It was a missed opportunity.
Ball State head coach Mike Neu said his team made too many mental mistakes in the 31-24 home loss to Northern Illinois. Trailing by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals had two different drives with a chance to tie the game. But punts on those drives led to the eighth straight loss to the Huskies.
"We have to make sure we stress competition in practice so those things don't continue to happen," he said.
Next on the schedule is a road trip to Central Michigan, who comes in at 3-2 (0-1 MAC). The Chippewas lost to Western Michigan last week, but are one of the most talented teams in the league.
Here are three takeaways from Neu's press conference Oct. 3.
On [Anthony] Maddie's 75-yard run, you had a couple guys on him. Could you see what happened there?
Neu: "It's missed tackles. Those things happen. You have big runs like that when guys aren't fundamentally sound, and not using proper technique when they're tackling. That will never change, it doesn't matter what level of football you play. You have to be fundamentally sound, or else. Those guys are running backs at the Division I level for a reason, because they run through arm tackles. They're physical, and big. And it's no different when you're talking about a quarterback. He's a dual-threat quarterback. ... It's about making sure we limit big plays like that, especially when it's something we can control."
Analysis: Ball State had some problems with big plays at Indiana, and those problems returned against Northern Illinois.
Along with running back Joel Bouagnon, quarterback Anthony Maddie used his legs to break off some big runs. A lot of the big plays the Cardinals have given up have been via the run or short pass this season.
Neu said it's difficult to practice the fundamentals of tackling at this point in the season. But it's something Ball State has to improve on moving forward.
In the third quarter, you had a deep pass to [Damon] Hazelton that went off his fingertips in the end zone, and went deep to KeVonn on the next play and there was a penalty. Is there anything you can do to tighten the big plays up?
Neu: "We're not connecting on enough of those big plays when the opportunity presents itself. Yes, there was a holding call on that play with Damon in the end zone, but he's got to make that catch. He's got to expect himself to make that catch. When we take our shots downfield, and we're not connecting on those like we need to. In order for us to be effective and have balance, we're going to have to be able to get better with our play action passing game. That's only gonna help the run, it's only gonna take a guy or two out of the box. If we're not gonna have play action, they can continue to load the box and make it tough on us to run the football.
Analysis: Riley Neal's longest pass this season went for 43 yards. He's had a run longer than that.
Ball State tries to go up-tempo, and a lot of the short gains are a result of taking what the defense is giving them. But Hazelton was open down the field at least a couple times on Saturday, and they couldn't connect.
The Cardinals have also tried some trick plays that haven't worked. Despite the really deep throws falling incomplete, Ball State actually did have some success against the Huskies in the intermediate passing game.
When you watch film on Cooper Rush (Central Michigan QB), what makes him a difficult challenge?
Neu: "He's a gamer. He's a guy that just makes plays. No matter what the current situation is in any game that he's been into, he just keeps competing. When you watch the tape, you know very quickly why he's one of the best in our conference and one of the best of the conference. 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. I think his guys have taken on the same type of personality as him. They're a tough, grind-it-out team that's gonna pound you. ... You're gonna have to play four quarters of football to have an opportunity to win."
Analysis: This game is going to be really tough.
Neu said it himself, there are going to be no more games like Eastern Kentucky. The MAC is loaded this year, and particularly in the West Division.
Rush is a senior, and is having a nice year with 1,537 yards and 14 touchdowns so far. Ball State's secondary has been beaten a lot the last two weeks by Florida Atlantic's Jason Driskel and Northern Illinois's Anthony Maddie, and this looks tougher than both of those matchups.