Riley Neal started versus Northwestern, and did what no other quarterback has versus the Wildcats this season:
He led two touchdown drives and helped score 19 points.
Stanford and Eastern Illinois didn't find pay dirt and Duke was only able to once.
He may not of torn apart the Wildcats defense on Saturday night, but the true freshman showed that he is the one that should be under center for the rest of the season.
14-for-35 is not an acceptable performance versus most defenses, but Northwestern is no average defense. The Wildcats held two very good top-25 caliber teams in Stanford and Duke to just 16 combined points.
Neal acted as a game manager; he didn't try to force anything, took what the Northwestern defense game him, and kept the Cards in the ball game throughout.
His risks were calculated, throwing occasional long balls to Jordan Williams, and using the veteran wide receiver's height advantage to his benefit.
He didn't make any deadly mistakes that handed the game to the Wildcats. One of the smartest plays Neal made the whole day was throwing the ball away as the pocket collapsed by purposely overthrowing a receiver near the sidelines and avoiding the sack.
There were times when he looked inexperienced. As the Cards were driving to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, tunnel vision kicked in. Ball State had the ball inside the Northwestern 20, and Neal stared down Williams on three straight passes, which led to a meaningless field goal.
But he always seemed calm and in control against such an excellent defense. His 178 yards passing were good enough to keep the Wildcats defense on their toes.
When things did not go his way, he found ways to escape the pocket and try to use his legs. Neal ended up as Ball State's leading rusher on the night, putting up 78 yards on 16 carries.
In the end, Neal was given the opportunity to start on Saturday and did exceptionally well. His two touchdown passes, 356 total yards and zero sacks are a good sign for the rest of the season.
Ball State may have just found their next great quarterback.