Ball State dropped its seventh game of the season to Eastern Michigan (3-6, 0-4 MAC) 56-14, but showed some promise moving the ball on a rainy night in Ypsilanti.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Plitt earned his first start, becoming the fourth Cardinal quarterback to start a game this season.
While Ball State (2-7, 0-5 MAC) has been the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to start four quarterbacks, Plitt was able to move the ball downfield, scoring on a pair of passing touchdowns, something Ball State’s offense hasn’t done since its game against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 16.
“I think there’s a lot to build on with what Drew did here,” Ball State head coach Mike Neu said. “He extended drives, made some big throws. … I’m proud, more than anything, with the way he’s handled himself and you know, I think there’s certainly things that when we watch the tape were great to see and we can build on that.”
Plitt finished the night completing 11-of-21 passes for 169 yards, two touchdowns and a late-game interception which seemed more like a miscommunication between him and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Riley Miller.
On top of his passing performance, Plitt earned several first downs with his feet, netting 20 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
“Tough loss, you know, it’s tough to go out there and start like that,” Plitt said. “It’s nice to get my first start. [It] kind of didn’t feel anything different from last week because I came in so early, but it was nice to go out on the first play.”
With the start, Ball State did something that’s been missing from its offense the past few weeks – throwing the ball down field.
Plitt converted on a 25-yard touchdown pass early to freshman wide receiver Kahlil Newton, as well as 15-plus yard passes throughout the game to freshman receiver Justin Hall and junior wide receiver Brennan Gillis.
The offensive line continued to shift after sustaining even more injuries. After the first drive of the game, Ball State redshirt freshman left tackle Kaleb Slaven was taken out of the game with a broken left foot. From there, redshirt senior Vinnie Palazeti moved to left tackle and redshirt junior lineman Kadin Booker moved back into right tackle.
“The biggest challenge, more than anything else, is the cohesiveness,” Neu said. “You know you have different guys in the lineup and you lose different players here and there. … The cohesiveness there is a challenge because those guys haven’t played enough together like that to know what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
While the offense had its own problems, the defense once again struggled throughout the game, giving up more than 50 points in four of the last five games.
“Obviously, disappointing night here, but we’ve got to keep plugging away and moving forward here,” Neu said. “Again, we gave up some big plays there defensively in the first half.”
Big plays were once again a problem for Ball State’s defense, as it gave up 263 total passing yards and 225 rushing yards to Eastern Michigan.
Even when Ball State held strong for two plays, Eastern Michigan converted on third down conversions, efficiently earning a first down on 75 percent of third down plays.
“Third and longs are the ones that are hard,” Neu said. “We’ve got to be able to get off the field on that, and we’ve got to look at that and see what the breakdown was and why they were able to execute and we’ve got to get it fixed.”
Through the first three quarters, Eastern Michigan successfully converted on 90 percent of its third down plays, getting stopped on the last two drives after putting in several backup position players.
Still, Plitt is trying to stay positive moving into the final stretch of the season.
“We have three games left, so we still have some season left to play,” Plitt said. “We just got to stay positive, stay together and win some games.”
Ball State has another opportunity on Nov. 9 when it travels to play Mid-American Conference opponent Northern Illinois (6-3, 4-1 MAC).