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
Ball State heads to Miami for final game of season
Ball State football is no longer playing for bowl eligibility, but it has a chance to keep its rival out of the postseason.
The Cardinals (4-7, 1-6 MAC) travel to Yager Stadium to take on the Miami RedHawks (5-6, 5-2 MAC) Nov. 22 in the final game of the regular season. Miami has won five games straight and can win the MAC East Division with a win and an Akron loss.
Ball State and Miami don't start playing the "Red Bird Rivalry" until next season, but head coach Mike Neu knows this is still an important game.
Ball State at Miami
Time: 7 p.m.
Date: Nov. 22
Place: Yager Stadium (Oxford, Ohio)
"Of course that's a big deal [to knock them out of bowl contention]," Neu said. "Yes, there is a lot on the line for them right now. But there's a lot on the line for us, too — and sending our seniors out on a high note."
The seniors have been a big part of improving on last season's 3-9 record.
One of those guys, wide receiver KeVonn Mabon, needs six catches against Miami to break the program record for career receptions. Dante Ridgeway currently holds the record with 238.
"I think it'll come in the flow of the game," Mabon said. "Coach [Joey] Lynch has been talking about it, so I know he's gonna try to throw some extra plays in there. But if he doesn't, I've been averaging five or six anyway, so it'll just come natural."
Mabon caught seven for 56 yards last week at Toledo, as sophomore quarterback Riley Neal threw for 260 yards and two scores. The offense might find it tougher this week, however, as Miami only gives up 347.3 yards per game and leads the MAC in total defense.
"They've got a good defense and it's definitely shown," Neal said. "Even before [they won five straight], they played with some good teams like Cincinnati. But just like every defense, there's stuff you can take advantage of."
Miami lost the first six games on its schedule, but after an 18-14 win over Kent State Oct. 15, the switch flipped.
During the winning streak, the RedHawks have outscored their opponents 158-96, and four of those wins have come by double digits. Simply put, they do it with defense and by not turning the ball over on offense.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland is at the heart of that.
He returned to the lineup against Kent State after sustaining a knee injury in spring ball, and has provided an unquestioned spark. Ragland only throws for 178.8 yards per game, but can also run the ball and has thrown no interceptions compared to 12 touchdowns.
"He's a guy that doesn't make any mistakes," Neu said. "He's been very consistent week in and week out, and has given his team an opportunity to win. ... Obviously, for them, it was a welcome return to the field for him. But we know we have to slow him down."
The last time these two teams met in 2012, when Ball State beat Miami 31-24 at Scheumann Stadium, some of this year's seniors like Mabon, Zack Ryan, Martez Hester and Aaron Taylor were freshmen.
Now it's the final game of their careers, and the Cardinals are using this game to get a head start on the Red Bird Rivalry beginning next season.
"Finishing on a high note, and then carrying that into preparation as we begin our offseason," Neu said. "There would be no better way to finish this season than to go to Miami and get a win."
Ball State and Miami will kick off at 7 p.m.