't mean a team from the MAC isn't allowed to hold their own against them (see: Toledo). And sure, the Wyoming Cowboys are a pretty bad team, but I've seen EMU play bad teams before. And sure it's early, but EMU has the second-best pass defense after holding Wyoming to six completions for only 32 yards: only two completions in the second half. If Ball State can't figure out what the heck they're going to do at quarterback soon, then that's going to make things easier for EMU this week. Creighton's turnaround just might come sooner than everybody else is expecting it go.

Sam: Well, yes, if Ball State is unable to find a quarterback, things will be easier for everyone they play. It's a problem that shouldn't exist. I'm not sure what the coaches have seen out of Riley Neal in practice, but apparently it's pretty positive. Whoever starts at quarterback will be prepared for the Eagles, though. That much I can tell you. Neal did well versus A&M's backups last week (and yes, it's a little different from Toledo-Arky because Kevin Sumlin is 27-0 in non-conference games, and Arkansas has Dan Enos.), and Milas, as mentioned above, had a pretty easy time versus VMI. Also, you've forgot to mention something: EMU has given up 700 yards rushing on the season. Wyoming's Brian Hill averaged an insane 11.5 yards per carry! At least BSU's defense has made up for their awful defense by forcing six fumbles in two games. With the way Green has been running, good luck! It could be a long day.

Alex: That's absolutely the one area they'll need to brush up at. It's no fun not having Pat O'Connor nor Hunter Matt on defense this year because they'd certainly help out, but it's also early enough for them to clean up. They've got new faces on the defensive line with Luke MacLean and Kwanii Figueroa and now would be the perfect time for them to help make a turnaround and stop Green and Gilbert in the backfield, even with the experienced offensive line that the Cardinals have. No time like the present to see things turnaround for the run defense.

Sam: Ball State will need to improve on defense as well. The Cards haven't got the production out of Ben Ingle that they hoped to get at the season's start. A few others have filled the gaps, with sophomore safety Dedrick Cromartie picking up 17 tackles, one of which coming behind the line of scrimmage. Cromartie had 11 tackles versus the Eagles last year as well. He'll need to repeat that, and the Cards will need to get much more production out of the defense as a whole if the Cards are going to win on Saturday. Really, it's all up to who makes that one stop when this one becomes a shootout. Whoever does that will win.

Alex: So, prediction time? I think Roback's success was no fluke. Not even a little bit. The play calling on offense is pretty artistic and if Darius Jackson can at least get 80 yards on the ground, especially on those second and third and short situations. I'm not even asking for an early lead, but as long as the Eagles are able to move the chains in the fourth quarter and score on consecutive possessions in the second half, they'll be good. I won't be surprised if this turns into a late shootout, either. 37-30 Eagles win.

Sam: 67 combined points is a lot, but I'm going to go higher than that because I think the defenses are going to struggle on Saturday. I wouldn't be surprised if the combined score reaches the century mark. I think Milas gets the start, and is highly successful versus the EMU defense, as is Green and Gilbert. I also believe Roback's success from last week will certainly carry over, and will help make this a back-and-forth affair. I'm not going to give a score, but I'll say this: Whoever has the last possession wins.