Ball State Football (2-4, 1-1 MAC) hasn’t left the state of Indiana through the first six weeks of the 2018 season. That changes Saturday when the Cardinals travel to Central Michigan (1-5, 0-2 MAC).
As the game approaches, here’s a look at five aspects the Cardinals should focus on to better their chances of taking down the Chippewas.
Get Neal going early
Redshirt junior quarterback Riley Neal is the driving force of the offense. Everything revolves around him.
The Cardinals went through a four-week stretch this season where they scored on their first possession of the game, largely due to Neal’s efficiency.
In week four against Western Kentucky, Neal completed a perfect 7 out of 7 pass attempts on the Cardinals’ first drive that resulted in a touchdown. The following week, he connected on a 52-yard strike on the first play of the game.
If Neal can get in a groove early on and the team puts points on the board, he won’t have to throw the ball 56 times like he did last week against Northern Illinois. Not only does this open up other aspects of the offense, but it instills a confidence that will carry over the rest of the game.
Feed the backs
It’s contradictory to suggest the Cardinals run the ball immediately after mentioning they should highlight their quarterback, but for good reason. The Chippewas allow more than 200 rushing yards per game.
Head coach Mike Neu said during MAC Football Media Day he planned to run the ball this year. He showed that in the Cardinals’ opening week, rushing for a total of 316 yards. He has expressed throughout the entirety of the season that the run game is one of the strongest elements of his offense.
This week, against a team that gives up its fair share of yards on the ground, is a perfect time to pound the rock and showcase all of Ball State’s featured running backs.
Find the end zone in the red zone
It sounds simple enough, but scoring touchdowns has been a challenge for the Cardinals once they get inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Ball State has made 22 trips to the red zone this year. Only half have resulted in touchdowns. Take away what the Cardinals have done in games they’ve won, and field goals outnumber touchdowns 5-4.
Neu said the goal of any drive is to put points on the board. While field goals accomplish this, six points are obviously more attractive than three.
Force the pass
Last week, Ball State gave up 227 rushing yards, but 64 were on a single run. Take away that big play, and Neu said the defense played well.
Stopping the run is something the Cardinals can build on against Central Michigan, a team that averages just more than 118 yards on the ground a game. If the Cardinals can take away the run game, the Chippewas will be forced to go to the air, something they are statistically not all that comfortable with.
The Chippewas attempt to pass the ball less than 30 times a game and have thrown 12 interceptions. Take away the run, and the Cardinals are set up for some turnovers.
Keep flags off the field
Ball State has been historically good at keeping penalties to a minimum. They were flagged only four times a game in 2017. However, that average has climbed to almost seven this season. After the Western Kentucky game, in which the Cardinals were flagged 10 times, Neu said he couldn’t remember the last time he coached a team with double-digit penalties in a game.
The Cardinals have influenced more flags than their opponent in half their games this year. They give away 63.7 yards per game due to penalties.
Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown once said, “Football is a game of errors. The team that makes the fewest errors in a game usually wins.” If this holds true, the Cardinals will need to keep the penalties in check the rest of the way.
Contact Zach Piatt with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.