Four takeaways from the Ball State football season-opener

Redshirt junior running back Marquez Cooper rushes between linemen against Kentucky Sept. 2. Cooper had 33 yards in Ball State's 44-14 loss to the Wildcats. Daniel Kehn, DN
Redshirt junior running back Marquez Cooper rushes between linemen against Kentucky Sept. 2. Cooper had 33 yards in Ball State's 44-14 loss to the Wildcats. Daniel Kehn, DN

A game full of injuries, touchdown drives, turnovers and a whole lot more ended with a 44-14 loss for the Cardinals. 

Ball State (0-1) came into today 0-11 against Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams all-time, after today, they would add another loss to that losing column. Here are four takeaways from the loss. 

Methodical first quarter

The Cardinals held Kentucky (1-0) to a field goal in their first drive, getting the ball for the first time of the season. 

The first Ball State drive was reminiscent of the 2022 season, a quick three and out. The second drive showed a completely different team than the first drive. 

Ball State led a methodical drive down into Kentucky territory, taking up just over seven minutes off of the clock. The 13-play, 73-yard drive was capped off by graduate student Layne Hatcher, who punched it in from two yards out. 

A big help in leading the drive was third-string quarterback, redshirt sophomore Kiael Kelly. He had three rushes for 21 yards, keeping the Cardinals in the drive and moving the chains. 

Ball State huddles together during a timeout against Kentucky Sept. 2. The Cardinals fell to the Wildcats 44-14. Mya Cataline, DN

Redshirt junior running back Marquez Cooper helped push Hatcher over the line to go up four, he also had 13 rushing yards in the quarter. Cooper finished the game with 33 yards.

Even with Ball State having 25 fewer total yards from the offense, they were still able to hold the Wildcats to three points in the first 15 minutes. 

It also goes without saying, penalties hurt Kentucky throughout the first quarter. They had four penalties totaling up to 25 yards against them. 

Kentucky's defense dominates 

The Wildcat defense was able to stifle out any momentum Ball State had in the first quarter with a dominant second quarter. 

In the first half alone, Kentucky had seven tackles for losses, pushing the Cardinals back 30 yards off of those seven tackles. The Wildcats also added two sacks in the first 30 minutes. 

Kentucky forced two turnovers in the first half. The first turnover was a forced fumble after a hard hit to Ball State sophomore tight end Tanner Koziol, the fumble was returned for a 69-yard touchdown. After the hit, Koziol was taken out of the game and later returned in the second half. 

The other fumble came off of a three-yard pass from Hatcher to junior Malcolm Gillie. Gillie was hit and on the way down the ball came loose, into the hands of Kentucky sophomore Jordan Lovett, who returned it into the endzone. After the play was over, it was called back due to the whistle stopping the play earlier, Kentucky ball. 

The Ball State offensive line was able to hold the Wildcats more effectively in the second half, only allowing one more sac and one more tackle for loss. 

Clayton Coll and more injured 

Often called the leader of the team by head coach Mike Neu, senior Clayton Coll was carted off the field in the second quarter. 

With coaches and players surrounding Coll, an air cast was placed on his leg. He did not return to the field. 

As previously mentioned, Koziol was hurt after a hard hit in the second quarter. He hit his head on the ground but later would return to play in the second half. 

Redshirt sophomore Vaughn Pemberton was also taken out of the game due to injury in the second quarter. Pemberton came down awkwardly on his knee, he was helped off the field. He was seen with a boot on his leg after halftime. 

Halfway through the third quarter, the graduate student transfer, Damion Charity, went out under his own power with leg trouble. 

Semonza shines

Freshman quarterback Kadin Semonza led the Cardinals to their second touchdown of the day with a very similar feel to the first touchdown drive. 

The action started with a 24-yard pass to junior Ty Robinson, getting Ball State into Kentucky territory. 

After a few runs from Cooper, another pass to Robinson gained 20 yards. 

The drive was topped off with a five-yard touchdown pass to yet again, Robinson. 

The drive as a whole saw the Cardinals run 10 plays, go 75 yards and eat up 6:01 off the clock. 

On his second drive, it was the connection to Robinson that shined, with good looks to Koziol as well. 

Semonza found Koziol for a 5-yard, 10-yard and a 17-yard pickup on the drive. 

Semonza found Robinson for a 27-yard pickup, getting Ball State into the red zone. 

At the end of the day, Semonza finished with 165 yards, 15-of-21(71.4 percent) and one touchdown in his first college appearance. 

The Cardinals will be back in action against No. 1 Georgia, Sept. 9 in Athens, Georgia.

Contact Elijah Poe via email at or on X @ElijahPoe4.


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