KNOXVILLE, TENN.– Where does Ball State go from here? How do the Cardinals let this impact their season?
Two questions that may stir the minds of Ball State Football (0-1, 0-0 MAC) tonight on the way back to Muncie, Indiana.
The Cardinals took on the University of Tennessee (1-0, 0-0 SEC) in Knoxville, Tennessee, Sept. 1 in what was the opening game of the 2022 season and fell 59-10.
“I had a good time, to be honest with you,” redshirt junior John Paddock said. “Even if the score didn't reflect it… I thought there were some flashes, but then there were some things where you scratch your head and you're like, alright, but it’s gonna happen [in your] first start… Sincerely enjoyed it, we just got to be a little more consistent.”
Ball State’s woes began just 14 seconds into the contest as Paddock was picked off by Tennessee’s junior defensive back Tamarion McDonald. The Volunteers capitalized on the turnover on the immediate play with redshirt senior quarterback Hendon Hooker finding Jalin Hyatt for a 23-yard touchdown.
“The first snap of the game, that's on me,” Neu said. “That was a decision that I made in the staff room two days ago that we wanted to reverse pass and try to get one. Obviously, that's not on John, that's an aggressive call that’s squarely on me and you know obviously wanted to come out and make sure that we were here to take our shot.”
The Volunteers ran a no-huddle offense and paced the Cardinals' defense quickly, not letting up.
“We prepared a lot for it,” junior linebacker Clayton Coll said. “You know there's a couple of teams in our conference that go fast, but looking at college football as a whole, that might be the fastest team… It was hard to get figured out but our game plan heading into it was you know, we're playing left and right. It was kind of set up to help us with that situation, to limit the communication that we needed to have but still had a solid game plan going into it.”
Tennessee’s fast-paced offense paid off in scoring moments from redshirt-senior placekicker Chase McGrath, Hooker, junior runningback Jabari Small and sophomore wide receiver Walker Merril, establishing a 38-point lead at halftime for the Volunteers with Ball State unable to register any points.
Going into halftime down, Coll said he was proud of how Ball State reacted to the first half and that it will benefit the Cardinals in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) season.
“I mean, that just shows what kind of team you are no matter the score,” Coll said. “How are you gonna play? Is that going to be our identity? Is that going to be our culture? I sure hope so. I felt like it was. I felt like guys still played hard even though the score is not ideal. But that's the kind of culture that we're building. That's the identity we want. Up 50, Down 50, 0-0, This team's gonna come out and play hard.”
In the third quarter, a three-yard pass from Paddock to freshman tight end Tanner Koziol put Ball State on the board, while a 25-yard field goal from graduate student kicker Ben VonGuten put the Cardinals into double digits. The two scores ended as consolation points, however, as Tennessee ran out 59-10 winners.
“What I look at, most importantly for us, is that there are a lot of positives to build on from tonight,” head coach Mike Neu said. “I think, no matter what the phase was offense, defense or special teams when we execute at a high level, I think we showed that we can compete and execute drives, get off the field defensively and play good special teams.”
Head coach Mike Neu pinpointed Ball State’s pre-snap penalties as a key area for improvement while highlighting his team’s ability to “compete until the clock said 00:00.”
“I can live with an aggressive penalty, pass interference, a hold, things like that, but some of the pre-snap penalties, I know its a tough environment but we knew that way back when we started our preparation,” Neu said. “We’ve got to eliminate the pre-snap penalties and some of the extra post-snap stuff that took place so we'll address that we'll get it cleaned up.”
The Cardinals begin their 2022 MAC campaign against Western Michigan Sept. 10. Neu said an opening game in Neyland Stadium will better prepare Ball State for the challenge of the MAC season.
“It’s definitely going to be an important week,” Paddock said. “Obviously, you know, our motto is ‘one at a time,’ and so honestly, I’d love to get talking about Western and obviously we’re moved on to that. But we're gonna get on this flight, we're gonna come back, we're gonna heal any bumps and bruises, we’re going to get in the film room tomorrow and we’re going to be the best that we can be.”
Ball State hosts Western Michigan (0-0, 0-0 MAC) at Scheumann Stadium Sept. 10 at 2 p.m.