Rushing offense, defense lead to Homecoming defeat
Ball State's strong-suit this year on offense has been the running game, but in the Oct. 3 Homecoming matchup, it was quite the opposite.
The Cardinals were averaging 232 rushing yards per game prior to Toledo. The Rockets held them to 26 net yards on the ground while they ran for 280 yards of their own.
With 30 attempts on the ground between Darian Green, James Gilbert and mobile quarterback Riley Neal, the Cardinals averaged fewer than 1 yard per rush.
Toledo vs. Ball State Running Statistics
Rushing Yards - 280 - 26
Average Per Rush - 5.8 - 0.9
Yards Lost Rushing - 5 - 46
Head coach Pete Lembo said with how Ball State has ran the ball this season, teams will find ways to key on the Ball State running game.
“It’s not gonna change next week and it’s not gonna change the week after," Lembo said. "They’re gonna pack the box; they’re gonna zone blitz us to death. We’re gonna have opportunities to throw it, and we gotta be able to throw and catch.”
Senior center Jacob Richard knew Toledo had a good defensive line coming into the game, and their movements along with some exotic blitzes led to the offensive line’s disappointing performance.
Toledo's front line is one of the best Ball State will see all season.
“It’s hard to run it against a good front. It’s even harder to run it against a good front when they’re packing the box and they’ve got more in there then you can block,” Lembo said. “We’ve got to find ways to run it and we’ve got to find ways to make plays on the outside. We’ve gotta do a better job at that.”
After getting gashed by Northwestern's run game the week prior, Ball State was unable to stop Toledo's attack either. The Rockets' 280 yards rushing was their best performance all season.
Toledo was also without its top rusher, Kareem Hunt, who missed the game with a hamstring injury.
Linebacker Ben Ingle, who led the team in tackles on the day with 12, pointed the Rockets' success on the ground to one reason.
“Missed tackles,” Ingle said. “Way too many missed tackles.”
Head coach Pete Lembo agreed with Ingle, saying that there were 20-plus missed tackles, which led to even more issues.
“You get hits on guys, whether it’s in the backfield or whether it’s for a 2-yard gain,” Lembo said. “We can’t let those turn into 5 or 7-yard gains, and that’s what we did today.”
Injuries on the defensive line have been an issue for the Cardinals in stopping the rush. Keenan Noel came into the game hurt and did not finish the game in the second half. Noel’s backup Julian Jackson also suffered an injury in the game.
Ball State was also without Carlutorbantu Zaramo and Darnell Smith.
Despite the absence of some key guys, Ingle trusts his line to step up and continue to make plays.
“We still have good players out there, and I trust them as much as [Smith, Noel and Zaramo],” Ingle said. “It just comes down to fundamentals. We didn’t play our fundamentals well enough — and we need to get some guys back — so that’s where we're at now.”
Ball State's rushing offense and defense will look to get going again next weekend against Mid-American Conference foe Northern Illinois on the road.