The college football season is over for fans of the cardinal and white, but they shouldn’t be hanging their heads. Ball State finished the 2019 season at 5-7 — the best record it has finished with in the Mike Neu era. With Athletic Director Beth Goetz announcing an extension in Neu’s future, it’s clear the improvements go beyond the win total.
To go along with wrapping up the season, here are some of the Cardinals’ top aspects of the year.
Hello, Lucas Oil
Ball State’s first home game of the year wasn’t in Scheumann Stadium. Instead, it hosted Indiana at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This was the second time the Cardinals played the Hoosiers in the home of the Colts — the first being in 2011 where Ball State came away with a 27-20 win.
The Cardinals were not victorious this time around, falling 34-24 to the Hoosiers. However, the game was never out of reach, as Indiana’s lead didn’t surpass 14 points. Although the game didn’t end with a win, it showed Ball State it could hang with larger programs at bigger venues.
Plitt’s season highlighted by home opener
The Cardinals’ first win of the year saw redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt throw himself into the record books. With 439 passing yards against Fordham, Plitt came up just 30 yards short of Neu’s Ball State single-game record. His six touchdown passes also tied the program record.
Plitt didn’t seem to have a favorite target in that game either, as his six touchdowns were spread out to four different receivers. He continued mixing up the pass game throughout the season. Four receivers recorded more than 500 yards, and three of them scored at least five times.
Plitt finished the year with just fewer than 3,000 passing yards — the second-most in the Mid-American Conference and ranking 27th in the nation.
All aboard the revenge tour
Non-conference play left something to be desired for the Cardinals, going 1-3, but they came back strong, winning their first three games against MAC opponents. Ball State defeated the likes of Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Toledo by a combined 51 points. The Cardinals lost to those same three teams last year by a combined 62 points.
The team’s three wins to start the conference schedule was a first since 2013. It also put the Cardinals atop the MAC standings as the only undefeated team left.
Exiting in style
Neu got choked up talking about his seniors in the postgame press conference after the last game of the season. He said they had set the standard for future Cardinals, and being able to send them out with a win was all he wanted.
For the team’s 16 seniors, it didn’t look too promising after one half of football, as Miami (Ohio) had a 27-14 lead. Ball State went on to score 27 unanswered points and only allow one first down in the entire second half, en route to a 41-27 victory. The win was the Cardinals’ fifth of the season and their fourth in conference play.
One for the ages
At 24 years old, redshirt senior linebacker Jacob White was the oldest on the team. His teammates called him “Grandpa” or “Uncle.” Age didn’t play a factor in the way he played, however. White finished the season with 117 tackles, good for fourth in the MAC and 11th in the nation. Through four games, he had the second-most tackles among all Division I players.
White has been a team captain for the last three years. Neu and multiple players have said he will be sorely missed when his time as a Cardinal ends. There’s no doubting he went out with a bang.
Ball State gave running back duties to junior Caleb Huntley this year, and he did nothing but impress. With 1,275 rushing yards, Huntley ranked 15th in the country in 2019. After a shaky first four non-conference games, Huntley rushed for more than 100 yards in seven of eight MAC contests. Excluding the one game where he left early with an injury, Huntley averaged 140 yards per conference game.
Huntley wasn’t alone in the backfield. Graduate student Walter Fletcher acted as the Cardinals’ change-of-pace back, providing more quickness and a better pass-catching ability. In the lone game with Huntley out, Fletcher stepped in and ran for 156 yards. He totaled 726 rushing yards and 306 receiving yards and was a large contributor to the MAC’s third-best ground attack.
You’re getting warmer
Ball State’s overall record may have only improved by one game since 2018, but the difference on the scoreboard cannot go unnoticed. Last year, the Cardinals’ losses were by an average of more than 20 points, and they fell by at least 28 three times. In 2019, that losing deficit was trimmed to 7.4 with their worst loss by only 13 points.
This improvement can be credited to both sides of the ball. On offense, the Cardinals led the MAC in points (34.8) and yards (463) per game. Defensively, they ranked in the top 10 nationally in turnovers gained with 15 interceptions and nine recovered fumbles.