FOOTBALL: Mann shines in return to starting role
Sitting on the bench could have served as a learning experience for Ozzie Mann.
The redshirt sophomore on the Ball State football team spent five and a half games on the bench after losing the starting quarterback position to redshirt freshman Jack Milas heading into the homecoming game against Western Michigan on Oct. 11.
But after Milas broke his left wrist in the first half against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 22, it was Mann’s turn to show what he had learned. He wasn’t asked to do much against the Eagles, as the Cardinals already had a comfortable lead.
He would get his chance one week later.
Mann responded by going 20-29 for 286 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers against the Mid-American Conference East champion Bowling Green Falcons, easily his most impressive performance to date.
“You take a lot of mental reps when you’re watching, coverages, timing, everything really,” Mann said. “I was a lot more comfortable today. I sat out for however long it was, I watched things and was able to put things in perspective.”
The three touchdown passes along with 286 yards were both career-highs for Mann, who needed a strong performance to build both the confidence inside himself and within the program heading into the offseason.
Mann was the starting quarterback when the season began, but Ball State’s offense sputtered and the Cardinals went 1-4 in that stretch, averaging just 22 points per game. He struggled to push the ball downfield, underthrew receivers, didn’t look through his progressions and seemed uncomfortable.
It was a different story for Mann on Friday when he was finding open receivers all over the field, playing collected and confident.
He threw a quick slant to KeVonn Mabon, who curled up field and took the pass for a 63-yard touchdown. He lobbed a touch pass to a wide open Chris Shillings in the end zone on blown coverage. With the first half winding down, he fired a pass to Jordan Williams, who fought for a touchdown.
It was the kind of effort that helped Mann earn the starting nod to begin the season.
With both Mann and Milas showing promise as well as weaknesses throughout the season, a quarterback battle could emerge during the offseason. Backups Kyle Kamman and David Morrison are still improving and Ball State will add Yorktown High School quarterback Riley Neal to the mix as well.
But for the last weekend of the season, it was Mann’s time to shine.
“It was really, really solid,” Ball State head coach Pete Lembo said of Mann’s play against Bowling Green. “We put a good plan together for him based on his skill set…some of the play action and sprint passes we put in there, he was able to execute.”
Sometimes, spending time on the bench isn’t a bad thing.