Ball State’s (4-1 MAC) second drive of the day was a sign of things to come during Saturday’s contest with Central Michigan (3-2 MAC).
Already leading 3-0, the Cardinal offense found itself backed up on its own 5-yard line after a Central Michigan punt. A rush for no gain and a false start set the Cardinals up with a second-and-13 on their own 2-yard line. Redshirt senior quarterback Drew Plitt then found junior receiver Yo’Heinz Tyler for 14 yards and a first down to give them some breathing room.
Three plays later, Plitt plowed forward on a quarterback sneak for a first down on third-and-1. Three plays after that, on third-and-9, Plitt dumped a pass to redshirt junior running back Will Jones, who scampered for 12 yards and another first down. Another three plays brought up third-and-5, and Plitt found redshirt freshman receiver Jalen McGaughy down the left sideline for 27 yards.
Moments later, Tyler walked into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown after breaking a tackle, capping off a 13-play, 95-yard drive and giving Ball State a 10-0 lead.
The Cardinals rode that momentum and continued their bend-don’t-break mentality on offense to pull away with a 45-20 victory.
“You battle against [the offense] all camp and all practice,” senior safety Bryce Cosby said. “Some of the same stuff they beat us in in practice, you see it in the game. It’s actually a great feeling because we know how potent they can be at times … It’s safe to say we have a lot of weapons across the board, and it’s a beautiful sight when our offense is grooving to say the least.”
Ball State’s offense faced 20 third downs Saturday, and it converted 12 of them — a step up from its 47-percent third-down efficiency coming into the game. The Cardinals also put points on the board on seven of their 15 possessions.
Despite the Cardinals scoring their most points in a game since Oct. 19 last season, head coach Mike Neu said they can still improve.
“I’m a competitor,” Neu said. “Any time we have a drive that doesn’t end in points, then you can play better.”
Neu said he was disappointed in himself for some of the calls he made and admitted he has room to grow. Plitt echoed his coach’s statement, saying he thought the offense only played three quarters of complete football.
While the Cardinals scored 14 points in each of the second and third quarters, Plitt said that was where the bulk of their missed opportunities fell.
The Chippewas fumbled on a kick return to set Ball State up inside Central Michigan’s 20-yard line with just nine seconds until halftime, but the Cardinals couldn’t come away with any points. Ball State also failed to score on its first three possessions of the second half.
The offense quickly got its groove back, scoring touchdowns on its next three drives.
“We’re close, but we’re still not there yet,” Plitt said. “Forty-five points for us isn’t enough. We can put up 60 every game if we want, and it’s really just a mindset for us.”
Saturday’s contest was the second in a row in which the Cardinals were without senior running back Caleb Huntley, who still ranks fourth in the Mid-American Conference in rushing yards despite missing the last two games.
Despite Huntley's absence, Ball State still found a solid ground attack last week, rushing for a total of 143 yards. This week, the Cardinals spread the ball around even more. Four players rushed for at least 25 yards and four players recorded at least 65 receiving yards in Saturday's win.
Huntley has been nursing a rib injury the last two weeks, but even if he can’t play again next Saturday, the Cardinals will be prepared.
“Caleb’s a great player, and I know it’s eating at him that he can’t play,” Plitt said. “He’s going to do what he can to play this week, and if not, we’ll do the same thing. It’s that next-man-up mentality and the fact that we have so many weapons all over.”
With or without Huntley, Ball State will take on Western Michigan (4-1 MAC) Dec. 12 in a winner-take-all final game of the regular season. The winner will take home the title of MAC West Division champion and head to Detroit to play for the conference championship.
Even with the growing Neu said he and his players still have to do, he added that winning by 25 points on the road gives him a good idea of where his team stands heading into next week.
“Our guys know and believe we have what it takes to be a championship football team,” Neu said. “Now, it’s up to us delivering and playing our best football when it matters the most.”