Chirp: X-factors against Central Michigan

Running back James Gilbert jumps over redshirt sophomore safety Will Dawkins in the third quarter against UAB on Sept. 9 at Scheumann Stadium. Grace Hollars, DN
Running back James Gilbert jumps over redshirt sophomore safety Will Dawkins in the third quarter against UAB on Sept. 9 at Scheumann Stadium. Grace Hollars, DN

The Cardinals have one last game to straighten out their issues before Mid-American Conference play starts.

Ball State (2-4, 0-2 MAC) hosts Central Michigan (3-4, 1-2 MAC) for Homecoming 3 p.m. Saturday. The all-time series between the two schools is tied 24-24-1.

“I think that shows the parity,” Cardinals head coach Mike Neu said. “I think it shows how competitive this conference is from top to bottom and how competitive it’s been ever since I was first introduced to this series back as a player.”

Ball State is coming off its bye week after a 31-3 loss at Akron two weeks ago, while Central Michigan lost 30-10 to Toledo in heavy rain last week.

Colin Grylls, the Daily News football reporter, is covering the game and offered up some insight on the key positional matchups:

Ball State passing offense vs. Central Michigan secondary

Redshirt senior quarterback Jack Milas has six interceptions and zero touchdowns in his three starts this season, all Ball State losses.

The Cardinals coaching staff says there’s no plans to replace him with third-string quarterback Zack Blair (Milas, the backup to start the season, is filling in for injured junior Riley Neal), but Milas has a difficult matchup as Central Michigan leads the MAC with 10 interceptions.

Milas could right the ship, but it probably won’t happen this week.

Edge: Central Michigan

Ball State run game vs. Central Michigan front seven

The good news for Milas is that he should be able to lean on running back Caleb Huntley and Malik Dunner.

Huntley, a true freshman, leads the Cardinals with 388 yards and 5.0 yards per carry, and against Akron he finished with 129 yards on 25 carries. Part of Huntley’s workload comes from the absence of junior running back James Gilbert, and Gilbert will be out again this week.

But Central Michigan’s defense allows 212.6 rushing yards per game, and Huntley’s powerful running style is complemented by Dunner’s speed — the sophomore leads Ball State with four rushing touchdowns and averages 4.8 yards per carry.

Edge: Ball State


As mentioned earlier, Central Michigan leads the conference with 10 interceptions. The Chippewas have also recovered seven fumbles, and their 17 total takeaways also lead the conference.

The upside for Ball State is that Central Michigan’s 16 giveaways (11 interceptions, five fumbles lost) are also the most in the MAC.

The Cardinals, however, are last in the conference with a minus-6 turnover margin and are tied for the fewest takeaways (seven).

Edge: Central Michigan


Ball State has the fewest penalties (22) and penalty yards (226) in the MAC this season.

Central Michigan is far from undisciplined — the Chippewas are tied for fifth with 45 penalties and are seventh with 434 yards — but this is a matchup Ball State can use to get some hidden yards to either extend its own drives or put Central Michigan in third-and-long situations that open up the pass rush.

Edge: Ball State

Final Prediction

The Cardinals’ last two games were so rough — they lost by a combined score of 86-6 — that it’s hard to pick them to win, even in front of what should be a larger-than-usual crowd on Homecoming.

Edge: Central Michigan


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