As he walked out of Scheumann Stadium pumping his fist in the air, celebrating a 45-7 win over Indiana State last Saturday, Mike Neu was confident heading into the Cardinals’ next matchup.
Days later, Ball State football’s head coach predicted the Cardinals’ contest against Georgia Southern to be a “dogfight” and a precursor to what Ball State should expect in Mid-American Conference (MAC) play.
In fact, when the two sides clashed in 2022, the game was tied heading into the fourth quarter. Georgia Southern came out on top, but it was competitive nonetheless.
Heck, when the Cardinals and Eagles kicked off, Ball State was favored by 5.5 points.
All that suggested a back-and-forth contest between the two programs was to come.
It was not to be. Georgia Southern dominated almost all 60 minutes of game time, earning a 40-3 victory in Muncie. After 15,000+ filled the seats at Scheumann Stadium against Indiana State, the silver bleachers were sparse by halftime a week later.
Sure, Ball State opened up the 2023 season with a 30-point loss to the University of Kentucky and a 42-point defeat to No. 1 Georgia, however, this loss felt different. Energy was lacking from the crowd, but that atmosphere originated on the field.
“We didn’t come to compete,” junior defensive back Jordan Riley said. “I guess they wanted it more.”
The 37-point home loss is the largest margin of defeat in Muncie since a 47-point loss to Central Michigan in Oct. 2017. Neu opened up his postgame remarks as direct as possible.
“It starts with me,” Neu said. “I'll look myself in the mirror and I'll attack the solution to get better.”
Neu said that solution starts on the practice field in preparation for each opponent. The eighth-year head coach said he didn’t do a good enough job of preparing Ball State for Georgia Southern this past week.
“I hate to lose, period,” Neu said.
Riley said there was no special game plan for Georgia Southern coming in, even if Neu wanted to be prepared for the “dynamic” playmakers on the Eagles’ offense. In the end, sixth-year quarterback Davis Brin threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns, all to different targets, against the Ball State secondary.
On the other side of the ball, Neu said the offense didn’t execute in any fashion. He said those issues started on the first play of the game when a botched snap threw freshman quarterback
Kadin Semonza took off his rhythm, leading an overthrow to a wide open sophomore tight end Tanner Koziol.
In the first half, Georgia Southern finished with 304 total offensive yards while Ball State only amassed 59. By the game’s end, redshirt sophomore Kiael Kelly played the entire fourth quarter under center after Semonza finished with 123 yards and two interceptions.
The Daily News requested Semonza and offensive coordinator Kevin Lynch for postgame comments, but were denied access.
Riley didn’t think the offense’s struggles correlated to the defense’s struggles. At the end of the day, he said the defense wasn’t good enough against the Eagles.
“It just hurts when you lose a game where you know they’re not 40 points better than us,” Riley said.
Junior offensive lineman Corey Stewart said he doesn’t think the offensive line has played to its potential so far this season. While they helped Ball State’s ground game earn nearly 290 yards against Indiana State, the other three games combined haven’t matched that total.
As it pertains to the Cardinals’ most recent loss, Stewart said he felt Georgia Southern prepared for this game better than Ball State, congruent with Neu’s sentiments as well.
“We still got to go out and execute no matter what they put in front of us,” Stewart said. “It starts with us. Everybody has to own their job.”
Neu agreed, and said his postgame speech to the Cardinals was short and to the point. While he took the blame for Ball State’s third loss of the season, he also held his players accountable, asking them to look inward and commit towards serious improvement with MAC play beginning next week.
“If people want to keep dwindling on the pass, dwindling on this loss, we can’t allow that,” Riley said.
Ahead of their MAC opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 30, Neu said the biggest area of improvement for the Cardinals has nothing to do with physical skills. Simply put, Neu said Ball State needs to play with more confidence.
“I want to learn what we're all about as a team and how we’re going to respond to some real adversity,” Neu said. “We got embarrassed here at home. I'm gonna find out what our football team is made of and find out what our leadership in that locker room is made up of.
“I expect them to stick their chest out, put their chin up on it, take it on the chin like a man and move forward. Don't run and hide from it. Your problems are your problems. My problems are my problems.”