The Ball State Cardinals dropped a close one to the Northern Illinois Huskies yesterday, falling 24-16. But what did we take away from the game?
1. The Huskie defense doesn’t need Sutton Smith to win (but he sure helps!)
This was the first game in a long time that Sutton Smith didn’t get a sack or TFL. In fact, he didn’t even manage to record a tackle against the Cardinals!! He was able to pressure Riley Neal on two plays but, all game long, it was the other ten Huskie defenders had to get stops.
Smith’s presence alone does force teams to focus on him but he now knows that he can trust the rest of the team to make the plays when he can’t and that the Huskies can still win without huge plays from him.
2. Ball State is better than their record shows
The Cardinals fell to 2-4 and 1-1 in the MAC but they sure are a much better team than their record shows. BSU now has three one-possession losses this season after losing by eight points to NIU, Western Kentucky, and #8 Notre Dame.
Their offense is able to move the ball well. Their defense is very solid. And they might have the best kicker in the MAC...not that that’s saying much.
They certainly have the ability to make some noise in the MAC come November.
3. NIU’s offense can in fact move the ball...sometimes
The Huskies gained a season high 370 yards against Ball State this weekend, most of which came on the ground. But it was nice to see that they can, in fact, score three touchdowns IN REGULATION.
Marcus Jones had a huge day rushing for 130 yards on just a dozen carries, while Tre Harbison had 15 touches for 48 yards and D.J. Brown added 27 yards on his three carries.
Marcus Childers limited his mistakes to just one...but it was a big one (an easy interception that was returned 43 yards to the NIU 4-yard line and let BSU claw their way back into the game).
If NIU can keep up this rushing attack up and stop the costly turnovers, this team *might* be in good shape going forward.
4. The Cardinals offense is sneaky good
Ball State has put up some really good numbers on offense, both point-wise and yardage wise. They might not wow you one way or another but...if you look at what they’ve done this season, you have to fear them.
The Cardinals have solid players that can get the job done and have kept them in every game this season. There’s a reason they’re second in the MAC in total yardage...they simply find ways to move the ball. If they find a way to punch it in for six instead of settling for field goals...they just might be unstoppable.
5. The MAC might be much deeper than most people thought...especially in the West
At the start of the season there were three “elite” MAC squads - Toledo, Ohio, and NIU.
However, after the first half of the season, we have seen quite a few teams step up and show that they too just might be best in the MAC. Buffalo and Akron are challenging Ohio in the East and, in the West, there is a huge shootout for the top spot.
Toledo and the Huskies are still favorites but...Western Michigan is playing really well and right there with them. Ball State has proven that they’re going to threaten any team they play and even Eastern Michigan has become a real tough out! EMU has been on the losing side of things but they could easily be 6-0 right now, as their last three games have been decided by a field goal...and every one of their losses in the past two seasons has been by just one possession. It really is the wild, wild West out here.