Ball State: 2016 pass defense
Yards per game allowed: 273.8
Yards per catch allowed: 12.1
Passing touchdowns: 8
Ball State's secondary might not face a better (or smarter) quarterback this season.
The Cardinals travel to Central Michigan this weekend to take on Cooper Rush and the Chippewas. Rush, a four-year starter, is the active FBS leader in passing with 10,891 career yards and carries a 3.86 grade point average as an actuarial science major.
His experience poses a unique threat to a Ball State secondary that's had its fair share of struggles over the past two weeks.
"Throughout the season, he's probably the best one we'll play," said starting safety Corey Hall. "He's the first quarterback that is actually gonna take full control of the offense. He's not gonna look to the sideline to get a check from the coach, he's gonna run everything on his own."
Saying Rush is the best quarterback Ball State has played so far this year is a no-brainer.
Indiana's Richard Lagow, Florida Atlantic's Jason Driskel and Northern Illinois's Anthony Maddie all had big days against the Cardinals, but none of those three guys had much experience coming in. Hall said the secondary has been in the right spots, they just have to go up and make plays.
"Coach [Chevis] Jackson has been harping on it, 'When the ball is in the air, go get it like you're a receiver,'" Hall said. "I think that's the biggest thing — keeping our eyes on the play and most importantly, making a play on the ball."
Forcing turnovers against Rush might be tough Oct. 8. He is averaging an interception per game, but is completing 61.9 percent of his passes with 1,537 yards and 14 touchdown passes. Head coach Mike Neu said Rush is a guy who continues to make plays, regardless of the game situation.
"When you watch the tape, you know very quickly why he's one of the best in our conference and one of the best in the country," Neu said. "He's got a lot of experience, there's not a situation that's been presented to him on film or at a game that catches him by surprise."
Rush likes to spread the ball around, too. The Chippewas have four receivers with at least 13 catches and 200 yards this season, led by Corey Willis, who also has six touchdowns. Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck complimented Rush before their matchup last week, saying he makes everyone around him better.
Hall said a key in slowing Rush down will be mixing things up in the secondary and disguising coverages.
"We can't just sit there, or he has the ability to pick us apart," he said. "We're going to do our best to throw him off his game, mixing looks. Show this but actually do that, show that but actually do this."
Rush is the first of several accomplished Mid-American Conference quarterbacks Ball State will take on this season. Ball State is 2-1 against Central Michigan in Rush's career, and slowing down one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league will be key in beating the Chippewas again.
"He knows what coverages the defense is running," Hall said. "He's gonna read safeties, he's gonna read cornerbacks, linebackers and probably tip off what we're gonna run. We have to be prepared for him like he's gonna be prepared for us."