FOOTBALL: Offensive line's confidence builds after win

Left guard Michael Switzer and center Kreg Hunter made a simple promise to Ball State University's tailbacks before last Saturday's game at Eastern Michigan University.

Switzer and Hunter, the veterans of the offensive line, told the running backs there would be holes against the Eagles. All they would have to do is run through them.

"They told us they were going to have the line ready," running back Cory Sykes said. "They told us to make sure we were ready to run and we were going to have a big day."

It was a very big one. The Cardinals rushed for 463 yards, the second-highest total in school history. MiQuale Lewis set a school record with 301 rushing yards and Sykes added 203. Their combined total of 504 rushing yards was the most in NCAA history for a pair of teammates.

Lewis gave the offensive line plenty of credit.

"That was their best game," Lewis said. "They were getting to the second level and making our job a lot easier."

The game film told the same story.

"That's the best they've played all year by far," coach Stan Parrish said. "All but Kreg Hunter had their highest grades of the year, and Kreg had a good grade."

After losing four starters to graduation, the offensive line has been looking to find itself all year. They have struggled to protect the quarterback, allowing 23 sacks this year. But with starting quarterback Kelly Page out for the season, Ball State has switched to a more run-heavy attack.

The Cardinals employed the Wildcat formation liberally against the Eagles with plenty of success. Parrish said the Wildcat averaged 11.8 yards per play last Saturday.

Switzer said there isn't much difference in blocking for the Wildcat.

"The only thing that's different is the cadence of whoever's calling it," Switzer said.

But Hunter's job changes a bit. Instead of snapping to Page or Tanner Justice, either Eric Williams or Lewis lines up in shotgun. One Wildcat snap sailed over Lewis' head for a 17-yard loss at Eastern Michigan.

"When your Wildcat back is 5-5, there's not much error for the snap," Parrish said. "It was high, but it wasn't out of the stadium high."

The mistake was an exception for the Ball State rushing attack. The Cardinals averaged 8.12 yards per carry, their highest average of the year. Both Lewis and Sykes had touchdown runs of at least 37 yards.

"Some of those plays were pretty nice," Switzer said. "When you see that on film, you're proud of that because you worked on that all week."

Switzer said Lewis made sure the line knew he was appreciative of their help in his record-setting day. Lewis wished he could have gotten them something, but probably won't be able to.

"If I had anything to give them, I'd give it to them," he said.


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