The Ball State Cardinals looked to end an eight year losing streak to the Northern Illinois Huskies this Thursday...but they came up short. Forty-six points short to be exact.
NIU, en route to a big 63-17 win, pulled away early and never looked back; scoring 14+ points in every quarter and limiting Ball State to just 245 yards of total offense.
The 46-point win was the largest victory NIU has ever posted over the Cardinals and the largest margin of victory in the series, surpassing the Huskies’ 59-21 win back in 2010 and Ball State’s 42-0 win back in 1979.
But what can we take away from the Huskies big win?
1. NIU can still make it to Detroit...maybe
With Ohio’s big win over Toledo on Wednesday, the Huskies can still find a way to make it to the MAC Championship game in a few weeks...it’ll just take a little more luck. The easiest way for NIU to make an appearance at the MACC is by winnining out - but with games against CMU (NIU’s kryptonite) and WMU it might be easier said than done - and then having Toledo lose one of their final two games (which are against Bowling Green and WMU).
2. The Huskies’ special teams has improved drastically
We all have ranted and raved about how bad the MAC special teams have been...especially NIU’s. Kicker Christian Hagan is the only MAC kicker to be perfect on extra points - a whopping 39-39 (including a perfect 9/9 last night!).
But I’m not talking about FG kicking today...no, it was the special teams defense that made news.
NIU blocked two punts...and Jackson Abresch returned both blocks for touchdowns. The Huskies have now blocked a punt in three straight games and now have six total blocked kicks on the year - the most in the NCAA!
The Huskies have gotten after MAC kickers time and time again and it’s starting to pay off big time.
3. Ball State still doesn’t have a reliable QB
Drew Plitt started the game for the Cardinals, his second straight start. But, after going 9/14 for 89 yards and a TD in the first half, Head Coach Mike Neu made a switch and played Jack Milas for the final 30 minutes.
Milas continued to struggle to get points, as he went 10/16 for 73 yards and an interception...he now has 7 picks and zero touchdowns on the season.
With Riley Neal and Zack Blair still out, we can only wait and see who will start next week’s game.
4. Smith ˃ Winbush
Both Anthony Winbush and Sutton Smith have been amazing defensive ends this year. But, in a battle between two of the country’s best DEs, Sutton Smith proved himself to be the best one-man wrecking crew in the MAC...and in the nation.
Ball State’s Anthony Winbush, who came into the game the NCAA’s leader in sacks (10.5), managed just two tackles all game and no TFLs or sacks.
NIU’s Smith, on the other hand, who entered the game leading the country in TFLs with 20 and was third in sacks (9.5, behind Winbush and CMU’s Joe Ostman), had himself another great game.
Smith finished with three tackes, two TFL, a sack, and two QB Hurries. The two TFL broke the single season record at NIU for tackles for loss, which is now set at 22 (and growing), and his sack tied him Winbush as the nation’s sack leader with 10.5 sacks oo the year.
5. The Cardinals still can’t find a way to get the Bronze Stalk back to Muncie
The inaugural Bronze Stalk trophy was handed out in 2008. You might remember that as the year Ball State was ranked as high as #12 in the country under QB Nate Davis and blew through everyone...until they lost their final two games - the MAC Championship game against Buffalo and the GMAC Bowl against Tulsa.
Well, that year BSU beat NIU handily, 45-14.
Since then, however, the Cardinals have yet to top the Huskies...falling every year on their way to an 0-9 mark against the Huskies, and losing by an average of 18.3 points.
The Huskies have now kept the Bronze Stalk in DeKalb for 2920 days...and they’ll have it at least 300+ more.
If that doesn’t motivate Ball State for next year’s game at Scheumann Stadium...I don’t know what will.