The defense for the Ball State football team has been dealt more than its fair share of injuries this season.
At times, the Ball State defense has looked less like a defense, and more like a MASH unit.
So when defensive back Eric Patterson went down in the first quarter of the Cardinals’ game against Northern Illinois on Saturday, clutching his broken right arm, the only response from Ball State was its usual motto.
Next man up, again.
“When one person goes down, the next person has to step in and play to the caliber of the last person,” defensive back Tyree Holder said. “We don’t have Patterson in there now, but it still feels very normal.”
Filling the void is Darius Conaway, who has rotated into the secondary often throughout the season. Holder said one positive Conaway brings is that he’s a similar type of player to Patterson, an aggressive corner who plays fast.
Defensive backs and pass defense coordinator Shannon Morrison said although Conaway doesn’t always have his body in the right position, he’s a fighter who will force himself to make plays and become better.
Replacing Patterson (2014 Stats)
Conaway has amassed 15 tackles, three pass breakups and three passes defended while playing in limited time during seven games this season. Just a sophomore, he’ll be asked to be a key contributor on defense now as he takes over Patterson’s old spot.
But without Patterson for the rest of the season, Ball State becomes dangerously thin at corner. Conaway and Holder have experience, which vanishes further down the depth chart. Holder’s backup is David Moore, a redshirt freshman who has appeared in seven games this season, with 10 tackles.
And behind Conaway is Roy Denson, a true freshman who made a brief appearance in just one game this season.
If someone else was to go down, there’s no savvy veteran for Ball State to pluck off the sideline.
“We don’t have a choice, we can’t pick up a guy off waivers,” Morrison said. “We get five corners ready a week, and if something happens to one, another guy comes in and we just keep rolling down the road.”
With just a few games remaining and the possibility of a bowl game starting to slip away, there isn’t much time for Ball State’s youth to mature. Moore, and possibly Denson, will be called on to make impact plays immediately during nickel and dime coverage.
That’s especially prevalent with one of the best passing teams in the Mid-American Conference, Massachusetts, coming up on the schedule Wednesday.
“We have a group of guys that want to play ... It’s their turn, their opportunity to go out there and show everybody that they can play,” Morrison said. “The sorrow of seeing a teammate goes down goes to excitement and focus of being ready to play.”