Mike Neu has coached 89 games as head coach of Ball State football, 58 of which coming against Mid-American Conference (MAC) schools. However, in his eight seasons as the Cardinals’ leader, he has never faced Bowling Green.
Neu laughed as he said he couldn’t imagine why one of schools in closest proximity to Ball State hasn’t been scheduled as an opponent since 2015. The former Ball State quarterback went 1-2-1 against the Falcons during his time as a player in Muncie.
He mentioned his friendship with Bowling Green’s head coach, Scot Loeffler, former quarterback for the University of Michigan, as another reason he’s excited to square off against the Falcons. This matchup eight years in the making is the first of back-to-back ‘Midweek MACtion’ games for Ball State, televised Nov. 1 on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.
Neu admitted when he’s done watching film and preparing for the Cardinals’ upcoming opponent each week, he finds himself sitting in his living room watching whatever football game is on, whether it’s a Conference USA or Sun-Belt Conference matchup. Now that ‘Midweek MACtion’ has started, he said he is excited for Ball State to be “the only show in town” Wednesday.
Excitement aside, Ball State is also coming off its “mini bye week” as the Cardinals took a few days off following their homecoming win over Central Michigan with a 10-day gap between games.
“You never have time for everything, so sometimes being able to focus on a couple of days where you're just working on yourself is always a good thing,” Neu said.
Senior linebacker Cole Pearce seems to operate under an all football all the time mentality, but even he admitted the benefits of the time off, particularly as Ball State faces bowl contention elimination after its next loss.
“Having a little reset button mentally and physically during these last four weeks, because we know what's at stake, I think it's perfect timing,” Pearce said.
Ball State’s win Oct. 21 was the Cardinals’ first since Sept. 16 and just their second on the season. While Neu and others spoke on the joy that came with earning a win in front of a homecoming crowd for the first time since 2019, Pearce said the program operates under a 24-hour rule, a “one game at a time” mentality, quickly moving on to preparation for the next opponent.
“You don't really have time, good or bad, to dwell or spend a lot of time on something that has already happened,” Neu said. “It's always going to be full speed ahead.”
After allowing a combined 202 points in the first six games of the season, the Cardinals’ defense has only surrendered 30 in their last two outings. Pearce, who has 15 tackles and two tackles for loss in the past two games, said it was only a matter of time before the defense started to put things together and find success.
Pearce said the linebackers room doesn’t watch film from their standout plays, only focusing on ways they can improve. He said they have the confidence and peace of mind to know how to build off their successes, but remain focused on their mentality going into the final four games of the season.
“Never be satisfied,” Pearce said.
Despite the improved defensive prowess, Ball State has only forced one turnover in the past two weeks and six on the season. Bowling Green’s turnover margin in its last three wins has been +9, Neu’s biggest key for the Falcons’ 4-4 record; Bowling Green even defeated the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)’s Georgia Tech on the road.
While respecting the Falcons’ ability to force turnovers, Neu feels confident in the Cardinals’ offense under redshirt sophomore quarterback Kiael Kelly’s vision. Neu said he’s looking for continued efficiency in the Cardinals’ offense, as Kelly went 13-for-16 through the air with 169 total yards and a touchdown against Central Michigan. Additionally, he has only given the ball away once in his two starts.
“It speaks to the decision making piece of it, and he doesn’t force it,” Neu said. “He's a dangerous weapon with his legs and he can make some good things happen that way as well.”
While Neu circled the Falcons’ ability to force turnovers as the number one area of focus in Ball State’s gameplan, he also credited sophomore running back Terion Stewart for much of Bowling Green’s offensive success. Stewart has 670 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
In comparison, redshirt junior Marquez Cooper has been a standout rusher in the MAC for the past three seasons and wants to finish this season with at least 1000 rushing yards, something he has done the past two seasons. He particularly said he thrives against Bowling Green, something evident when he rushed for 93 yards last season and 120 yards with two touchdowns in 2021.
“It fires me up just to see and let the other back know who the best is,” Cooper said. “If there’s a hole I’m gonna find it.”