Heading into the season finale against the Bowling Green Falcons, the Cardinals will face one of the biggest challenges this season: containing quarterback Matt Johnson.
Head coach Pete Lembo is in his 15th season as a head coach, and notching only three wins thus far puts this as his career worst. Ball State will have its hands full against Bowling Green's high-powered offensive attack as it goes for its fourth victory on the season.
Lembo knows the task his defense has in front of it and will try out multiple formations to keep Johnson guessing.
"You've gotta be multiple, and you've got to try to disguise some things as well as you can," Lembo said. "You've gotta generate a pass rush, and you've gotta create some interceptions and get them off schedule a little bit.”
Johnson, a redshirt senior, suffered a season-ending hip injury last season in the opener, but this year he’s followed it up with 4,229 yards and 39 touchdowns. He has managed this while committing only six interceptions, three of which came in the Falcons' last two games against Western Michigan and Toledo.
Lembo and defensive coordinator Kevin Kelly are aware of Johnson's presence, but Bowling Green has a solid rushing attack as well. This season, the Falcons are tied for sixth in the Mid-American Conference, alongside Eastern Michigan, in rushing yards per game with 163.7.
“You can’t ignore the run game either, obviously,” Lembo said. “Their passing attack has a lot of accolades, but if you’re just dropping eight guys in coverage every down, [they will run it on you]. They’re very effective running the ball as well.”
The duo of starter Travis Greene and backup Fred Coppet have combined for 1,580 yards and 13 touchdowns on 272 carries. When Bowling Green gets near the goal line, they turn to Donovan Wilson, a transfer from Georgia Tech. He has racked up seven touchdowns this season in the limited role.
Ball State will have to score often if it hopes to keep up with the top-ranked Mid-American Conference scoring offense.
The Falcons average 43.8 points per game and 565.1 yards per game, while the Cardinals’ defense allows 512.7 yards.
In situations where opposing offenses score 30 or more points, the Cardinals are 1-4 this season.
Redshirt junior wide receiver KeVonn Mabon expects Bowling Green’s secondary to come out to prevent the pass.
“I’ve heard they're a cover two, cover three team, so you know we have to find the holes in the zone and go exploit them,” Mabon said.
Bowling Green’s defense ranks 10th in the MAC in total defense, while Ball State is ranked last against the pass.
"I have a lot of respect for [Johnson]. He's a great kid," Lembo said. "He's overcome some adversity with a serious injury last year. He's having a great year, and hopefully we can do a good job of slowing him down."
This likely high-scoring affair will take place Nov. 24 at Scheumann Stadium for senior night. Kick-off is at 7 p.m.