The word of the day was momentum, and at the end of it, Ball State (0-1, 0-0 MAC) needed just a little bit more Saturday as it fell to Indiana (1-0, 0-0 Big 10) 34-24 in the Ruoff Mortgage Kickoff Classic in Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It felt like we had ourselves in a position a couple times there where we were within striking distance,” head coach Mike Neu said. “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of positive things that we’ll be able to look at and build on from the tape, but certainly there’s a lot of things that we need to clean up.”
In week two of the 2018 season, the Cardinals traveled to Notre Dame and gave the Irish a run for their money, ultimately falling, 24-16, in front of more than 77,000 fans. The Cardinals started 2019 playing at the home of the Indianapolis Colts. Neu said it hasn’t been a matter of his team playing up to the occasion, but rather it playing to its potential.
“We’re capable if we play our best football, and that’s the challenge. You got to play your best football for four quarters,” Neu said. “It was there for us to go out and get, but we didn’t get it done.”
The Cardinals struggled to consistently take advantage of Indiana’s mistakes. Same as a year ago, Ball State got on the board with a field goal after driving the ball into the red zone. The Cardinals came away with two interceptions Saturday, but only one led to points.
Ball State never had the lead Saturday, but Indiana never had more than a 14-point lead. The Cardinals tied the game once late in the first quarter and again early in the second. Redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt said it stings a little more knowing the game was up in the air.
“That stretch where we didn’t quite capitalize on some defensive stops offensively,” Plitt said. “It could have gone either way and changed the whole game. It’s kind of just how it’s been, and we’ve got to get away from that and change that going forward this year.”
Despite the loss, Neu said he knew he had a special team this year. Not only do the Cardinals have experience from years past, but they have a brotherhood-like bond.
“I believe with all my heart that this team — There’s right from a character standpoint and from a chemistry standpoint. At the end of the day, that’s what it ultimately takes,” Neu said. “It’s all about the locker room and making sure every man is on board and we all have each other’s back. I’m convinced that this football team has those qualities.”
The Cardinals will host Fordham Saturday, Sept. 7, in Scheumann Stadium now knowing what kind of team they have.
“We’re resilient, we’re fighters and we won’t quit,” junior cornerback Antonio Phillips said. “I can go out there and look to the right of me and to the left of me, and I know the guys to the right and left of me will be fighting the whole game no matter what the outcome is.”