Ball State quarterback Riley Neal looks for a receiver downfield in a 30-20 loss to Indiana at Memorial Field on Sept. 10. Neal and the Cardinals fell to 1-1 as their late comeback attempt fell short. DN Photo // Grace Hollars
Early turnovers haunt Ball State in 30-20 loss to Indiana
Drive after drive, Indiana threatened to pull away.
Ball State had already turned the ball over twice to Indiana's defense. The offense just couldn't find a rhythm.
And after the Cardinals' third punt of the first half, the floodgates broke open.
Ball State — Final Statistics
Total yards — 371
Passing yards — 231
Rushing yards — 140
First downs — 18
Yards per play — 5.5
Time of possession — 28:41
The Hoosiers scored 10 points in the final five minutes of the half for a 20-0 lead, and went on to defeat the Cardinals 30-20 in their home opener on Sept. 10. Despite a fourth-quarter comeback attempt, Ball State head coach Mike Neu said there are no moral victories.
"Give credit to Indiana, they beat us," Neu said. "It's not the recipe you can have in order to have success. You can't have three turnovers. You can't get off to a slow start. That's a tough recipe if you expect to come back to win. That's a lot to ask of your team each and every week."
Trailing 10-0 in the first quarter, the Cardinals were a score away from getting back in the game. Sophomore quarterback Riley Neal hit Corey Lacanaria — who fumbled away the opening drive after Ball State elected to receive — down the right seam for a 33-yard gain to the Indiana 42-yard line.
The running game started picking up some steam. Senior KeVonn Mabon (who eclipsed 2,000 career receiving yards in the game) took a pass to the 5-yard line to give the Cardinals a 1st-and-goal.
Looking for his third touchdown of the season, running back James Gilbert took the handoff from Neal. But he coughed it up.
Whatever momentum the Cardinals had after marching 72 yards was gone.
"I've got no explanation," Neu said. "We've gotta drill that in practice. You play the way you practice. We've got to make sure we emphasize ball security. We can't have fumbles, and we can't have interceptions."
Ball State's third turnover on the first half came on the very next play. Neal forced a deep pass into double coverage, leading to an easy interception to Indiana's Marcelino Ball.
Neal finished 15-30 for 231 yards, a touchdown and the pick. His first touchdown pass of the season came on a 5-yard slant to Jordan Hogue to cut the score to 30-20 with 3:06 left in the game.
"We just took care of the ball," Neal said about Ball State outscoring Indiana 17-0 in the fourth quarter. "We didn't have any fumbles, no more interceptions. I just think we kind of settled down and started playing a little bit."
Ball State got some juice early in the fourth quarter when Dedrick Cromartie broke through the line and blocked an Indiana punt. Sophomore Malik Dunner scooped it up for a short touchdown, the first of his career.
Dunner also provided a lift from the backfield in the second half. The true freshman busted through the line for carries of 13 and 23 on his first drive on his way to a seven-carry, 39-yard performance.
"Coach always talks about, win on your opportunity," he said. "I waited on my opportunity, and when I got in, I just tried to make the best of [the carries]."
After big rushing performances from Ball State and Indiana last week, both teams had more balance. The Cardinals finished with 140 yards and the Hoosiers amassed 197 yards on the ground.
Indiana got a big performance from junior college transfer quarterback Richard Lagow, who completed 17 of 28 passes for 266 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
He was very efficient in the short passing game with Mitchell Paige (six catches for 76 yards), but the bulk of his stats came from two long touchdowns to Nick Westbrook. They connected on a 43-yard bomb to make the score 10-0 in the first quarter, and Westbrook took a screen pass 79 yards down the right sideline just two plays into the second half.
"It was just us making mistakes, putting our heads down when the ball carrier came towards us," said senior linebacker Zack Ryan, who finished with eight tackles. "I think that's where we got in trouble — put our heads down, missed a couple tackles and next thing you know it's down the field."
Despite the loss, Ball State is still 1-1 on the season after a 31-21 victory over Georgia State last weekend.
There were some positives, despite falling behind 30-0 in this game. Neu said they're ready to get back to Muncie, grade the film and get ready for their home opener.
"We have everything in front of us," he said. "Last week was the highest of highs, and this week is the lowest of lows. You get one chance on Saturday to put your 'A' game on the field. We didn't do it this week, but every week is a new week. We're ready and chomping at the bit to get to Eastern Kentucky next week."