The Ball State Cardinals run onto the field at the beginning of the game against Northern Illinois on Oct. 1 in Scheumann Stadium. The Cardinals lost 31-24. Grace Ramey // DN
Chirp: X-factors against Miami
Ball State heads to Ohio to go against Miami for its final game of the season Nov. 22. The Cardinals have now lost four straight games, and are last place in the Mid-American Conference West Division with a 1-6 league record.
Miami leads the all-time series between the two schools 16-12-1, but Ball State has won the last three meetings. In their last game in 2012, Ball State earned a 31-24 road win.
The Cardinals are coming off a 37-19 loss at Toledo last week, while the RedHawks had a bye. Miami beat Buffalo 35-24 in its last game.
Jake Fox, the Daily News football reporter, is traveling to the game and offered up some insight on the key positional matchups:
Ball State passing game vs. Miami secondary
For the first time this year, the Cardinals' passing attack has put together back-to-back solid games.
Sophomore quarterback Riley Neal was 33-49 against Toledo for 260 yards and two touchdown passes. He had a lot of success throwing to senior KeVonn Mabon and freshman Damon Hazelton Jr., who combined for 19 grabs and 158 yards.
Miami leads the MAC in total yards allowed per game (347.5) but are just fifth against the pass with 217.4 passing yards allowed per game. The RedHawks have also allowed 14 scores through the air.
Based on Miami's strong run defense, and running back James Gilbert still not looking 100 percent, Ball State might have to lean on the pass once again to move the ball. This is a hard matchup to call, but the Cardinals have been hot.
EDGE: Ball State
Miami QB Gus Ragland vs. Ball State defense
After Miami got off to an 0-6 start this season, Ragland took over at quarterback and has led the team to five straight wins.
He doesn't light up the stat sheet (just 178.8 yards per game), but he has thrown for 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season. Ragland has also rushed for 182 net yards and two touchdowns, which could lead to some trouble for the Cardinals.
Ball State struggled again last week against the pass, but managed to intercept a pass by Toledo star quarterback Logan Woodside. Still, that was late in the fourth quarter after he had already thrown for more than 300 yards and three scores.
Ragland likely won't put up huge numbers, but should be efficient enough to move the RedHawks down the field.
Ball State running game vs. Miami run defense
Miami's run defense ranks second in the conference, as it gives up just 130.1 yards per game.
The toughest rush offense Miami has played in the MAC was Ohio (191.4 rushing yards per game), and the RedHawks shut the Bobcats down to the tune of 141 net yards.
Ball State, meanwhile, couldn't get the run going against Toledo. Neal ran for 85 yards, but the team was held to 133 yards, well below its average of 217.5 yards per game. Gilbert has been banged up, and while he should get enough work to have a decent game this week, it might be hard to put up the huge numbers he was earlier in the season.
The Cardinals have good enough backs to find some holes, but Miami's recent success doesn't suggest a big day.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, Ball State and Miami are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum.
With last week's 37-19 loss to Toledo, the Cardinals no longer have a chance to become bowl eligibility. The only thing they're playing for this week is to go out with a win for the seniors.
Miami, on the other hand, is the hottest team in the MAC with five straight victories. With a win, the RedHawks will become bowl eligible, and could clinch the MAC East with a victory and an Akron loss.
Ball State also had a shorter week after the Nov. 16 game, while Miami had the week off to prepare. With so much on the line, Miami will look to stay hot and snap a three-game losing streak in the series against the Cardinals.