Classic Mid-American football on a Tuesday night returns to us tomorrow as the Western Michigan Broncos (#17) head down to Munice to take on the Ball State Cardinals. The stakes are pretty high in this one, as Western looks to stay undefeated and in the race for the MAC championship and a New Years bowl (or maaaaaybe a playoff spot?) while the Cardinals want to keep winning to get bowl eligible.
Ball State comes in at 4-4 (1-3), with a 35-25 loss two Saturdays ago to Akron at home. Western (8-0, 4-0), last beat Eastern 45-31 in Kalamazoo. This is a top-versus-bottom battle in the division, but don’t let yourself think that makes this a laugh-er. We know the MAC a lot better than that.
The clear talking point in this one, as has been for the entire season, is the WMU offense. Western is second in the MAC in total yards (to Toledo) with 4,007 and leads in total points on the season for the conference, with 355. Broncos’ RB Jarvion Franklin has been absolutely incredible for the past month, gaining over 100 yards in each of the past four games, including that monster 281 yard performance against Akron on October 15th. Fueling this amazing rushing ability is a WMU offensive line that has been nothing short of exemplary on the year. And then you’ve got Zach Terrell who, ya know, has just gone and thrown 20 touchdowns and only one interception on the season. (Remember too that this is something of a homecoming for Terrell, who is from Fort Wayne.)
All that’s pretty impressive, but take a wild guess about who’s got the leading rusher in the MAC for the year. Did you guess the Ball State Cardinals with James Gilbert? Correct! Gilbert’s got 987 yards on the season, leading number two in the category, Jarvion Franklin, by 78 yards. Gilbert is obviously hard to deal with, but the Broncos do have the second-best rush defense in the MAC, allowing 132 yards per game. (Keep in mind though, the Cardinals generally only allow about 20 yards more on the ground.) The challenge for Ball State will to be able to get the passing game going if they need to, as QB Riley Neal has thrown for just seven touchdowns and nine interceptions on the year.
The crux of this game might be Western’s passing ability. The Terrell to Corey Davis connection - as everyone projected - has been strong this year. Davis has 49 receptions for 739 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ball State is ranked 111th in the country in pass defense. The Broncos might be able to burn that Cardinals’ secondary a few times and set the pace in this one.
Western is an 18.5 point favorite on Tuesday night, and while a blow-out is possible, it’s not a forgone conclusion. Midweek games can be tough on road teams, and if the Ball State defense can get to Terrell, this one will be a lot closer than people think. Can the Broncos maintain perfection? Or will the Cardinals successfully defend home turf? Kickoff is tomorrow at 8:00 ET, let’s find out.