In a game that wasn’t as close as the 31-21 score suggests, the Ball State Cardinals improved to 4-3 at the Buffalo Bulls, who fall deeper into the MAC East quagmire at 1-5. What are the big stories from the game, you ask? Let’s find out!
1. James Gilbert is a force to be reckoned with in the MAC West. Gilbert gave Ball State fans plenty to cheer about as he had a career day against the Bulls with 34 rushes for 264 yards and two touchdowns as the team ran for 356 yards on Buffalo. Those high numbers might have something to do with the level of competition, but seeing the 5’8”, 195-pound sophomore tear up a MAC defense has to be a good sign for the Cards.
2. Riley Neal is still very much a work in progress. Neal was very up-and-down in Saturday’s contest as he threw for 212 yards with 9.6 yards per attempt (which is good) but was 12/22 and threw two interceptions (which is bad). With the production that BSU is getting from the running game, Neal doesn’t have to do much other than manage the game and put his team in good situations at this point in his career.
3. Tyree Jackson is a future star in the MAC. With 370 total yards and three passing touchdowns, Jackson put the team on his back much of the game and gave the Bulls some life at the end of the fourth quarter. He’s going to have some growing pains along with the rest of his young team, but Jackson has all the tools to put Lance Leipold’s team on the map in the next few seasons.
4. Ball State’s road to bowl eligibility only gets tougher. The next four weeks will likely feature teams that are also vying for a bowl bid with home games against Akron, Western Michigan, and Eastern Michigan along with a couple of end-of-season road trips at Toledo and Miami. The Cardinals will have a chance to get to a bowl, but will have to play its best ball of the season to get wins with the games they have left.
5. There’s not many chances for Buffalo to stop the bleeding in 2016. Looking ahead at the Bulls’ remaining schedule, it’s hard to see who they could beat with games at Northern Illinois, vs. Akron, at Ohio, vs. Miami, at Western Michigan and Bowling Green to close the season. The only real chance they have at a MAC win this year is the Miami game, and that will be no small feat if they can gut out wins like the one against Kent State on Saturday. It may indeed be a long season for the Bulls if they don’t see some improvement soon.