Ball State (4-5, 3-2 MAC), could not stop the offense of Western Michigan (6-4, 4-2 MAC) when it counted. The Cardinals were unable to complete a second half comeback and ultimately fell to the Broncos, 35-31. Here are a few takeaways.
Rush defense an unusual issue
Ball State came into this game with the third-best rush defense in the conference, allowing just more than 1,200 yards throughout the season. In the first half alone, the Cardinals gave up 242 rushing yards.
Levante Bellamy was a force for Western Michigan that proved to be one of the more difficult challenges for Ball State. Bellamy rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns on the night. The conference rushing leader had an unusual slow start to the game, totaling just 50 yards in the first half.
The Cardinals might have been expecting to see more through the air Tuesday. Western Michigan quarterback Jon Wassink leads the Mid-American conference in passing yards with 2,273 on the season. Wassink’s main production, however, came from his legs. The senior totaled 131 rushing yards on just six attempts.
Chunk by chunk
Each team recorded 15 chunk plays — plays of 15 yards or more. Ball State redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt connected on four passes of that nature. Western Michigan gained 15 of its 27 first downs through chunk plays.
The Broncos took all the momentum out of the Cardinals’ defense with three rushes of at least 40 yards. Wassink broke around the outside for a 60-yard gain on the first possession of the night. That was his career-long rush, and it set up the Broncos to take the early lead. Wassink went on to total 131 rushing yards on the night, 129 of those came from chunk plays.
The Cardinals also had their fair share of chunk plays. Junior wide receiver Justin Hall recorded two on the night, both setting up touchdowns for Ball State.
Special teams put up a record-setting night
Despite a second straight conference loss, special teams was a bright spot for the Cardinals all game long. It started with senior kicker Ryan Rimmler drilling a career-long 44-yard field goal in the second quarter. Rimmler topped his previous career best of 43 yards set earlier this season at NC State.
Senior wide receiver and kick returner Malik Dunner recorded his first kick return for a touchdown of the year. He took the opening kick of the second half 100 yards to give the Cardinals some much-needed momentum after trailing by 11 at halftime. This was the first touchdown return for Dunner since the 2017 season where he took one to the house against UAB. Dunner also notched a career-high 174 total return yards Tuesday.
Offense made necessary adjustments
The Cardinals came into the game as one of the most balanced offenses in the conference. Ball State ranks fourth in both rushing and passing offense. The Cardinals totaled only 58 rushing yards in the first half of play. The second half would be a different story. Ball State rushed for 203 yards in the final 30 minutes of play.
Junior running back Caleb Huntley had an unusual slow start to the game, gaining just 12 yards in the first half. Huntley rushed for nearly 10 times that number in the second half and ended up with 120 yards for the Cardinals.
Back ’em up
Penalties were a big issue for the Cardinals, especially in the first half. Ball State recorded eight penalties in the first half alone and lost a total of 74 yards on the night — 40 of those coming on the offensive side of the ball.
The defense allowed Western Michigan to gain three first downs off of the Ball State mistakes. The Cardinals came into the game as the fifth-most-penalized team in the conference. They only recorded two penalties in the second half. Freshman cornerback Nic Jones was called for defensive pass interference in the fourth quarter that set up the Broncos for a touchdown later that drive.
Western Michigan has been the least-penalized team across the conference, and it showed Tuesday. The Broncos only had three penalties on the night, and they were all on the defensive side of the ball. The offense for Western Michigan played a clean game, recording no penalties.