Ball State heads into Eastern Michigan 1-4 and 0-1 in the Mid-American Conference. Although it can look bleak, the Cardinals are prepared to fight.
“Rocky got knocked down in every fight, but he just keeps on getting up,” Neu said about the fight of the team. He says he has fought, scratched and clawed before and that the season is not over yet.
Redshirt senior linebacker Cole Pearce is all in as well.
“We are not going to quit, we are going to keep going… we are not going to lay down and forget about the entire season. We have plenty of games left in the season,” Pearce said.
After the loss to Western Michigan though, Neu said the group was maybe lacking some confidence. He plans to focus on the positives from each week to help build that confidence while continuing to work on those negatives each week.
“We want to focus on us and the things we do well,” Neu said. “Playing fast, playing with confidence, and if we can stack plays up that way, it totally changes your mindset as a football team. If you have some confidence and things are going well, that can do a lot for your entire program.”
Someone who brings confidence is graduate student quarterback Layne Hatcher, who earned his second start last week.
“Confidence comes from work,” Hatcher said. “The harder you work, the more confidence you usually have. I think we will put in a good week of work and build our confidence up to Saturday.”
When you hear Hatcher step into the huddle, there is a different sound when it breaks, Neu said.
“The things Layne brings to the table are the intangibles,” Neu said.
Intangibles. The communication, making sure the group knows that down it is, making sure they know the distance, making sure they know the hash, making sure they know what personnel groups are coming off of the field, all things that have been ingrained in Hatcher, Neu said.
“He has always been a fighter, and it has been great to see that week in and week out,” Neu said.
Even with the personal success from last week, Hatcher said the team still has to do more to win, nevertheless, it is something to build off of with the progress being made. Saying that a key for the offense to be successful is the offense not hurting themselves with penalties or turnovers.
“When we get in our own way, it can cause problems,” Hatcher said.
Even though Hatcher was not the starter for weeks two through four, he believes he was able to learn during that time.
“I think it gave me the aspect of watching the games from the sideline and picking up anything I could,” Hatcher said. “It is always good to have different perspectives at times, but I like being on the field too.”
With the success from Hatcher, Neu said it was still a story of two halves, saying penalties were a big problem last Saturday. The Cardinals dug themselves in too much of a hole to come back from against the Broncos, Neu said.
“We have to work hard to make sure that is not something that happens again,” Neu said. “I feel confident that it won’t happen again.”
Pearce also emphasized the penalties against Western Michigan, saying that the team cannot have that if they want to win. He said the personal fouls are something they absolutely have to eliminate.
“We are going to continue to address it and continue to be smarter on the football field,” Pearce said.
When it comes to the defense, Neu said it will take more discipline to improve while also making sure they are trying not to do too much. Do your job, do your job, do your job, he said he has been harping on the team this week.
Although the defense is injury-stricken, Neu said it is just a part of the game in the end. He said it is going to be something you see everyone has to deal with. That being said, Neu has harped that with those injuries there has to be a next-man-up mentality for the team to be successful.
One of those players with the next-man-up mentality is Pearce. Even though he has been a recurring starter, he said he has found himself in a little bit of a bigger role with the injury senior linebacker Clayton Coll sustained.
“I am trying my best every week to do the best I can for this defense and the front seven,” Pearce said.
With injuries plaguing the defense Pearce said changes can be hard, but the group is determined to keep working. He said things the defense needs to clean up its execution and communication.
The defense will also have their hands full with Eagle junior quarterback Austin Smith. Neu accredited Smith, saying his dual threat is going to be hard to stop with his rushing and passing ability. Neu said he has greatly improved since the last time Ball State faced him a year ago.
Last year the Cardinals saw Smith and Eastern Michigan on homecoming, a game that ended in a 16-20 loss.
With that loss last year, Pearce plans to remind the defense about that loss. He said they are a good team and the defense is going to have to execute better than they did against Western Michigan if they want to come out with a win.
Even though the Eagles are undefeated at home this season the bottom line is that Neu believes in his football team. Saying he tells them every chance he gets. Even though he said things haven't gone their way yet, there is still football left to play.
Pearce echoed his coach, saying adversity is going to happen, losses are going to happen and things will happen that will take the morale down. Pearce believes that the leaders on the team will step up to help the younger group gain confidence.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Oct. 7 in Ypsilanti, Michigan.