Sophomore running back James Gilbert carries the ball up the middle during Ball State's 30-20 loss to Indiana at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 10. Gilbert leads the Cardinals' rushing attack with 41 carries, 215 yards and two touchdowns through two games. Grace Hollars // DN
Ball State not overlooking FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky
Eastern Kentucky plays at the FCS level of college football, but Ball State head coach Mike Neu doesn't want to hear it.
Ball State (1-1) will take on the Colonels (1-1) Sept. 17 in the team's home opener and annual Family Weekend game. After a loss at Indiana last weekend, Neu is making sure his guys stay focused on the task at hand this week.
"Whether they're FBS, FCS, it doesn't matter," Neu said. "They're preparing to go out and win a football game. You see upsets every single week. So for us, we're going to put our best effort on the field from start to finish."
- Ball State is debuting its new, red helmets
- These two teams haven't met since 1970
- The Cardinals have won six straight home openers
The Cardinals have prepared all week for their opponent, but that can get tricky when you don't know who exactly will be on the field.
Missouri transfer Maty Mauk started Eastern Kentucky's opening game, but was replaced by Bennie Coney after a rough start.
Coney was injured in the second half of a 45-24 loss to Purdue, and Tyler Swafford started in a Week 2 win over NAIA University of Pikeville. All three quarterbacks are listed as co-first string on the team's latest depth chart, but defensive coordinator Tim Daoust said it shouldn't make too much of a difference no matter who starts.
"The plays they're running don't necessarily change," Daoust said. "All of their quarterbacks are able to operate their offense, but each of them have their pluses and minuses within that offense."
The Colonels are averaging just 162.5 yards per game through the air this season. Their strength appears to lie in the running game, where they've ran 102 times for 460 yards and four touchdowns.
After giving up some big plays both on the ground and through the air last week, senior linebacker Sean Wiggins is ready for a bounce-back performance from his defensive unit.
"As a linebacker, I like when I hear they run the ball a lot. You don't have to chase the wide receivers as much," Wiggins said. "We got challenged last week stopping the run. We did pretty good, except for big plays. If we stop giving up the big plays, I feel like we'll be good."
But Daoust isn't ready to give the defense any pats on the back for giving up 190 rushing yards and four big plays in last week's 30-20 loss to Indiana. Defenses continually rise to the occasion, he said, no matter the opponent.
"I don't care if it's the Pittsburgh Steelers or Eastern Kentucky coming out of the tunnel this Saturday," Daoust said. "We have plenty of work to do right here at Ball State. This is a team that just scored 55 points and took Kentucky to overtime last year. You look at that roster and turn on the film, they get your attention in a heartbeat."
Ball State didn't reach the six-win benchmark to qualify for a bowl game in the last two seasons, and a common denominator has been a home loss in a game similar to this one.
Last year it was Georgia State. Two years ago it was Indiana State, another FCS team.
Neu wasn't with Ball State for either loss, but he knows the Cardinals aren't in a position to overlook any team on their schedule.
"We're gonna start fast, play a complete game in between and finish strong," he said. "We've had a great week of preparation, and we can't wait to get in front of our fans on Saturday."
Ball State and Eastern Kentucky will kick off from Scheumann Stadium at 3 p.m.