Ball State football’s 58-17 loss to Toledo Thursday night looked like what happens when a seven-year old plays Madden and sets the difficulty to rookie.
The Cardinals (2-6, 0-4 MAC) gave up big play after big play as the Rockets (7-1, 4-0 MAC) gained 602 yards of offense and scored 58 points on 22:20 of possession time. Ball State’s losing streak now stands at five games, with the last four losses by a combined score of 200-32.
“We know the bandwagon’s empty,” head coach Mike Neu said. “It’s just us, it’s just our guys, and we’ve got to stay together here.”
Ball State was in a tough position before the game even started. Junior quarterback Riley Neal is still out with a tibial plateau fracture, and redshirt senior Jack Milas sat out with a bruised elbow, though he resumed his normal role as the holder on field goals. That left redshirt sophomore Zack Blair, the third stringer, to make his first career start.
Blair, however, broke his ankle less than eight minutes into the game when he was sacked by Toledo junior defensive end Olasunkanmi Adeniyi.
“I hate it for the kid because of how hard he worked and how much he wanted an opportunity like this,” Neu said. “To see him in tears, man it’s tough because it’s like it’s your son.”
Blair was helped off the field and carted to the locker room, leaving redshirt freshman Drew Plitt to play the rest of the game.
“I was definitely not excited that he got hurt, but I didn’t really have any time for nerves,” Plitt said. “I was just ready to go out there and play, and I’ve been anxious for getting out there on the field and getting some experience.”
Considering the Cardinals were down to their fourth-string quarterback against the Mid-American Conference leaders, the offense played fairly well. The Cardinals ended their three-game streak without a touchdown when sophomore Malik Dunner’s 41-yard touchdown run gave Ball State a 7-3 first-quarter lead.
“Yeah, we’ve got to build on that,” Neu said. “I think our guys understand that no matter who is in the game, whether it’s a quarterback, whether it’s offensive line … we’ve got to rally around the guys that are in there.”
Ball State gained 309 yards, including 204 on the ground on 46 carries. Freshman Caleb Huntley led the Cardinals with 91 yards on 24 carries. Dunner was second on the team with 62 yards and the touchdown on six carries.
Freshman receiver Justin Hall led Ball State with seven catches and 39 yards, adding 40 rushing yards on two carries.
Plitt, for his part, went 15-34 passing for 97 yards and scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 5-yard scramble in the third quarter.
“I thought he handled himself very well,” Neu said. “I complimented him there at the end of the game and I told him I’m very proud of him.”
The Cardinals led 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, but the Rockets started pulling away in the second quarter after senior running back Terry Swanson, who finished with 105 yards on 11 carries, scored a 71-yard touchdown.
Toledo followed with a 35-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Logan Woodside to sophomore receiver Desmond Phillips and a 67-yard pass from Woodside to sophomore receiver Diontae Johnson to make it 24-7, though Ball State junior kicker Morgan Hagee made a 43-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to close the gap, 24-10.
The Rockets scored 27 points in the third quarter on another Woodson-to-Johnson touchdown for 88 yards, an 87-yard punt return by Johnson, a one-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman Shakif Seymour and a 63-yard run by Seymour.
Senior quarterback Michael Julian added the final score, a two-yard read-option keeper, in the fourth quarter.
Woodside finished with 267 yards and three touchdowns on just eight completions.
“We’re going through some adversity right now as a team,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Jacob White said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff going on and we’re in the right position to make a lot of those plays that they broke, but we just didn’t finish.”
Going forward, Neu said the Cardinals need to focus on what they can do.
“I tell all the guys, don’t accept a crutch,” Neu said. “It’s not ‘why me?’ Don’t feel sorry for yourself. The only guys who can do anything about it are the guys in this locker room.”
Ball State travels to Eastern Michigan Thursday for its next game.
Contact Colin Grylls with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter at @colin_grylls.