The Ball State Cardinals run onto the field at the beginning of the home opener game against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 17 in Scheumann Stadium. Ball State heads to Illinois Saturday looking for its eighth consecutive season-opening victory. Grace Ramey, DN
Chirp: X-factors against Buffalo
Out of bowl contention, Ball State is playing for pride but stand in the way of Buffalo who is two-wins shy of becoming bowl eligible.
Ball State (2-8, 0-6 MAC) hosts Buffalo (4-6, 2-4 MAC) at 7 p.m. on Thursday for the 11th ever meeting between the two teams.
Robby General, the Daily News football reporter, is covering the game and offered up some insight on the key positional matchups:
Ball State secondary vs. Buffalo's pass offense
Ball State ranks eight in the Mid-American Conference in terms of passing yards against per game (231) and second most for passing touchdowns given up with 22. The Cardinals held defenses to under 200 passing yards twice this season, which doesn't bode well for a pass-heavy Buffalo offense.
Buffalo's passing offense is among on of the strongest in the MAC. Through the air, Buffalo averages 285 yards per game and has scored 18 touchdowns. The combination of sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson and the MAC's leading receiver, redshirt junior Anthony Johnson, has given opposing defenses headaches all season long.
Ball State running attack vs. Buffalo's pass defense
Last week, Ball State was held to 83 yards on the ground against the MAC's best rush defense in Northern Illinois. This week may be a different story, however, as Cardinal running backs Caleb Huntley and Malik Dunner square off against one of the conference's worst run defenses.
Buffalo has given up nearly 200 yards on the ground per game along with 18 scores. While opposing offenses have averaged 4.4 yards per rush against the Bulls, they've held up in recent weeks, limiting offenses to 181 rushing yards on 55 rushes in two weeks. When teams run a lot, however, the Bulls break down making this a vital matchup come Thursday night.
Ball State pass rush vs. Buffalo's offensive line
Ball State has continued to fair well in the pass rush game, recording 22 sacks and 60 tackles for loss against opponents this season. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Anthony Winbush is one sack away from tying the all-time career record for Ball State, adding extra motivation for this week's game.
As good as Ball State is at getting to quarterbacks, Buffalo is as good at protecting them, giving up a conference-low 13 sacks this season. On top of that, Buffalo has allowed 38 tackles for loss this season, making this one of the more difficult matchups Ball State's defensive front has seen.
Slight edge: Buffalo
Ball State pass game vs. Buffalo secondary
Ball State's passing game has opened up in the past few weeks with the emergence of freshman Khalil Newton and continued production of wide receiver Justin Hall. Whether redshirt freshman Drew Plitt or redshirt senior Jack Milas are in, Ball State has proven it can move the ball down field.
But ball movement has been anything but consistent since week four of the regular season. Buffalo allows opponents to complete 61 percent of their passes for an average of 7.4 yards per catch. If Ball State wants to win this matchup, it will have to open up its passing game with the use of young running backs.
Until Ball State proves that it can once against compete after this heavy injury season, it's hard to take them as a favorite in every game.
While Buffalo has just four wins this season, it has competed against seven teams this season that are either already bowl eligible or a game away from becoming eligible. With just two-wins separating the Bulls from postseason contention, they won't fold easy.
Contact Robby General with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @rgeneraljr.