Riley Neal — 2016 statistics
Completions-Attempts — 122-205
Passing yards — 1,301
Passing touchdowns — 6
Interceptions — 6
Rushing yards — 194
Rushing touchdowns — 3
After a two-interception day for sophomore Riley Neal on Oct. 8, it would've been hard to blame head coach Mike Neu for considering a change at quarterback.
But Neu put that idea to rest at his press conference on Oct. 10.
"Riley is the starting quarterback," he said. "He's gonna come back and respond with mental toughness. He's put a lot of time in, and deserves the opportunity to come back and see what he's made of."
So Neal will be the starter when the team trots onto the field at Buffalo on Oct. 15. When asked a follow-up question if this is the "last time" he will get a chance to improve his play, Neu was adamant about taking it one game at a time.
"It's a week-to-week game. ... I don't live in a hypothetical two weeks, three weeks down the road," Neu said as he banged his fist on the podium. "I'm prepared for this game. We'll deal with the next question, next week."
Neu was justifiably upset following the team's 24-21 loss at Central Michigan last week. The Cardinals were knocking on the door throughout the second half, but Neal threw a pick-6 early in the fourth quarter and underthrew what would've been the go-ahead touchdown with 1:37 left.
He's now got six interceptions on the year, which matches last season's total through 11 games.
“It just happens in the flow of the game,” Neal said after Saturday’s loss. “Just don’t leave it short. It’s pretty simple, you know. Put a little more on it and give [the receiver] a chance, it would be a touchdown and a different story.”
As a former quarterback himself, Neu said everyone who's played the position has gone through a moment like this. They have to make good decisions and minimize mistakes, or you have to look in another direction.
If Ball State were to make a change this season, waiting in the wings is redshirt junior Jack Milas. He began last season as the starter and has thrown for 1,645 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his career.
But the Cardinals are sticking with their guy. Neal is 4-11 in his career as a starter, but he has earned this spot through a pretty solid freshman campaign and a good offseason.
It's no secret, however, that Ball State needs Neal to take the next step and respond to last week's performance with mental toughness. As Neu put it, this week could be a defining moment in the young quarterback's career.
"It's a big moment," Neu said. "How is he gonna respond when a game like that just happened? The pressure, all the questions that present themselves all week long. What are you gonna do when you come out your first series against Buffalo?"