“Every week is a championship”: Ball State football is forced to win out to be bowl eligible, but it all starts with Central Michigan on homecoming.

Redshirt sophmore quarterback Kiael Kelly runs the ball in a game against Toledo Oct 14 at Sceumann Stadium. Kelly threw 38 yards and rushed for 98 in the game. Andrew Berger, DN
Redshirt sophmore quarterback Kiael Kelly runs the ball in a game against Toledo Oct 14 at Sceumann Stadium. Kelly threw 38 yards and rushed for 98 in the game. Andrew Berger, DN

Coming off of a 13-6 loss at the hands of Toledo, the Cardinals are with their backs against the wall, forced to win the next five games in a row if they hope to see a bowl game. 

To win out, Ball State must start the win streak on homecoming against Central Michigan. 

“Every week is a championship game from here on out,” junior linebacker Keionté Newson said. 

With those games left, head coach Mike Neu does not look at it as if they must focus on the long term, he is more focused on going day by day, game by game. 

Newson echoed his coach's mentality when looking at the rest of the season. He said that it can definitely be a thought that Ball State has to win out to make a bowl game, but taking things one game at a time and focusing on the now will result in those things coming. 

Before focusing on the now, it is essential to dive deeper into the 13-6 loss against Toledo. A rainy, low-scoring affair. 

Even though the Toledo game ended in an eventual loss, Neu said he is proud of how the Cardinals competed and worked their hardest for four quarters. He said on and off the sidelines, the team worked to pick each other up throughout. 

Neu also gave credit to redshirt sophomore quarterback Kiael Kelly for his decisions and how he handled the ball in “tricky conditions” against the Rockets. 

Kelly was given the keys on the final possession, but Ball State was not able to convert the final drive to take the lead. Kelly said he is getting more comfortable with the one-score games and big possessions. He said having the right mindset and having the moment not be too big is a way he looks to keep himself level-headed. 

“If I am not calm then I cannot lead the rest of these people who are expecting me to be at the top of my game,” Kelly said. 

The defensive unit was able to hold Toledo to only 13 points, the Rockets' lowest point total of the season. Newson said the communication of the defense was a major effort in only allowing 13 points to one of the best teams in the Mid-American Conference (MAC).

Newson is looking at Toledo as a game to build upon, saying they probably have the best offense they will see. He said the defense put up 50 good minutes of defense but the other 10 minutes the defense gave up explosive plays, something he said the defensive room will target and work on for Central Michigan and future games.

For the first time all season, Cardinal fans can now expect to see redshirt sophomore quarterback Kiael Kelly under center for Ball State.

Neu said that with Kelly as the solidified starter it will help the weekly preparations in just knowing who will for sure be under center come Saturday. 

Even if Kelly was limited to only 16 passes against Toledo, despite this, he said he has no preference on if he is running the ball or passing the ball. He also said that there are a lot of situations where it was a run-pass option (RPO), so he could either hand it off or pass it. As far as expanding the offense for Kelly, Neu plans to work with him and the offense to add more things they prefer running to grow confidence. 

With the immense rushing ability, Kelly has to break down plays situationally for an RPO. His process is simple (for him). 

  1. Check to see what the defense is in. If Kelly likes what formation the defense and defensive line is in for the play, it will usually be a run. If not, it will have to be a pass. 
  2. Get the snap and read the defense. The first read is if the defense thinks Kelly is going to run, hand it to running back Marquez Cooper. If the defense thinks Cooper is running it, Kelly takes it. 
  3. Finish reads. Take it out for a run or pass. 

All of this is happening within just a few seconds. Kelly said his time on the scout team and his experience have allowed him to get better and used to reading defenses and running an RPO. During his time on the scout team, he earned the Bill Meitzler Scout Team Player of the Year for an offensive player in 2021. 

Even though he was glad to start his first game last week, Kelly said it was almost bittersweet. 

“I am sure it is not the same as your first win... I'll be happy to cherish the moment once we win,” Kelly said. 

With all the upsides to a “dynamic running” quarterback with Kelly, Neu said the only disadvantages would be when he feels like he needs to do too much. 

As far as what Central Michigan brings, Neu is focused on preparing for the defensive effort, accrediting their depth and experience in the defensive line and linebackers. 

On the flip side of the ball, Neu said it is going to be a challenge to stop the Central Michigan redshirt sophomore quarterback Jase Bauer who is a dual-threat quarterback. 

Bauer has 60 rushing attempts on the season with 200 yards, he also is averaging over 150 yards through the air per game. 

Newson said that he has seen a few things on film that the defense can do to perhaps create turnovers off of the Chippewas offense. 

With injuries sustained early in the season, Newson has now been in his new role as a linebacker for six weeks. Newson said that the linebacker group as a whole has been helping him throughout to help him through “growing pains.”

“[I am] the most comfortable you can be like you’re at home sitting in your living room, it doesn’t get any more comfortable than that,” Newson said. 

Homecoming will bring support from the comfort of the living room each and every year to Muncie, Indiana. Neu said with the homecoming support coming out to watch the team that it is a meaningful game each year.

“Everything the university does to make the week special all week long, now we have to do our part,” Neu said. “If you want it to be a great homecoming week, the football team has to do our part.” 

Being on a four-game losing streak, Newson said a win would liven everybody up. He said that the spirits are not down, but that he can tell that there is a different way people walk around when you are winning and losing. 

“Eventually we are going to break through,” Neu said.

Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at Scheumann Stadium. 

Contact Elijah Poe via email at elijah.poe@bsu.edu or on X @ElijahPoe4.


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