Rivalry football returned for the first time of the year in Muncie, even more so, football in general returned to Muncie.
Indiana State traveled with the Victory Bell in their possession, but as the final whistle blew, the Victory Bell fell into the possession of the Cardinals.
After snapping their 12 straight home opening wins last year, Ball State is back on track after the 45-7 win.
After a long two weeks, the run game finds its groove
Going up against arguably the two best defensive lines in the country in University of Kentucky and the University of Georgia, the Cardinals’ run game amounted to about nothing. Ball State came into the game with only 149 rushing yards in those games.
Against the Sycamores, the Cardinals racked up 154 in the first two quarters alone.
Coming into the game, redshirt junior Marquez Cooper only had 41 rushing yards in the first two games. After only 15 minutes of play, Cooper had 43 yards on only five carries.
He averaged 8.6 yards in those five carries, flying by his previous numbers amounted in the first opening games. Cooper came in at 41 yards total, by the end of the first quarter he had 43.
With 4:43 left to go in the second quarter, Cooper eclipsed the 100-yard mark with a 26-yard rush.
The main reason for the rushing ability was the great job blocking from the offensive line.
The experience of the offensive line, although not showcased against the two Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams, was on display against the Sycamores. The ability to create space for the running back group was an essential step in allowing the running backs to get into open space.
Redshirt sophomore Rico Barfield, picked up his first collegiate touchdown after a 16-yard pass from freshman Kadin Semonza. He also picked up a rushing touchdown after a 24-yard run saw him reach for the pylon, putting the Cardinals up 17-0.
Throughout the game, it was apparent the slow methodical run-heavy drives were pushing the offense each drive.
To go up 45-7, redshirt sophomore running back Charlie Spegal punched it in from a yard out.
At the end of the day, Cooper finished with 177 and one touchdown, and Barfield totaled 48 yards with one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown. The running backs total accounted for 288 yards, almost doubling the yardage in the first two games.
Just like the offense, the defense is coming off of a couple of slow weeks going against SEC competition.
This week, it appeared that the defensive line was getting off the ball faster than Indiana State, giving them an edge against the Sycamore offensive line.
A pair of sacks pushed back Indiana State enough to force challenging kicks to score. Senior Sidney Houston Jr. picked up a solo sack, while graduate student Mikhari Sibblis and redshirt senior Jack Sape both added a sack assist. Both of those kicks were eventually missed, holding the Sycamore scoreless in the first half.
In the second half, Sape added to his sack total with a solo sack, putting his total up to 1.5 in three quarters.
A fourth-quarter interception from redshirt senior Tyler ‘Red’ Potts put the Cardinals within the red zone, setting up Ball State for a touchdown.
On the next Sycamore drive, graduate student defensive back Loren Strickland was able to force the ball loose, rolling into the hands of junior linebacker Keionté Newson who took it back 66 yards for a touchdown. This play was the first fumble recovery that was returned for a touchdown since 2021.
The only slips of the defense were a couple of deep passes from Indiana State. One of which resulted in a touchdown.
In the end, the defense forced three turnovers compared to the Sycamore one. Head coach Mike Neu has constantly harped on that the team has to win the turnover battle to win games.
Semonza complete game (almost)
After coming off the bench in the second quarter against Kentucky, then starting against UGA, but coming out after the first half. Semonza would play a complete game in just his third collegiate appearance.
Semonza threw three interceptions in that first half of the Georgia game, and Neu said the reason he was taken out was due to a couple of hits he took during those 30 minutes of play.
Though the offense was mainly run-focused, Semonza went under the radar with a decent stat line.
Graduate student Layne Hatcher was able to get some minutes in the fourth quarter after the game was all but over. During this time, he only had one attempt and zero completions.
At the end of the day, Semonza was 17-for-22 (77.3 percent) with 137 yards and two touchdowns.
Ball State will be at home against Georgia Southern on Sept. 23 at 2:00 p.m.