Balanced, high-scoring offense proves key for Ball State Football
Thanks to 580 yards of offense and seven touchdowns, Ball State (4-3, 3-0 MAC) broke its drought of five consecutive losses in Homecoming games in front of 15,113 strong Saturday in a 52-14 win over Toledo (4-3, 1-2 MAC).
Head coach Mike Neu said the win was an emotional one, attributing a reunion with alumni Friday as a confidence booster heading into Saturday. Ball State took a 38-0 lead into halftime, marking the first time all season the Cardinals have led through the first 30 minutes.
“We have such a good brotherhood,” Neu said. “There’s a lot of alums who visited with us. After the game was over, we had people in the locker room singing the fight song. Hats off to our football team — the chemistry, the hard work, the attitude and the effort.”
The Cardinals’ rushing offense was led by junior running back Caleb Huntley with 119 yards. Through the Cardinals’ three-game MAC win streak, Huntley has 428 rushing yards. Additionally, Huntley has eclipsed last year’s total of 187 rushing yards in six games played with 711 in seven games this season so far.
While Huntley said he considers himself a major cornerstone of his team, he credits his offensive line for his success.
“We have a very strong offense,” Huntley said. “Everybody on offense is a pretty dynamic player. As a defense, if you try to start one thing, it can always hit you with another thing.”
Second to Huntley in rushing yards Saturday was senior wide receiver Malik Dunner with 90 on just two carries. Dunner scored on both touches in his team’s offensive rout — with 51- and 39-yard runs.
This season has been a transition for Dunner. In his first three years with the Cardinals, the senior played running back before moving to wide receiver for his final year. Neu said the transition has been nothing but smooth, as evident in Saturday’s victory.
“Malik Dunner’s got big-play potential,” Neu said. “He’s worked hard at his craft to become a polished wide receiver. For him to utilize his speed and take it the distance was awesome to see. He’s an ultimate team player.”
Capping off the Cardinals’ rushing offense Saturday was a 3-yard run from graduate student running back Walter Fletcher and an 11-yard run from junior wide receiver Justin Hall.
Ball State racked up 206 yards through the air as well, with 87 of them going to redshirt senior wide receiver Riley Miller. Miller caught two touchdowns on the day, connecting with redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt for 39- and 24-yard passes.
The Cardinals’ scoring was rounded out by a 36-yard pass from Plitt to Hall. Plitt completed 11 for 17 passes in the win.
“To get a big win like [on Saturday],” Miller said, “especially against a Toledo team that is very good, just means the world. We definitely expected this success because of all the hard work we’ve put in through the winter, spring and summer.”
Neu echoed Miller’s sentiments.
“Our guys were playing focused and playing true to the next play,” Neu said. “They had a great mindset and wanted to take advantage of Homecoming.”
Ball State has already matched last season’s win total of four through its seven games thus far. While Neu said he continues to take one win at a time, he is pleased with his team’s offensive chemistry through its first three MAC contests.
“I don’t look ahead, ever,” Neu said. “I was worried about Toledo, but now we’re obviously done.”
The Cardinals’ win Saturday was their first over Toledo since a 31-24 victory Sept. 28, 2013. Ball State will be back in action Saturday, Oct. 26 vs. Ohio.