Freshman quarterback Riley Neal looks to a teammate to pass the ball to during the game against Toledo on Oct. 3 at Scheumann Stadium. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY
Ball State brings 'championship game' mindset to Toledo
Ball State can no longer play for a Mid-American Conference title, but these last two games will have to suffice as "championships."
The Cardinals (4-6, 1-5 MAC) will play the first of these games when they travel to the Glass Bowl Nov. 16 to take on the Toledo Rockets (8-2, 5-1 MAC).
Ball State once looked like a lock for a bowl berth at 4-3, but three straight losses have put the team in a must-win situation. The Cardinals have to beat Toledo and Miami in the last two weeks to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2013. Lose to either one, and those dreams are shot.
Ball State at Toledo
Time: 7 p.m.
Date: Nov. 16
Place: Glass Bowl (Toledo, Ohio)
"In a championship game, it's win or go home," senior defensive end Joshua Posley said. "It's an awkward situation, too, because we know if we don't win this game, we know the following game is our last one. We're playing for our bowl eligibility lives."
Ball State can't even begin to think about Miami until they deal with a Toledo squad that is receiving votes in the Coaches Poll.
The Rockets' only two losses this season came in a 55-53 shootout to BYU, and a 31-26 game to Ohio. Ball State head coach Mike Neu praised the job Jason Candle has done in his first season with Toledo.
Toledo ranks first in the conference in total offense (539.7 yards per game), second in points per game (39.4) and second in scoring defense (22.9 per game).
"I just think that's a consistent formula; they've been that way all year," Neu said. "The games they've lost have been very close. Listen, we know we've got to play our best game."
The Rockets play a complementary game on offense, and it starts with quarterback Logan Woodside. The junior leads the MAC in passing yards per game (332.8), passing touchdowns (37) and completion percentage (70.8), and needs just 10 more touchdown passes to break the single-season MAC record.
"The key to slowing him down is getting movement and good pressure," Posley said. "That starts with our get-off and our execution. Then that helps out our secondary, ... it makes both our lives easier in the passing game."
Woodside also has the luxury of handing it to one of the MAC's best running back duos in Kareem Hunt, who has 203 carries on the season for 1,048 yards and seven touchdowns, and Terry Swanson, with 525 yards and three touchdowns.
Toledo outgained Ball State 280-26 in a victory over the Cardinals at Scheumann Stadium last season. Granted, that was before the breakout of sophomore running back James Gilbert, who Neu expects to be in the lineup despite leaving last week's game with an injury.
"We want to have balance, and it starts with the run for us," Neu said. "That's when we're at our best. We don't want to become one-dimensional. That's what we expect to do, is get back to what's best for us."
Realistically, Ball State is going to have to do a lot of things well to earn a road win at Toledo, who leads the all-time series 21-19-1.
But it doesn't have a choice but to win. It's now a single elimination tournament for the Cardinals, and they have to win this week's "championship" if they want a chance at a bowl game.
"We can't hold anything back," Posley said. "Play like there's no tomorrow because if we lose, there isn't one."
Ball State and Toledo will kick off at 7 p.m.