RECAP: Ball State football brings swagger to spring game
Redshirt sophomore safety Romero Wade called his shot.
In the third quarter of Ball State football's spring game, Wade jumped senior receiver Jordan Hogue's route on the outside to intercept redshirt senior Jack Milas's pass. Wade returned it 55 yards for the touchdown.
"I got caught on the middle of the field in the red zone down there, so they was waiting on me to make a play so I said, 'I'm finnin' to get a pick and when I get it I'm gonna take it to the crib,'" Wade said. "Thirty seconds later and it happened."
The spring game had an unconventional setup, with a running clock for the 12-minute quarters, no tackling and no scoring. It's used mostly for evaluation and for fans to get a first-hand look at the 2017 roster.
In the first quarter, for example, the defense came out with every player standing and moving around to confuse the offense.
"Spring practice, you try some things out and get it on video," defensive coordinator David Elson said. "Evaluate what we want to keep, what packages we want to emphasize going into preseason camp."
Hogue led Ball State's receivers with five catches and 73 yards, including a 33-yard catch on an underthrown pass that forced him to undercut the defensive back and make a leaping catch.
"If we just cut one loose and a guy's wide open, that's another deal," Elson said. "But when we're contesting it and the guy just competitively makes a great catch, then you've got to tip your hat and play the next play."
Hogue's play was mirrored by some of the other receivers. Redshirt freshman Wyatt Plate, who finished with three catches for 71 yards, made a similar leaping grab earlier in the game. Redshirt sophomore Riley Miller didn't record a catch during the game, but in one-on-one drills between the first and second quarter he made a juggling catch on a ball deflected by redshirt junior Josh Miller.
"[Hogue has] done a great job kind of taking on a leadership role," head coach Mike Neu said. "He's not a real loud guy, he just kind of puts his work in. You know what you're going to get out of him every day in practice."
With junior quarterback Riley Neal sitting out spring practice with an injury, Ball State’s other three quarterbacks — Milas, redshirt sophomore Zack Blair and redshirt freshman Drew Plitt — saw more playing time.
On offense, junior running back James Gilbert picked up right where he left off when he finished second in the Mid-American Conference with 111 rushing yards per game last season.
Gilbert took a handoff on the first play of the day to the left side of the line in a single-back formation and cut right into a massive hole in the middle of the field.
Gilbert weaved back and forth, cutting the angles just enough to score a 65-yard touchdown without being touched.
"Everybody on our schedule knows we can run the ball," Gilbert said.
Gilbert's display of confident running is exactly what Neu said he wanted find out — how players responded in game situations.
"I told them all, 'If something good happens, I expect you to celebrate with your teammates. Show enthusiasm, if you get a flag on you, it's on me,'" Neu said.
Neu was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty on Wade's interception, so he said he'll have to do up-downs at practice Monday. But it's all part of the swagger and confidence the coaching staff wants to see from the team.
Ball State opens its season Sept. 2 at Illinois.