Written by Noah Reed | @NoahReed_24
Host of 3rd Down Chirp GameDay
Member of Ball State Sports Link
Ball State (2-5, 1-3 MAC) fell last Saturday to Georgia State, 31-19. A few botched plays and missed opportunities led to a Cardinals’ loss in their final non-conference game before heading into the heart of the MAC schedule.
“At the end of the day, I have to find a way to get it done and get through to them to do it,” head coach Pete Lembo said. “But if we have the right guys, which I believe we do, they’re going to find a way to work on those things, too.”
Ball State was able to get on the board first with a 35-yard Morgan Hagee field goal with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
But once again, the second quarter proved to be the Achilles heel for the Cardinals, as Georgia State scored 17 in that frame to open up a 24-10 halftime advantage.
The Cardinals opened the second half with nine straight points, thanks to Hagee’s second field goal of the afternoon as well as a 19-yard strike from quarterback Riley Neal to senior wide receiver Jordan Williams. Ball State failed on the two-point conversion attempt, which would have cut the Georgia State lead to only three.
Instead, the Cardinals gave the ball back to Georgia State, trailing 24-19. Ball State had its opportunities late in the fourth to seize the lead, but couldn’t find a way to convert.
Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle scored his second rushing touchdown of the game on a 1-yard QB sneak with just over two minutes remaining to put it out of reach for Ball State.
“It’s a very disappointing loss,” Lembo said. “We didn’t play well in the second quarter on either side of the ball.”
Arbuckle caused all sorts of problems for the Ball State defense through the air. The quarterback threw for 246 yards in the first half alone. Arbuckle ended the afternoon with 412 yards, only two yards shy of his own single-game school record. He added a touchdown through the air going 28-for-38, to go along with his two on the ground.
Freshman quarterback Riley Neal had another “Riley Neal like” performance. Neal threw for 218 yards while completing 28 of his 48 passes and two touchdowns. That brings his season total to 10 touchdowns. Neal has now thrown for 200+ yards in each of his last three games.
KeVonn Mabon, who was the team’s leading receiver in the game leading up to the fourth quarter, left the game with eight minutes left because of an injury. Mabon finished with seven receptions for 55 yards.
Williams also had seven catches for 68 yards to go along with this touchdown. For Williams, he now has a touchdown reception in four of his last five games.
Noah’s 3 Questions heading into Central Michigan
- How good is Cooper Rush?
When asked if he thought quarterback Cooper Rush was the best college quarterback in the state of Michigan, Central Michigan Head Coach John Bonamego said, “I think he’s the best quarterback in the country. I wouldn’t trade him for anyone.”
While yes that is probably very biased, it helps if you’re Cooper Rush to know that your head coach 100% believes in you to get the job done.
Saying that Rush is the best quarterback in the state would be quite the statement the way it is, with two teams ranked inside the top 15 in the country (Michigan State #7, Michigan #15), but to say best in the country is very bold.
Rush, though, has lived up to his coach’s praise. He is throwing for 297 yards per game, which is good for 19th in the nation behind only Matt Johnson of Bowling Green and Blake Frohnapfel of UMASS for MAC leaders.
Rush has thrown for over 300 yards in four of Central Michigan’s seven games and only once has he failed to throw for over 200 yards. The Ball State defense will have its hands full on Saturday, as it gives up 295 yards through the air per game.
- How can Ball State’s offense be successful against Central Michigan?
Run the ball. Run the ball. Run the ball some more.
The defense of Central Michigan is nowhere near as explosive as the CMU offense is. The Chippewas surrender over 150 yards per game on the ground, more than 30 yards per game more than they gave up last year.
We’ve seen at different times this season how deadly the Ball State run game can be. Through the first four weeks of the season, the lowest output the Cardinals had on the ground was 181 yards. That was against the #1 scoring defense in the country at Northwestern.
The Cardinals struggled running it for two weeks in a row against Toledo and Northern Illinois, averaging just 68 yards per game in those two contests. But with that being said, Ball State began to get back on track last weekend against Georgia State.
The Cardinals rushed for 154 yards against the Panthers, with most of the damage coming from Darian Green and James Gilbert.
Look for the Ball State running backs to get lots of opportunities to run the ball on Saturday against the Central Michigan defense?
- Can the Cardinals continue to be disciplined?
Ball State, regardless of what its 2-5 record might say, is one of the most disciplined teams you can find.
The Cardinals are the least penalized team in the MAC and in the Top 15 in the country. Ball State has only been called for 26 penalties all year long, with the next lowest being Northern Illinois at 39. The Cardinals only give up about 35 yards per game due to penalties which is 15 yards fewer than the second least penalized team.
The turnover battle is also something the Cardinals seem to win almost week in and week out. Ball State, who played a turnover free game last week against Georgia State, is +5 on the year in turnover margin.
In last year’s matchup in Mount Pleasant, the Chippewas were heavy favorites heading into the game. But because of Ball State causing five Central Michigan turnovers, the Cardinals were able to knock down a last second Scott Secor field goal as time expired to beat the Chippewas.