Ball State's quarterback Riley Neal attempts to run the ball down the field during the game against Akron on Oct. 22 in Scheumann Stadium. The Cardinals lost 25 to 35. Grace Ramey // DN
Neal and passing game continue to struggle in loss to Akron
A new coaching staff comes in, wanting to be fast on offense and put points on the board. The quarterback spot isn’t in question — after the freshman campaign Riley Neal just had, things are looking up.
The first few games go by, and the passing game is struggling. But Neal is going to be just fine, head coach Mike Neu says.
Well now it’s Week 9. And some of those struggles still exist.
Riley Neal — Last 3 games
Completions-Attempts — 53-86
Passing yards — 573
Passing TDs — 2
Interceptions — 5
Ball State’s offense built a big lead against Akron Oct. 22, but couldn’t sustain drives in the second half as the Zips came back to win 35-25. After Neal threw for just 187 yards and an interception in the loss, Neu was asked about the notion that his quarterback has regressed this season.
“That’s fair to say,” Neu said. “When you look at numbers and see his performance as a freshman and the type of numbers he put up and what he’s doing right now, yeah.”
There have been some good and bad moments this year, but when it comes down to it, Neal’s efficiency rating is 0.82 points lower than when he played in eight games a year ago.
Neal did throw a touchdown against the Zips but a number of catchable dropped passes didn't help his off game. He overthrew a wide-open Sam Brunner on what should’ve been a touchdown in the first quarter, and tossed his ninth interception of the season inside the red zone with 45 seconds left.
“We had an opportunity, it was first down,” Neu said. “If the safety squats on an in cut, throw it over his head and we’ll go to second down there. So yeah, you’ve gotta eliminate that.”
In an attempt to control the clock and cut down on turnovers, Ball State turned to a lot of checkdowns and short patterns in the passing game to go with a run-first scheme. But Neal averaged just 4.8 yards per attempt in the first half, and 5.5 for the game.
The Cardinals have called their fair share of deep balls over the past few weeks, but most of them have fallen incomplete.
“Unfortunately, throwing the ball down field has been a challenge for us,” Neu said. “But yeah, we’ve gotta take some chances when they’re playing man coverage like that. ... Yeah, there’s always ways you want to improve your football team. But we’ve got a good formula with how well we’ve been running the football.”
Neal is part of that rushing attack, as his ability to pull it down and run is better than any quarterback on the roster. He has rushed for 314 yards and six scores (including a 1-yard touchdown vs. Akron) this season.
Neu was also asked after the game if he would take a look at No. 2 quarterback Jack Milas going forward, and he had this to say:
“We’ll look at the film, and if that situation is called for, I’m not afraid to make a change,” he said. “We’ll assess it and see where we’re at.”
Fortunately for Ball State, it has over a week to prepare for a home contest against No. 20 Western Michigan Nov. 1. As for Neal, Neu said he’s just got to make good throws and decisions when he’s on the field.
“When you’re the quarterback, you take the good with the bad,” Neu said. “You got a few extra days here to prepare for Western Michigan, so we’ll look at everything.”