Scrappy, messy and disappointing are a few words to describe the Homecoming matchup between the Ball State Cardinals (4-4, 2-2 MAC) and the Eastern Michigan Eagles (5-3, 2-2 MAC).
Ball State won their previous three games of the season and their last three games against Eastern Michigan, however, both of those streaks were broken after the Cardinals’ 20-16 loss to the Eagles.
As Ball State was not able to capitalize on opportunities to secure their fourth straight win, here are four takeaways from the Cardinals’ conference loss.
Offensive faults from the Cardinals
Ball State was haunted by turnovers, penalties and the red zone itself.
The first turnover came in the second quarter after a botched snap launched over redshirt junior quarterback John Paddock’s head inside the thirty-yard line. Paddock was unable to secure the fumble, giving Eastern Michigan the ball.
Later in the second quarter, Paddock was picked off inside the thirty-yard line after his pass was tipped up into the air, eventually resulting in a field goal from the Eagles to go up 10-7 headed into halftime.
In the fourth quarter, Paddock threw another interception inside the Ball State’s 30-yard line, leading to an eventual Eastern Michigan touchdown, putting the Eagles’ up 10 and putting the game further out of reach for the Cardinals.
Penalties also hurt the Cardinals’ offense heading out of the second quarter, as two big plays from Carson Steele and Jayshon Jackson were called back due to a holding and a chop-block call. It would be a roughing the kicker penalty on Eastern Michigan that gave Ball State the ball back with two minutes left in the second quarter.
Coming out of the half and once again inside the redzone, the Cardinals were forced to settle with a field goal instead of a touchdown.
It looked as if the Ball State offense could drive down the field easily throughout, but would stall and make frequent mistakes the closer they got to the end zone [if they did not turn the ball over].
The Cardinal defense struggled to stop Austin Smith on the ground
The Cardinals’ opened up the first defensive stand of the game with a sack from redshirt junior inside linebacker Cole Pearce for a loss of eight yards for Eastern Michigan. Pearce had 15 total tackles in today’s game, leading the Cardinal defense.
The pressure on Eastern Michigan’s sophomore quarterback Austin Smith would be a constant for the game, as the Cardinals had four sacks on the day.
The biggest sack of the game came from sophomore outside linebacker Brandon Berger, who would wrap up Smith on a crucial fourth and eight, forcing a turnover on downs and giving the ball back to Ball State.
Despite the sacks, Smith was a real problem for the Ball State defense due to his scrambling ability.
Smith had 69 yards rushing in the first half, 79 yards total, and a rushing touchdown, on top of his 197 yards through the air for the Eagles.
That said, Ball State was able to make an adjustment to Smith, holding him to 10 rushing yards in the second half.
A field goal from graduate-student kicker Ben VonGunten and a receiving touchdown from redshirt freshman Brady Hunt gave Ball State the 16-10 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Although holding him to fewer yards, Smith was able to almost walk into the end zone for a touchdown with 7:23 left in the fourth quarter to give Eastern Michigan a 20-16 lead.
The Ball State offensive three-headed monster
Carson Steele rushing, Paddock passing and Jayshon Jackson receiving were the offensive threats for Ball State against Eastern Michigan.
Steele, a sophomore running back, continued to show he was the heart of the offense. Although Steele had 61 total yards in the first quarter, Ball State was held scoreless in the first quarter.
Four seconds into the second quarter that would change, as Paddock connected with Steele for an eight-yard receiving touchdown, putting up the Cardinals 7-0.
Steele ended the game with 102 rushing yards and 57 receiving yards and one touchdown. Paddock ended the game with 178 passing yards and two passing touchdowns.
Hunt ended the contest with 28 yards and three catches, one of them being a touchdown. Jackson was Paddock’s favorite target of the day, with 66 receiving yards and four catches.
The Eastern Michigan offense changed their game plan
Coming into the contest, the Eagles had thrown only 199 times in their previous seven games. Today, Eastern Michigan differed from their usual script of running the ball.
Smith threw for 197 yards and passed the ball 34 times, accounting for 15 percent of Eastern Michigan’s passing attempts for the whole season today alone.
At the end of the first half, Smith had thrown the ball more than Paddock, even though Paddock had more passing attempts than the entire Eastern Michigan quarterback room on the season heading into the contest. Ball State had only one more offensive yard than the Eagles going into the second half.
Hassan Beydoun led the Eagles with 85 receiving yards on 10 receptions.