Redshirt junior running back James Gilbert runs the ball up the field during practice Monday, Aug. 27, 2018 at Scheumann Stadium. The team's offense and defense scrimmaged each other at practice. Rebecca Slezak,DN
Expect run-heavy game from Cardinals, Central Connecticut State
It’s game week.
Ball State Football head coach Mike Neu has preached that all week long, making sure his players know all their hard work is about to come into play. Even with the excitement of Central Connecticut State coming to town Thursday, Neu is focusing on preparation.
“We still got a lot of work to be done between now and Thursday as far as game plan goes, making sure we’re greased up as good as we possibly can be,” Neu said.
Cardinals vs. Central Connecticut State
Time: 7 p.m.
Where: Scheumann Stadium, Muncie, IN
Radio: 104.1 FM
Neu has made it known he plans to run the football. The Cardinals run game has been an exceptionally strong part of its offensive attack in recent years.
Redshirt junior James Gilbert tore apart defenses in 2016, rushing for 1,369 yards and 12 touchdowns. Gilbert took a medical redshirt season in 2017 after getting injured in week three. Caleb Huntley took over the starting job as a freshman in Gilbert’s absence and did not disappoint, racking up over 1,000 yards on the season.
“That’s not a secret that one of the biggest strengths we have offensively is the running back position,” Neu said. “We’re going to make sure and establish the run because that’s one of the strongest position groups in our team.”
The Cardinals’ backfield also features an all-purpose back and dynamic kick returner in junior Malik Dunner. All-MAC receiver sophomore Justin Hall will give redshirt junior quarterback Riley Neal a solid target to balance out the run game.
With so many weapons in this Cardinal offense, Neal said the expectations are clear: “Hopefully a lot of points—that’s the plan.”
The Blue Devils like to run the ball as well. They averaged just under 185 rushing yards a game last year and are returning a 1,000-yard rusher in senior Cameron Nash.
Stopping the run was a struggle for the Cardinals last year, as their defense surrendered 188 yards on the ground per game. Neu said if his team is fundamentally sound, it will wind up in a good place.
“That’s something you preach always defensively is making sure you are gap sound and making sure guys are 100 percent sure on whatever defense is called what their assignment is,” Neu said. “Those are things that are very critical every game, especially early in the season.”
Neal said he is ready to get back on the field, and his teammates are chomping at the bit to see some action.
“I think everybody is excited,” Neal said. “We still have [to finish this week] of practice before we’re ready to take the field, but I think once the time comes we’ll be ready.”
The Cardinals will host the Blue Devils Thursday at 7 p.m. in Scheumann Stadium.
Contact Zach Piatt with comments at or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.