After two-and-a-half-hour summer practices, temperatures surpassing 90 degrees, just a few players remained out on the practice field on the south side of Scheumann Stadium.
One of them is Drew Plitt, the fourth man on Ball State’s quarterback roster, throwing passes to several underclassmen running backs and wide receivers.
Fast forward three months – and the redshirt freshman is still the last one off the field.
Except this time, he’s doing it as the starting quarterback.
“I do it every day,” Plitt said. “Working on things I didn’t do well in practice, get those worked out, helping myself get better.”
Since Plitt has taken over as quarterback, he’s thrown for 266 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Where Ball State’s offensive dynamic has really changed, however, is in its deep throwing game.
In his first career start against Eastern Michigan, four of Plitt's 11 completed passes went for more than 20 yards – the most downfield passes since redshirt senior quarterback Jack Milas threw five 20-plus yard passes on 18 completions at Western Kentucky.
Two of Plitt’s passes were completed to freshman wide receiver Khalil Newton, who brought in his first collegiate receptions and touchdown during the game.
While head coach Mike Neu said that Plitt's confidence allows him to throw the ball downfield, players like Newton are finding ways to get open.
“Khalil has got speed, he can get down field,” Neu said. “You can put him out there and he took advantage of the plays and opportunities that he had.”
Ball State plays against the Mid-American Conference's best defense this week in Northern Illinois. The Huskies lead the conference in points against per game (19), total defense (331.6 YPG) and rushing defense (112.8 YPG).
Northern Illinois sits in the middle of the pack in terms of passing defense, giving up 218.8 yards per game through the air, which may result in Ball State trusting the passing game a bit more.
Plitt says he’s trying to get more vocal on the field, but redshirt senior offensive lineman Vinnie Palazeti has been impressed with the way he stepped up.
“Every quarterback has got to be a leader, they’re the general out there on the offense,” Palazeti said. “Drew was prepared and ready to go and I think it showed now that he’s had a pretty good couple of games coming in as the fourth string quarterback.
“It just kind of goes to show the mentality we have at Ball State being the next man up and being ready to play when your number is called.”
Plitt’s number was called after a rather unfortunate series of events for Ball State’s quarterbacks.
Junior quarterback Riley Neal went down in the third week of competition and Milas took over, injuring his elbow after three outings. From there, redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Blair earned took the job, breaking his ankle in his first career start against Toledo. That earned Plitt his first collegiate snaps against the top-ranked team in the Mid-American Conference.
Although Neu said that Milas is healthy again, Plitt will once again start this week against the top-ranked defense in the Mid-American Conference, Northern Illinois.
“We’re preparing the same way we have every week, go out there, do our thing and execute,” Plitt said. “For me, it’s all about getting better. We still have three games left and nothing is guaranteed, but we’re playing for pride at this point.”
Ball State travels to play its final road game of the season against Northern Illinois at 7 p.m. on Nov. 9 in DeKalb, Illinois.