Chirp: X-factors against Eastern Michigan
Ball State welcomes Eastern Michigan to Scheumann Stadium this week as the Cardinals look to snap their two-game losing streak and beat the Eagles for the 11th time in the last 12 meetings.
In last year's game, then-freshman quarterback Riley Neal provided a spark off the bench and linebacker Sean Wiggins tallied two interceptions as Ball State won 28-17.
The Cardinals are coming off a 52-20 home loss to nationally-ranked Western Michigan, while the Eagles fell 28-15 to Miami in their last contest.
Jake Fox, the Daily News football reporter, is covering the game and offered up some insight on the key positional matchups:
Ball State pass defense vs. Eastern Michigan passing game
Eastern Michigan quarterback Brogan Roback missed the first part of the year due to a suspension, but has been effective since his return. In six games, he's 113-180 for 1,387 yards, 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
The Eagles also like to spread it around. Sixteen different players have caught a pass this season, led by Sergio Bailey II with 43 grabs, 614 yards and three scores.
Ball State's secondary, meanwhile, was shredded by Western Michigan's passing attack last week. The Cardinals are allowing 295.9 passing yards per game this season, worst in the Mid-American Conference.
It's been tough for Ball State to stop anybody through the air, and this Eastern Michigan passing game is good enough to take advantage.
EDGE: Eastern Michigan
Ball State backfield vs. Eastern Michigan run defense
It's hard to pick against this Ball State group anymore, and especially with sophomore James Gilbert.
Western Michigan had been lights out in defending the run coming into last week, but Ball State gashed the Broncos for 298 yards. Gilbert is still in the nation's top-10 with 1,142 yards and has run for at least 100 yards in five straight.
On the other hand, Eastern Michigan has been pretty good against the run this year. The Eagles rank fifth in the conference at 152.4 yards per game, and they've allowed 14 rushing scores.
Gilbert has been too much for anyone to stop lately. And if freshman Malik Dunner is running like he did last week (six rushes, 68 yards and 1 touchdown), this is a tough unit to stop.
EDGE: Ball State
Ball State defensive front vs. Eastern Michigan offensive line
This could be a big key in this game if Ball State is going to beat the Eagles (5-4, 2-3).
Eastern Michigan has only given up 10 sacks this year (third-best in the league), but half of them came in a loss to Miami last week. The Eagles also don't open a ton of holes in the running game, as they're eighth in the conference with 141.1 yards per contest.
Ball State's pass rush had been absent for a few weeks, but had a better showing last week. The defense didn't have any sacks to show for it, but hit Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell several times and disrupted some drives.
Look for the Cardinals to try to replicate Miami's performance against the Eagles, and for talented defensive ends Anthony Winbush and Joshua Posley to get some push.
EDGE: Ball State
Ball State red zone defense vs. Eastern Michigan red zone offense
The Eagles rank second in the conference in this statistic, and the Cardinals are second-to-last.
Eastern Michigan has made it to the red zone 39 times this season, and converted on 36 of those chances. The Eagles have scored 27 touchdowns in the red zone, and are 9-10 on field goals when they make it inside the 20.
Ball State has actually allowed the second-fewest trips to the red zone in the MAC this year, but that's because opponents hit on so many big plays. It has allowed 21 scores on 23 opponent red zone opportunities, including 17 touchdowns.
In what looks to be a pretty close football game, cashing in inside the red zone could be key.
EDGE: Eastern Michigan