The loss to Akron on Oct. 22 was a particularly tough one for Ball State head coach Mike Neu.
With a number of former players and alumni in attendance, the Cardinals squandered a halftime lead as Akron came from behind for a 35-25 victory. But to heal the pain of the loss, Neu turned to more football.
"The best medicine for me that night was having the opportunity to watch Ohio State and Penn state, knowing that we're in a similar situation. " he said. "We've got Western Michigan coming in here, they're gonna be favored, but it's an opportunity for us to have one of those moments."
Ball State has a few extra days to prepare before the No. 20 Broncos come to town Nov. 1. The game will be shown on ESPN2 from Scheumann Stadium at 8 p.m.
Here are three takeaways from Neu's press conference Oct. 24 (questions shortened for brevity):
Will [Riley] Neal start on Tuesday?
Neu: "Yeah. For 58 minutes, he did a very nice job. We're a work in progress I'd say, passing-game wise. And everybody shares in that. We've had some missed opportunities on throws in the passing game. We had six shot plays called in the first half the other night, and all six of them the QB pulled it and ran with it. ... He's a very good weapon run-game wise, he's done a great job. ... Nothing has changed with that."
Analysis: He might not have completed the deep ball, but Neal was effective with short passes and in the running game.
The offense looked pretty solid in the first half against Akron, besides one overthrow in the end zone that caused the Cardinals to settle for a field goal. Neu said later on that the Neal made much quicker and better decisions overall in that game.
The fact of the matter is, Neal is a sophomore and still developing. The numbers have regressed this year, but the flashes of good play are there and Neu says he prepares the right way.
There were a couple penalties that got Akron a new set of downs. You've been so good this year not being penalized, so did those sneak up on you?
Neu: "The hard one for me to accept, more than any, is the [targeting call] with Martez [Hester]. I was disappointed after going back and looking at the tape. I've been on the phone with the commissioner, the MAC office, and Bill Carollo, the head of officials. Just trying to get an explanation to give to Martez, because he didn't lower his head. It was a bang-bang play, but it appeared to be his shoulder. I know they didn't overturn it, so I just want to be able to give the young man an answer. Because he plays the game the right way."
Analysis: From the press box, Hester's hit did not look intentional whatsoever. It appeared he hit the ball carrier with his shoulder.
As Neu said, targeting is a judgment call. And in that particular instance, it looked like Hester struck him with the helmet. Because he was ejected in the second half, by rule the senior safety is required to miss the first half of the next game.
Ball State has limited the penalties overall this year, but was penalized four times for 40 yards against Akron. Neu doesn't sound as concerned about those as he is missing Hester for a half vs. the league's most prolific offense.
What have you seen, particularly offensively, on film from Western Michigan?
Neu: "It's a challenge, but we're up for the challenge. That's what you love. When you play the game, these are the games you look forward to. If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best. And right now, they are in our conference — they're 8-0. That's great, to have that challenge here at Scheumann Stadium. We look forward to that. And I give Coach [PJ] Fleck credit, he's done a great job in recruiting, got some fantastic players in the building that are performing at a high level."
Analysis: Western Michigan is about as complete as you can get offensively. The Broncos are averaging a ridiculous 44.4 points and 502.1 total yards per game.
Quarterback Zach Terrell has thrown for 1,995 yards, 20 touchdowns and only one interception. The rushing attack is one of the MAC's best, led by Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan with a combined 1,477 yards and 14 scores. Oh, and they have one of the best receivers in the country in Corey Davis.
Neu said there's a reason why the Broncos are so good: they don't make mistakes and they win the turnover battle. Ball State is going to have to play a near-perfect game in order to get this done.