For the first time since 2019, Ball State football wins on homecoming and keeps the Cardinals in bowl game contention. It also marks Ball State's first Mid-American Conference (MAC) win of the season.
Coming off of a close last-minute loss against Toledo, Ball State was a 5.5-point underdog coming into the game today against Central Michigan. Here are three takeaways from the first Ball State FBS win since Nov. 1, 2022.
Setting the tone: Quick and effective start for the Cardinals
After holding Central Michigan to a field goal, on the first Ball State possession, the offense looked the best they have all year. Head coach Mike Neu said it was the best start to a game all season. It was also the first time Ball State had scored on the first drive of the season.
In just about three minutes, Ball State was able to march down the field and score. The Cardinals were so effective that they did not face a single third down on the drive.
Led by redshirt sophomore Kiael Kelly. Not only was he 2-for-2 passing, but his three-yard rushing touchdown gave the Cardinals a 7-3 lead. It was his first collegiate touchdown. He had 36 yards through the air during the drive, almost eclipsing his total of 38 yards total against Toledo.
Sophomore tight end Tanner Koziol was able to rack in a reception for 26 yards, setting up the Cardinals within the red zone. Redshirt junior running back Marquez Cooper added 22 yards on the ground in the first drive.
Although the next two drives resulted in a punt and a field goal, it is apparent when things are clicking, that the Cardinal offense can put up some points. That being said, it is almost a little late for that being this far into the season.
Marquez Cooper shines
With the running game a heavy focus in the first half of action, Cooper was able to rack up 102 yards on only 11 rushes. It was Cooper's 15th time in his career notching over 100 rushing yards.
Cooper averaged 9.3 yards in the first half per rush with a long of 39 yards. The rush was his longest rush of the season and set up Ball State for a field goal.
Cooper had more first-half yards than the entire Central Michigan offense had in the first half. When he is able to have a big game on the ground, it is able to open up the offense as a whole.
Cooper finished with 162 yards on the ground and was able to score a touchdown as well, his second touchdown of the season.
As a whole, Ball State out-rushed the Chippewas 243 yards to 99 yards.
What could’ve been
With Kiael Kelly's second start, it is easy to say that the Cardinals as a whole just seemed to play with more energy. Faster offense, a better run game and sometimes just more momentum. It brings in the question, what if Kelly had started every game this year?
Although this question is impossible to have a definite answer, Ball State might not have been in the 2-6 hole they currently find themselves in.
With the run-pass option (RPO) led by Kelly, it creates the opposing defensive line to not only watch Kelly but also watch whichever running back is with Kelly. Trying to guess which option the Cardinals go with also brings another challenge, guessing wrong could result in a big rush from either Kelly or the running back.
Kelly finished with 16 passing attempts against Toledo and finished with the same number today against the Chippewas. He finished 13-for-16 on passing attempts and although the results of his two starts were 1-1, the loss against the Rockets came down to the last possession.
Today, Kelly finished with 101 yards through the air and 64 yards with his feet. He racked up two touchdowns as well, both rushing.
Ball State will be back in action against Bowling Green Nov. 1, with the time of kickoff still to be decided.