Ball State — Final Stats
Rushing yards — 256
Passing yards — 187
Total yards — 443
Total yards allowed — 529
Third-down conversions — 7-15
Red zone scores-chances — 4-6
Time of possession — 30:26
It truly was a tale of two halves, and this time, it was the second that doomed the Ball State football team.
The Cardinals played their most complete first half of football Homecoming (other than the Eastern Kentucky shellacking), and raced out to a 17-7 lead at halftime. But some missed chances caught up to Ball State (4-4, 1-3 MAC) in the final two quarters, as Akron (4-4, 3-1) scored 21 unanswered on its way to a 35-25 road win Oct. 22.
"You want to start fast, you want to sustain your drives and you want to finish strong," said head coach Mike Neu. "That's the goal when you play a game each and every week. ... We simply have to make the plays when they come our way. Guys gotta step up, and for us, we didn't sustain drives and play as well as we needed to in the second half."
Ball State's offense scored two touchdowns and settled for a field goal in the first half, but barely saw the field in the second half. And when it did, it wasn't for very long.
Akron wide receiver Jerome Lane showed terrific concentration on a tipped 4th-and-4 pass down the right sideline, leading to a score on the opening drive of the third quarter. A punt later, the Zips went on a 12-play, 83-yard drive to take a 21-17 lead, their first of the game.
In an attempt to revert momentum back to their side, Neu decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 on the Akron 17 early in the fourth quarter. But sophomore running back James Gilbert was stuffed, and momentum compounded from there as Akron perfectly executed a halfback pass for a 14-yard score.
"It was a yard, I felt great about getting a yard," Neu said. "That decision is on me, it's all on me. Don't blame anybody but me on that. I just believe in our offensive line and believe in James Gilbert that much."
Gilbert added another solid game to his breakout campaign, despite being limited to 44 yards in the second half. He ran 24 times for 133 yards and an 18-yard touchdown through the left side in the second quarter, and now has 987 yards and 11 trips to the end zone this season.
"It's feeling good the first half," Gilbert said. "But it was the other way around ... It was really weird, like we did what the coaches asked for, but just didn't come out in the second half like we usually do."
Neu said the team made adjustments at halftime, but nothing too major.
Akron outgained Ball State 308-176 in the second half, and finished with eight third down conversions on 12 attempts. The Cardinals thought they had two fumble recoveries in the second half — including one on a 4th-and-1 conversion near midfield with about 3:30 left — but replay proved otherwise, keeping the Zips' offense on the field.
"It messes with momentum a little bit, but you really shouldn't be in that position regardless," said senior linebacker Sean Wiggins, who finished with six tackles. "I think if we play like we should, we could've definitely won this game by a couple touchdowns."
Wiggins was hard on the defense for its performance, giving up 529 total yards, forcing just one turnover and garnering no sacks. But for Neu, the offense is just as much to blame.
"You know, they had a long drive to start the third quarter. We get the ball back, we got a first down," he said. "But then after that … we didn’t control the ball, so I blame what happened to the defense on the offense. We didn’t play a complementary game like we did in the first half.”
Bad news for Ball State: things only get tougher from here.
The Cardinals have a few extra days to prepare for their next game, a Nov. 1 home contest against No. 20 Western Michigan.
If Ball State wants to have a chance in that one, it'll have to play not just a first half, not just a second half, but a complete game for four quarters.