Riley Neal, Ball State’s freshman quarterback, runs the ball in a game against Central Michigan University on Oct. 24 at Scheumann Stadium.
Ball State quarterback Riley Neal's turnover struggles
There have been 12 quarterbacks who have played for the Ball State football team since the new millennium; six of them have been freshman starters.
Freshman quarterback Riley Neal is the newest edition to that list, and he is reaching historic territory in terms of giveaways. Since his first start against the Northwestern Wildcats, he has committed seven total turnovers. His first game without a fumble or interception was against Western Michigan.
Offensive coordinator and former Cardinal quarterback, Joey Lynch believes Neal has a lot to learn.
Individual Season Statistics
Turnovers - 7
Passing Yards - 1797
Rushing Yards - 300
Total Touchdowns - 13
"He's a football player, but at the same time, he needs to understand that Division-1 football is different than high school," Lynch said. "There's a time and place for everything."
After every possession, even when Neal commits a turnover, Lynch talks to his quarterback on the sidelines about his progressions and reads he made. They talk about what went right, what went wrong and what he can do to improve on the next drive.
"It's all about making sure his eyes are in the right place, go through his progressions the right way. And whether it's an interception or incompletion, it's the same progression," Lynch said. "As long as he's seeing things right and trusting he's gotta play, just let it rip."
Neal commented on how the tone of the conversation usually is.
"It's a good relationship," Neal said. "He's a real mild guy. He's not one to scream at you and do something. It's just you gotta learn from your mistakes, and don't make it again."
Neal's six-game turnover streak is the second most by a freshman signal-caller in the past 15 years, behind Kelly Page's seven in the 2009 season.
Since 2000, Talmadge Hill holds the mark for the most consecutive games with a turnover with eight in his sophomore season (2001).
Neal has only thrown three interceptions since he became the starter on Sep. 29 against Northwestern, but the fumbles have been affecting him. He has coughed up the ball four times in his six starts, which leads all quarterbacks since 2000 in that span.
Neal commented on one of his fumbles after the team's 23-21 loss against Central Michigan.
"I fumbled on a play when I was at the top of my three-step drop, and I got hit when I wasn't looking," Neal said. "So, [I'm] not really too worried about that."
Despite the fumbles, Lynch still relies and expects his quarterback to make a play, especially in short down situations.
"If it's third-and-2, third-and-3, and he's at the sticks, I fully expect him to lower his shoulder and find a way to get a first down for the football team," Lynch said. "But if it's first-and-10, there's no need to take unnecessary hits."
Head coach Pete Lembo has noticed the turnover trend Neal has been on, and he credits the fumbles to the freshman's over-aggressive nature.
"His ball security has been pretty good," Lembo said. "It's more just kinda toning down his fearlessness."
Neal's fearlessness is a quality that attracted Lembo and Lynch to recruit the Yorktown native.
His confidence in being able to truck over defenders changed the outcome in multiple games when it led to a fumble.
"You can't take the aggressiveness out of him," Lynch said. "But as you keep progressing, you gotta understand when to be an efficient football player and when to be a smart quarterback."
Lembo said that Neal needs to understand that there is a next play. There's no need to attempt to make something out of nothing when it is not needed.
Lynch, who appeared in 37 games for the Cardinals between 2003 and 2006, had advice as a former Cardinal quarterback.
"Don't be afraid to make a mistake. But at the same time, he knows how detrimental turnovers can be," Lynch said. "You just gotta keep playing. When you play quarterback, it's going to happen."
Neal will remain at Ball State for the next three years, and while he's shown his talent, Lembo still believes that it's going to take time to mold him into the Mid-American Conference quarterback the team needs.
"He's a good, young player, and we just need to be patient," Lembo said. "I think he's doing some good things out there. There's gonna be some bumps in the road."
While the Cardinals are no longer bowl-eligible, they still have two games coming up. The next is against Ohio on Nov. 17.