Sometimes, all you can do is move on.
Ball State football (2-3, 0-1 MAC) focused all of its attention on Akron (2-3, 1-0 MAC) as soon as it returned from last week’s 55-3 blowout loss at Western Michigan (3-2, 1-0 MAC).
Cardinals head coach Mike Neu even skipped the team’s normal routine of review film from its previous game.
“I didn’t want to lose the game twice,” Neu said. “We lost the game Saturday night, I didn’t want to lose again on Sunday.”
To prevent another loss this weekend, Ball State needs to get its pass rush going again.
“We have to,” Neu said. “That’s a big part of it for us, because if you can’t get pressure on a guy like [Akron senior quarterback Thomas] Woodson he can pick you apart.”
Even though the Cardinals didn’t record any sacks last week, they still lead the Mid-American Conference with 15 sacks, and Zips quarterbacks have been sacked 11 times, tied for third-most in the conference.
Redshirt senior defensive end Anthony Winbush still leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with 7.5 sacks, but defensive coordinator David Elson says the other linemen need to take advantage of one-on-one matchups when Winbush gets double-teamed.
Elson also says the defense needs to get stops on first and second down to open up the playbook on third-and-long. In Ball State’s 33-21 loss to Western Kentucky, for example, two of the Cardinals’ four sacks came from defensive backs on blitzes.
“That’s when you can pin your ears back, have some fun and get creative with some things that cause offenses problems,” Elson said. “So it still comes back to stopping the run and being really good on first and second down to be able to get to those situations.”
Ball State redshirt senior quarterback Jack Milas is also looking for a bounceback game after completing just 22 passes on 40 attempts for 170 yards with an interception against Western Michigan.
Milas, starting for injured junior Riley Neal, has only completed 51.9 percent of his passes this season, but Akron’s opponents have completed 65.5 percent of their passes.
“Yeah, let’s hope so,” Neu said when asked if Milas could be more efficient against the Zips. “If we can keep him clean in the pocket I would expect that to be the case.”
The Cardinals offensive line, however, is also dealing with injuries. Redshirt senior Pat Maloney went down before the season began, redshirt junior Alex Joss hasn’t played since Ball State’s season-opening loss at Illinois, and redshirt senior guard Vinnie Palazeti hasn’t played since the win over Tennessee Tech.
All three started every game last season, forcing the Cardinals to work in younger players who have less experience.
“Experience in the trenches — you can’t just catch guys up on that,” Neu said. “When you play that many games in college football, then you’ve been exposed to a lot more and our young players just haven’t been quite as exposed.”
Neu says Palazeti is close to returning, but wasn’t sure if he would play as of Wednesday’s practice.
Neal, however, isn’t returning this week so Milas will have another chance to redeem himself. Neu says Neal has a right knee injury, but it’s not a ligament.
“The challenge is the doctors,” Neu said. “It’s not a common injury so they haven’t really dealt with it or seen it over their medical career, so you try to get as much information as you can from people that have potentially seen that injury.”
Neal was scheduled to have an MRI on his knee Thursday, and Neu says they’ll review the results and use the upcoming bye week to determine when — or if — Neal can return this season.
Junior running back James Gilbert is also out again. Neu says Gilbert has a partial tear on a ligament in his hand that should heal, but it’s a matter of letting it heal and finding a way to keep Gilbert’s thumb from bending back.
But the Cardinals who can play will get their chance to bounce back later today. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at InfoCision Stadium - Summa Field in Akron, Ohio.