Northern Illinois proved why it has the best defense in the Mid-American Conference on Thursday night.
From the beginning of the game the Huskies set the tone, stopping Ball State freshman running back Caleb Huntley for a two-yard loss.
Ball State (2-8, 0-6 MAC) fell 63-17 to Northern Illinois (7-3, 5-1 MAC) for its seventh consecutive loss this season and ninth consecutive loss to the Huskies.
“For us right now, we’re just trying to stay together,” head coach Mike Neu said. “We’ve had some challenges, but the guys are sticking together here and I’m proud of that more than anything else.”
After redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Plitt found redshirt sophomore wide receiver Riley Miller for a 23-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at seven, Northern Illinois ran away with the game.
The Huskies scored four consecutive touchdowns on the 63-point night, where they went into halftime with a 35-7 lead.
In the first half, Northern Illinois limited Ball State’s offense to three rushing yards and a single score.
Ball State finished with 83 rushing yards, its third lowest single-game total of the season. On 43 attempts, the Cardinals had 10 of them go for zero or negative yardage.
“You know, coach always tells us that everything is not going to go your way,” sophomore running back Malik Dunner said. “As a running back, you have to be patient and the runs are going to come.”
For Dunner, that run came midway through the third quarter where his four-yard touchdown marked the second one for the Cardinals on the night. Dunner finished with a team best 5.2 yards per carry, earning 26 yards on just five carries.
That came after redshirt senior Jack Milas entered the game for Ball State, driving down the field for its first drive of the second half. On the drive, Milas went 4-for-4 for 52 passing yards and the running backs had nearly half, 37, of its total rushing yards on the night.
“We went in at half and challenged the guys to make sure we come out and fight, scratch and claw for 30 minutes in the second half,” Neu said. “I wanted to see if Jack could provide a spark for us.”
Through the air, Ball State completed 19-of-30 passes between Plitt and Milas with the sole interception of the night came on a triple reverse that Milas threw while getting hit.
Protecting the quarterback remains an issue for the offensive line, as Northern Illinois, the MAC’s leading sack team finished the night with seven.
Defensively, third downs remain the crutch for Ball State, allowing Northern Illinois to convert on 9-of-14 attempts on the night, which included a 70-yard touchdown reception to redshirt junior wide receiver Jauan Wesley midway through the fourth quarter.
In the post-game press conference, Neu said that there is no secret to stopping teams on third downs.
“You just got to keep playing,” Neu said. “If you watch some of our games and just see when all 11 guys do their job, it’s pretty. .. The challenge is, you have to do that snap in, snap out.
“For us right now, that’s what’s not going as well as we need it to.”
With two home games remaining, Ball State returns to Muncie for its next game at 7 p.m. on Nov. 16 against Buffalo (4-6, 2-4 MAC).