Redshirt sophomore quarter back Jack Milas runs the ball at the game on Sept. 23 against Western Kentucky. The Cardinals lost 21-33. Rebecca Slezak, DN
Chirp: X-factors against Western Michigan
The Cardinals finished its non-conference schedule with a 2-2 record and enters Mid-American Conference play this week.
Ball State (2-2) travels to Kalamazoo, Michigan this weekend for a road game against Western Michigan (2-2). Western Michigan has won the past three games, with its biggest margin of victory coming in a 54-7 win in 2015, against Ball state and boasts a 24-19 record advantage moving into this weekend.
Last weekend, Ball State held the lead late, but wasn't able to pull off a victory against Western Kentucky, while Western Michigan is coming off a dominating 49-14 win against Wagner.
Robby General, Daily News sports reporter, is covering the game and offered some insight on a couple of key positional matchups:
Ball State defensive front vs. Western Michigan running backs
Western Michigan has three running backs who can get the job done on the ground, two of which — Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellamy — are among the top 10 in the MAC.
In four games, Western Michigan has ran for 956 yards and averaged nearly five yards a carry. The Broncos also like to run the ball often, with two-thirds of their offense calls coming on the ground.
As a whole, Ball State has been pretty good this season stopping opponents running game. Besides week two's 336 given up against the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Ball State's has shut down opponents running games, allowing less than 100 yards twice.
If the Cardinals want to come out with a win this week, it's going to start by stopping the Broncos strong running game. The problem isn't just stopping one back though, it's about outlasting and stopping all three.
Edge: Western Michigan
Ball State running backs vs. Western Michigan defensive front
Ball State also has a strong presence in the backfield, even without junior first team All-MAC selection James Gilbert.
Entering this week's game, true-freshman running back Caleb Huntley is leading the Cardinals in rushing yards (226) while sophomore Malik Dunner has led the way with yards per run (5.6) and rushing touchdowns (4). It's a dangerous duo that can cause problems for any defense.
And while the Broncos are good at running the ball themselves, they're not particularly good at stopping the run game. This season, Western Michigan has given up an average of 188.5 rushing yards per game and 12 scores to opponents.
There has yet to be a game where Ball State was completely shut down on the ground this year, and with the balanced attack of Huntley and Dunner, this week should prove to be more of the same.
Edge: Ball State
Ball State return game vs. Western Michigan return game
Both Ball State and Western Michigan have returned kickoffs for touchdowns this season — Ball State's coming from Huntley against UAB and Western Michigan's coming from senior cornerback Darius Phillips who had returns against both the University of Southern California and Michigan State.
The teams have also been the most productive in the kickoff and punt return game, etching out the top two spots in those categories within the MAC.
While both teams have proven their success in the return games, Phillips is a definite threat on kickoff returns. He hasn't returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the past two games because he was not kicked to during those games. He also almost returned a punt for a touchdown against Idaho in week three.
Edge: Western Michigan
Ball State passing offense vs. Western Michigan secondary
Even without usual starting quarterback Riley Neal out, Ball State can still be a threat through the air. Senior quarterback Jack Milas got the start last week against Western Kentucky and finished 18-37 with 267 yards and two interceptions.
After taking the starting position in 2014, Milas went on to throw for 1,302 yards in six games played, with his first collegiate start coming against Western Michigan. During that game, he completed 26-of-42 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns.
With weapons like freshman wide receiver Justin Hall, Milas should be able to have some success through the air.
Western Michigan, however, has been pretty good against the passing game, allowing only 184 yards per game to opposing teams. The Broncos have also only given up four touchdowns while picking opposing quarterbacks off four times this season. They do, however, give up 7.7 yards per reception, and haven't played a real pass heavy team this year.
Western Michigan is a tricky opponent for Ball State's first week of conference play. The Broncos have also played two high-profile teams in USC and Michigan State, playing each of them decently well.
Despite losing several pieces from last year and with Ball State missing several pieces of its offense, Western Michigan seems like the favorite entering this game.
In order for Ball State to pull off a win on the road, it'll need to stop Western Michigan's powerful run game.
Edge: Western Michigan