Sophomore Riley Neal yells out instructions to the line in a 30-20 loss to Indiana at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 10. Neal has thrown three interceptions through the first two games of the season, but head coach Mike Neu said his quarterback is going to be just fine. Grace Hollars // DN
Riley Neal just needs to relax, says head coach
Ball State head football coach Mike Neu knows a thing or two about the quarterback position. He was a four-year starter at Ball State from 1990-93, and his last job was with the New Orleans Saints, where he coached Drew Brees.
So when sophomore quarterback Riley Neal threw three interceptions in the first two games of the season, Neu's experience told him not to worry.
"[Neal] just needs to settle down," Neu said. "Last year when he played as a true freshman, there probably wasn't a lot expected of him. You're out there playing just having fun, letting it fly, ... Fast forward to your sophomore year and there's an offseason of buildup and anticipation, maybe reading the newspaper a little bit that 'This is the guy now at Ball State.' Well, when you want something so bad, sometimes you go out and play a little tighter than you would if you were relaxed."
Riley Neal — 2016 stats (2 games)
Completions-Attempts — 30-59
Passing yards — 361
Passing touchdowns — 1
Interceptions — 3
Rushing attempts — 10
Net rushing yards — 47
Georgia State took Neal's third pass of the season the other way for six, and the Panthers' second interception was tipped by the line. Neal finished that game just 15-29 for 130 yards.
A week later against Indiana, a better start in the passing game was derailed by a couple early fumbles. Then, trailing 17-0 late in the second quarter against the Hoosiers, Neal tried to force a deep ball into double coverage and was picked. Again.
Neal said the passing game isn't beyond repair — he and the rest of the offense just have to stick to the game plan.
"I think just repetitions in practice, getting the game plan down and watching their film," he said. "But we'll smooth our offense out in terms of passing and keep running the ball. Not that I'm not concerned about it, but we'll work it out and be all right."
Ball State's passing offense looked best in the second half of games this season, particularly last week. Neal completed eight of his 17 passes for 143 yards, and his first touchdown of the season occurred in the second half against the Hoosiers.
The Cardinals also picked up the tempo on those drives — something Neu said they want to continue doing depending on the flow of the game.
Regardless of pace, Ball State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joey Lynch, another former Cardinal quarterback, said Neal just needed to use the Cardinals' early success in the running game to his advantage.
"Sometimes people try to force things," Lynch said. "Let the game come to you, and naturally, through a 65-to-80-play game, there are going to be plenty of chances to make big plays. So he has to understand that there are a lot of good players around him. Let those guys do their jobs, and good things will happen."
Neal will have a chance to rebound at Scheumann Stadium Sept. 17 against an Eastern Kentucky secondary that gave up 251 passing yards against Purdue with an interception.
And even with Neal's recent struggles on the field, Neu isn't worried about his young quarterback.
"We've just got to get him to relax and play and not feel like you have to do it all by yourself," Neu said. "That's the beauty of our defense right now and our running game. ... He doesn't have to do anything special. Just run the offense, and we'll be just fine."