3 takeaways from Mike Neu's weekly press conference
Things are much different than a week ago.
After a 30-20 loss at Indiana in Week 2, Ball State returned home on Sept. 17, dominating Eastern Kentucky in all facets of the game for a 41-14 victory.
Head coach Mike Neu began his press conference Sept. 19 by thanking the fans, the students and, most of all, mother nature for clearing up right at kickoff.
The Cardinals shouldn't have any problem with the weather this week as they travel to Boca Raton, Florida, for a game against Florida Atlantic. The Owls are 1-2 this season and coming off a 63-7 road loss to Kansas State of the Big 12.
Here are three takeaways from Neu's press conference:
With a lot of the same personnel as last year, there has been a more consistent pass rush this year. Do you credit more Coach (Tim) Daoust and his scheme, or guys getting better over the offseason?
Neu: "I think just the players buying in to what we've asked them to do. It starts with how they practice and how they go about their business in the weight room. And I think coach Daoust, coach McKenzie and the defensive staff has done a great job with those guys. It's a different approach maybe in practice. I don't know what they've done in the past, and that's not really for me to decide or critique. We're worried about trying to practice as best we can, the kids have been great and, fortunately, the results have carried over to the field. Conditioning is a big part of it. ... We always run through the week in practice. They don't like me through the week, but that's because we're trying to encourage them that conditioning in the third and fourth quarter can win us some football games."
Analysis: He has mentioned conditioning several times over the past couple of weeks, and defensive tackle Kevin Willis said Neu wants them to be the best-conditioned team in the MAC.
The Cardinals' rank tied for third in the country with 14 sacks after only having 17 all of last year. That pass rush got to the quarterback eight times last week, but it has been consistent in all three games.
There are a lot of good quarterbacks in the MAC this year, so the pass rush will be key as Ball State gets into the league schedule.
It seems like another thing that has helped the defense this year is rotating players in and out. Daoust's personnel rotation has been key in getting to the quarterback so successfully early in the season.
Did you feel the offense had a period last game where it was in a lull? And moving forward, is there more to be had with the offense?
Neu: "There's always more. I want to score a touchdown on every possession. When you accomplish that, then I feel good about what we did offensively. But you have to be hard on yourself. You have to critique yourself. And you can't be satisfied when you kick a field goal or put your punt team out there. I look at [Kyle] Schmidt every day when we're in the game, and I'm like 'I don't want to see you on the field. I like you, but I don't want you to play. I want to score touchdowns.' For us, I think the mindset has always got to be that way."
Analysis: There was a time in the game Saturday from the middle of the second quarter to the third where Ball State's offense slowed down.
But the win was a good sign for the Cardinals, as the passing game finally got going for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Pair that with three straight solid rushing performances, and they are averaging 419 yards per game overall.
Neu has a solid offensive background going back to his days working with Drew Brees and the Saints, and it's obvious he likes to score.
Putting the ball in the end zone rather than settling for field goals and staying away from the turnovers will be the key for this group to be as good as Neu wants it to be.
About Florida Atlantic ... What have you seen from them? And how do you think they measure up to Georgia State or Eastern Kentucky?
Neu: "This is a good football team. This is a talented team skill-wise, and they've got some athletes. They've got a good rush and some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. I know they're looking forward to erasing what just happened to them last weekend against Kansas State. I know they're chomping at the bit to get back home, and we're going to get their best effort. I have a lot of respect — I played against Florida Atlantic when I was at Tulane. It's a great stadium, and a good place to play. We're going to have to be at our best."
Analysis: It's a little hard to gauge the Owls, who have played against Miami (FL) and Kansas State the last two weeks.
Their lone win of the season came against Southern Illinois on their home turf in Week 1.
The defense is giving up 43.7 points per game and 252.7 yards per game on the ground. On paper, that plays right into the hands of Ball State, who likes to run the ball.
Ball State put together a solid game plan last week and did what it was supposed to do against an FCS opponent. But for a team that has bowl implications and is heading into conference play next week, this is another big non-conference game for the Cardinals.