YPSILANTI, Mich. - After running for 1,736 yards last season, expectations were sky high for Ball State University running back MiQuale Lewis this year.
But Lewis struggled behind a young offensive line and has battled an injured ankle. The senior gained only 378 yards as the Cardinals started the year 0-7. The poor start led to questions about his running style and if he was the best fit for this year's offense.
All of that went out the window at Eastern Michigan University as Lewis ran for 301 yards and set Ball State's single-game rushing record, while leading the Cardinals to a 29-27 win.
"MiQuale Lewis didn't forget how to gain 1,700 yards," Parrish said. "We haven't blocked this way for him. We're blocking better."
The 301 yards broke Earl Taylor's record of 260, set in 1976. It also earned Lewis national attention, including a helmet sticker on ESPN's "College Football Final." Lewis also holds the highest single-game rushing total in the nation this year, breaking Boston College sophomore Montel Harris's mark of 264, set Oct. 17.
Lewis isn't sure he's ever rushed for that many yards, even in Pop Warner.
"They didn't keep stats then, so it doesn't count," he said.
Lewis was augmented by sophomore Cory Sykes, who ran for a career-high 203 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time in Ball State history that two players ran for at least 200 yards in a game. Previously, only nine Cardinals had crossed the 200-yard barrier.
Sykes admitted he used Lewis' running style as a model.
"I watched Quale run and saw that he's a patient runner," he said. "I tried to steal some of his running style."
Lewis wasn't surprised that Sykes had such a big game.
"I knew once he set foot on this campus. I always think he's the fastest person in this conference," Lewis said. "You can tell, when he gets the handoff, he's hitting the hole full speed."
Ball State rumbled for 463 rushing yards Saturday, the second highest total in school history. The Cardinals came up 69 yards short of the school record of 532 yards set in 1977. Sykes and Lewis also set an NCAA record for most rushing yards by two teammates in one game.
That total was even more impressive after freshman Eric Williams injured his knee in the first quarter. Williams did not return, forcing Lewis to captain Ball State's Wildcat formation.
"To tell you the truth, I really don't like it," Lewis said. "I'm too nervous, calling motion, calling the snap. But I just had to focus in, and I knew the team was counting on me. I had to go in there and make it work."
Parrish said Lewis only recently started practicing to take snaps in the Wildcat.
"About a week ago, we came off the practice field and said we were investing a lot of time in [the Wildcat], but we needed a backup because we didn't have one," Parrish said.
Offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner suggested that Lewis could fill the position, a key decision after Williams was helped off the field.
Eastern Michigan is ranked last in the Mid-American Conference in rushing defense.
"I think we didn't get off blocks," Eagles coach Ron English said. "I think they have a good runner [in Lewis]. I think what happens early is guys start over-running Lewis and he cuts the ball back."
After learning starting quarterback Kelly Page was lost for the season, Ball State knew it would have to run the football plenty of times in Ypsilanti.
"Coach said we were going to run the ball 55 out of our 70 plays," Lewis said. "Coach [Faulkner] gave us a quote: Herschel Walker, he said, ‘I never get tired, the ball don't weigh enough.' We put that in our mindset and just go out there and run."
Sykes said it was important to take some of the pressure off quarterback Tanner Justice in his first collegiate start.
"Preparing myself this week, Quale and the coaches, they all told me to be ready," he said. "We knew with Tanner coming in we would have to take a lot of burden off his shoulders and help him out with the running game. That's what I tried to do today."