Ball State looks for win against Sharpe, UMass
On Halloween, the Ball State Cardinals will face off against a wide receiver with a proven history against them. University of Massachusetts senior wide receiver Tajae Sharpe had a career day against Ball State last season, hauling in 13 grabs for 239 yards.
Sharpe has 77 catches for 897 yards this season and will look to have another big day against Ball State's secondary. Head coach Pete Lembo understands just how talented the top receiver for the Minutemen is.
"I don't follow a whole lot of the draft status things and so forth," Lembo said. "I've got to guess that this guy is a legitimate pro-prospect, draftable-type receiver."
Sharpe is ranked 11th among NFL receiver prospects according to cbssports.com, and could have a career day against Ball State once again.
Despite Ball State's secondary's struggles, Anthony Winbush has full confidence in the Cardinals' defense. Winbush, a redshirt sophomore, leads the Cardinals with four sacks this season.
"I believe if we applied more pressure, [opposing completion percentage] would go down," Winbush said. "I believe in my secondary, totally. I trust them all the way."
UMass ranks second in the Mid-American Conference in pass offense, averaging 315 yards per game. Minuteman quarterback Blake Frohnapfel has thrown for 2,034 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
Ball State junior safety Martez Hester said that the pass-happy Minutemen have a tendency to throw the ball out of any formation, with a 6-foot-6 quarterback who will test the Cardinals deep.
"The thing about UMass is they throw it out of basically any formation," Hester said. "[Frohnapfel] is a really good quarterback. He has a good arm."
Lembo has been working his defense to be able to adjust to the different formations that UMass can run.
"It's a pass-heavy team," Lembo said. "They use many, many personnel groupings and many formations. They'll get into a bunch of unbalanced sets, they'll use formations in the boundary quite a bit, and sometimes a combination of those two things."
Ball State is in the midst of a five-game losing streak, but will take on an equally struggling UMass team.
The Minutemen come into Saturday's game with a record of 1-6, dropping all three of their conference games this season. Their lone win over Florida International was sandwiched between two three-game losing streaks.
Ball State quarterback Riley Neal has a chance to have a similar game to what he had against Northern Illinois, but Lembo expects the Minutemen to go after his young signal-caller.
"One reason [to bring pressure is that Neal is] a freshman quarterback," Lembo said. "Recent opponents have not been hesitant to throw a lot at him. The second part is to outnumber us in the run box to make it much more difficult to gain yards on the ground."
UMass is currently ranked 12th of 13 teams in the MAC in total defense, which is ideal for Ball State's struggling offense. UMass gives up 508 yards per game.
Ball State will finish its three-game home stand at Scheumann Stadium against UMass at 1 p.m. on Oct. 31.