Local true-freshman quarterback Riley Neal continued his families legacy by playing football at Ball State.
Cardinals, Hoosiers set to rekindle in-state rivalry
When Ball State and Indiana University line up on the gridiron Sept. 10, players might feel like they’re looking in a mirror. Both Indiana-based teams wear variations of red and white, employ run-first offenses and have defenses that hope to be vastly improved from last season.
Cardinal head coach Mike Neu said the game is an opportunity to distinguish his team from IU in the eyes of recruits.
“We want to try and get as many kids as we can — not only from Indiana but from around the Midwest,” he said. “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."
Week 1 statistics
Ball State: 475
Ball State: 325
Total yards allowed
Ball State: 272
Rushing yards allowed
Ball State: 77
The all-time series is almost even, with IU leading 4-3. Ball State, however, heads to Memorial Stadium in Bloomington looking for its fourth-consecutive victory against its Big Ten rival.
The two programs haven’t met since 2012, when Ball State kicker Steven Schott kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Hoosiers 41-39.
The Cardinals beat Georgia State 31-21 in their opener this year, and the Hoosiers topped Florida International 34-13.
Both teams won after attempting fewer than 30 passes, rushing more than 50 times and limiting their opponents to fewer than 100 yards on the ground, though IU head coach Kevin Wilson is skeptical about the Cardinals’ run-heavy play-calling.
"[Ball State] has only got one game with the new staff,” Wilson said. “They attacked Georgia State a certain way. How much of their offense have you seen yet?”
The Cardinals came out ready to throw, but had to adjust after early miscues. On their first two possessions, sophomore quarterback Riley Neal threw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
The defense, which allowed the sixth-most pass yards per game (292.5) in the country last season, intercepted a pass of its own on the next drive. Neal finished with just 130 passing yards, but added 48 yards on the ground. Neu said he was proud of his team's recovery.
IU also overcame early struggles by scoring 22 consecutive points after trailing 13-12 at the end of the third quarter. One year removed from allowing the second-most pass yards per game (313.8), the defense stepped up with three interceptions — two of which were returned for touchdowns. Wilson said his players, a generation or two younger than him, were raised in an environment that helps them bounce back.
“We live with kids that are waiting for the new iPhone — things change so fast,” he said. “I think kids are used to change. Old people, we're used to habitual things, do it this way, do it over and over and over. Our team seems to have the ability to be adaptable.”
While both offenses emphasized the running game — the Cardinals ran for 325 yards and IU racked up 246 — Ball State has a running-back-by-committee and IU plans on using junior Devine Redding as a feature back.
Redding, however, is in danger of losing touches to his teammates because he’s struggled to hold onto the football.
“He's regressing,” Wilson said. “Had the ball on the ground. On the ground again [in practice]. He had 100-yard games four times in a row, which is getting ready not to happen the next time he puts it on the ground because we have about nine guys there. He is getting ready to start seeing the bench.”
Though Wilson is going to give Redding another shot, Neu’s hands are tied; senior Ball State safety Corey Hall is suspended for the first half. He was ejected after a targeting penalty in the second half against Georgia State, and NCAA rules require him to sit out the first half against IU.
“He’s an aggressive guy and made an aggressive mistake," Neu said. "It wasn’t intentional. The rule is what it is … but that’s not Corey Hall.”
Junior defensive tackle Kevin Willis, however, is ready to go. He anchors a defensive line that helped limit Georgia State to 77 rushing yards. He was recruited by IU to play offensive line, but committed to play at Ball State because then-coach Pete Lembo let him play defense.
"Ever since the team found out we were playing IU, it's all about we own this state," he said. "Indiana is Ball State's state. And we're going to do our best to beat IU."
Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. in Memorial Stadium in Bloomington and the game will be broadcast on ESPNews. But viewers at home will need to play close attention to the game — a quick glance might not be enough to tell the two teams apart.
Jake Fox contributed to this article.