Mike Neu watches the Cardinals at the spring game on April 23 at Scheumann Stadium. DN PHOTO KELLEN HAZELIP
Three takeaways from Mike Neu's weekly press conference
Ball State head football coach Mike Neu held his weekly press conference on Monday after the team started its season with a 31-21 victory over Georgia State.
This weekend, the Cardinals (1-0) traveled to Bloomington to square off against in-state rival Indiana (1-0) on Sept. 3 for the first contest between the schools since the 2012 season. Ball State has won three straight meetings in the series.
Here are three takeaways from Monday's press conference:
Who: Ball State (1-0) vs. Indiana (1-0)
Where: Memorial Stadium (Bloomington, Indiana)
When: Saturday, Sept. 10
Time: 4 p.m.
When you look at the three levels of the defense on film, were they all very solid or was there one part that really stood out to you?
Neu: "They were all solid. I love watching the tape and seeing that many hats around the ball. It's something [Ball State defensive coordinator Tim] Daoust preaches all the time. We want to see at least seven hats in the frame. Our guys are playing fast, playing physical and having fun playing the game. That was something that was there from start to finish, and I'm proud of all the groups — defensive line, linebackers and secondary — all those guys were very consistent."
Analysis: The bottom line is Neu is right about all three levels of the defense (the d-line, linebackers and secondary) playing well.
The Cardinals held the Panthers to 272 total yards (only 77 rushing) and a good portion of that came in garbage time after the Cardinals took a 31-14 lead.
Although the defensive line only totaled one sack, the unit pressured Georgia State's two quarterbacks all night, forcing rushed throws and check-downs that held the Panthers to just 4.9 yards per pass attempt.
With help from the defensive line, the linebackers held the Georgia State's running backs to just 29 net yards.
The secondary had an interception and held a lot of good receivers in check, holding the Panthers to 195 yards through the air, half of the 412 yards they racked up in last season's matchup.
It's a small sample size, but Ball State's defense looks much improved from last season.
With Riley [Neal], and you mentioned the adversity early, I know there were 2-3 dropped passes that seemed to keep him from getting in rhythm. Since you've gone back to the tape, how did you feel about his ability to come back and play better in the second half?
Neu: "No question, he did. And that's not fun. When you throw two interceptions early like that, especially in the first game of the season and you're so excited, it can deflate you a little bit. But he stayed the course, and I continued to communicate with him on the sideline, 'Relax, that's over with. We'll be just fine here.' I'm proud that he was able to continue to stay the course, regroup, and in the second half he was 7-8. He did his job of running the show ... You're judged whether you lead your team to a win. He's gonna have a lot of great days around here."
Analysis: Neu thinks his sophomore quarterback is going to be just fine.
Ball State got off to about the worst start imaginable on offense against Georgia State's veteran secondary, with Neal throwing two interceptions on the Cardinals' first two drives.
Neal was pressured on the first pick, which was returned for a touchdown, and the second was tipped, but he settled in afterwards and made some nice throws out of the pocket. He finished with just 130 yards through the air after completing 15 of his 29 attempts, though he also had a 46-yard run that set up a Teddy Williamson touchdown, giving the Cardinals a 24-14 lead.
Neal will look for a better start against an IU secondary that picked off Florida International three times in its opener.
How big is the game against IU from a recruiting standpoint? Do you look at it from that lens?
Neu: "No question about it. You always use this as an opportunity for in-state recruiting. We want to try and get as many kids as we can — not only from Indiana but from around the Midwest. I've been very impressed with Indiana high school football, and this is a chance for us to go play at IU, where we're talking to a lot of the same players. If we go play at IU and play well and get a win, that's going to help us from a recruiting standpoint."
Analysis: This game has major implications in the recruiting battle.
The Cardinals are trying to reinvent themselves after two consecutive losing seasons, and playing an opponent from the Big Ten is a good measuring stick. A win against a team from a Power 5 conference would be proof that Ball State is heading in the right direction.
Also, like Neu said, recruits will be impressed if Ball State finds a way to win its fourth straight game against Indiana. These teams play four times over the next five years, so this is a big one for in-state recruiting and the future of Neu's team.