FOOTBALL: Defense to be tested in Massachusetts

Just one week after losing its top corner, the Ball State football team will be asked to respond in a big way on the road against Massachusetts.

Led by quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, who leads the Mid-American Conference with 23 passing touchdowns, UMass boasts the highest octane passing attack in the league.

“[Frohnapfel]’s got a big time arm. He’s a 6’6” kid who stands tall in the pocket,” Ball State head coach Pete Lembo said. “He really has great vision down the field.”

Frohnapfel will be trying to take advantage of a Ball State secondary that’s been in flux since the season started, numerous players going down with injury and being replaced, coming back healthy before more players go down again.

With Eric Patterson now lost for the season with a broken arm, Darius Conaway will be asked to step into his place.

The task won’t be easy.

The Minutemen passing game averages 331.2 passing yards per game, the highest in the conference. As Conaway gets his first start in Patterson’s spot for the season, the test doesn’t get much tougher.

But teammate and fellow defensive back Tyree Holder has confidence in him.

“Patterson and Conaway are actually really similar, so if you can play well with one, you’ll do well with the other,” Holder said. “We trust that Darius can come in and be great for us.”

It’ll take more than just a marquee performance by Conaway for Ball State to come out of Massachusetts with a victory. The Massachusetts offense averages over 30 points a game, Ball State gives up just a hair over 27.

Part of the Cardinals’ defensive struggles come from injury issues other than Patterson. Linebacker Ben Ingle has missed the last few games with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable. If he can’t play, it’s another area for Massachusetts’ offense to attack.

Sean Wiggins started in place of Ingle last week against Northern Illinois, finished with the second most tackles on the team with eight.

“They do a great job with play-action deep throws,” Lembo said. “Really, really tough offense with a lot of history and a coaching staff that knows how to use their personnel.”

Although the Ball State defense has plenty of film from previous games Massachusetts has played this season, the actual experience isn’t there. The two teams haven’t matched up in the past, making familiarity only attainable through previous experiences the coaches have had.

Ball State’s game against Massachusetts kicks off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night. 


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