First half stats
Ball State yards: 267
Akron yards: 221
Ball State yards per play: 5.8
Akron yards per play: 7.6
Second half stats
Ball State yards: 176
Akron yards: 308
Ball State yards per play: 4.2
Akron yards per play: 7.3
At halftime of the Homecoming game, Ball State led 17-7 over Akron. The Cardinals had more yards, more possession and a habit of coming out strong in the second half.
But the Zips came back to win 35-25.
“We’re all disappointed, me included,” head coach Mike Neu said. “I mean, when you have this many people back on campus, our vision was to have all our alums that were here in that locker room with us post game singing our fight song. We didn’t create that moment.”
Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Although Ball State seemed to have an advantage with 267 first-half yards to Akron’s 221, the Zips offense was more efficient with 7.6 yards per play to Ball State’s 5.8 yards. Volume masked the issue, as the Cardinals ran more first-half plays (46-29) and controlled the ball for almost twice as long (19:43-10:17).
When the second half started, Akron’s offense stayed efficient with 7.3 yards per play but also gained the edge in possession, controlling the ball for 11:14 in the third quarter. As a result, the Zips outgained the Cardinals in the second half 308-176 and outscored the Cardinals 28-8.
“We’re down 17-7 and we aren’t playing very well,” Akron head coach Terry Bowden said. “We have only been on the field four times offensively but there was a resolve that let us go out there and score in this game. In about 23 years of coaching, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better second half than what these guys gave me today.”
Senior Ball State linebacker Sean Wiggins said the defense struggled in the second half, but the first half wasn't exactly walk in the park.
“I didn’t think we played too good in the first half either," he said.
Zips running back Van Edwards ran for 79 yards on seven carries in the first half and scored on a 45-yard run in the second quarter. He finished the game with 115 yards on 16 carries. Quarterback Thomas Woodson also passed for 126 yards in the first half, finishing with 338 yards and two touchdowns. So while Akron only scored seven points and were out-gained, they were still moving the ball well.
Akron converted eight of its 12 third down attempts in the game, with four conversions in each half. Ball State’s offense slowed down in the second half, averaging just 4.2 yards per play and only converted three of seven third down attempts.
Neu said the offense’s inability to stay on the field hurt the defense, but senior linebacker Sean Wiggins said it goes both ways.
“We couldn’t get ourselves off the field,” Wiggins said. “The offense doesn’t make them get a first down.”
Akron also had eight penalties for 51 yards, but it didn’t slow down.
“We’ve got to get off the field,” Wiggins said. “As a defense, when we give up a third and long it hurts. It definitely hurts and it can mess with your head, but you’ve got to bounce back.”
The Cardinals are now 4-4 and 1-3 in Mid-American Conference play, but Wiggins said they should be 5-3.
“If we play like we should’ve, we could’ve definitely won this game by a couple touchdowns,” Wiggins said. “That’s no disrespect to their team, because they came out to play obviously. … But if we would’ve handled our stuff right, the turnovers wouldn’t have mattered.”
Ball State needs to win two of its last four games to become bowl eligible. Its next game, however, will be against undefeated Western Michigan (8-0, 4-0 MAC) on Tuesday, Nov. 1.