BY SHAEMUS KREIDER | Ball State Sports Link
In a short six-game schedule, the road to the Mid-American Conference Championship in Detroit is narrow, and another loss could prove too much to handle for both the Ball State Cardinals and Eastern Michigan Eagles.
This week’s matchup between the Cardinals and Eagles is Ball State’s home opener at Scheumann Stadium. Sports Link GameDay LIVE starts at 6p, followed by kick at 7 p.m on SL Digital and CBS Sports Network
Fourth quarter touchdowns left a sour aftertaste for Ball State and Eastern Michigan in Week 1. A loss tonight could potentially bring a premature end to the Cardinals’ ‘Detroit or Bust’ motto.
Last year, a trip to Ypsilanti was one piece of a 3-0 conference start. Ball State did not lead until the fourth quarter, when an Antonio Phillips interception led to a Drew Plitt rushing touchdown.
With a late 29-23 lead, Ray Wilborn and Jordan Williams forced two EMU turnovers to preserve the win.
Ball State lost three close games in the final four weeks of the year, but the 2019 Eastern Michigan win showed this team can win close games.
With the path to Detroit and the MAC Championship wide open, Ball State looks to get back on track with what could be another close game.
Key 1: Air it out to Justin Hall.
Week one’s offense was all about star wide receiver Justin Hall.
141 total yards and two touchdowns led the way for Ball State’s offense in their fifth straight game above 30 points. Hall’s 109 receiving yards in last year’s contest was the driving force behind the late comeback.
With Yo’Heinz Tyler and Antwan Davis supplementing the receiving core, Hall will be able to find space to operate against an inexperienced Eastern Michigan secondary.
Tyler and Davis combined for 176 receiving yards in versus Miami.
Key 2: Keep the Eagles’ running game in check.
Offensively, the Eagles are replacing QB Mike Glass III and RB Shaq Vann. Glass and Vann accounted for 1,143 yards on the ground last season.
Through one week, EMU head coach Chris Creighton has not found a reliable option on the ground. Working from behind against Kent State, the Eagles mustered just 61 yards on the ground on 32 carries.
Even worse, about half of those yards came on one Darius Boone run, a 34-yarder in the first quarter.
Without Shaq Vann due to injury, the Eagles rushed for just 2.7 yards per carry in last year’s loss. If Ball State holds Eastern Michigan to similar numbers, it’s tough to foresee a Ball State loss.
Key 3: Pressure Preston Hutchinson.
Mike Glass III is replaced by the pocket-passing Preston Hutchinson. Hutchinson, a junior, played well across four games in 2019.
In his first career start, Hutchinson led the Eagles to a win versus Western Michigan. His stat line was otherworldly in the key contest: 31/36, 357 yards with three touchdowns.
Kent State proved to be more of a challenge for Hutchinson. Hutchinson was sacked five times, throwing two crucial interceptions. He did not show an ability to rush the football, rushing for negative yardage.
If the Cardinals win the line of scrimmage, Hutchinson will have trouble staying comfortable. If the Eagles quarterback is allowed time to sit in the pocket, he will be able to pick apart the Ball State secondary, like Miami quarterback A.J. Mayer did last week.
Key 4: Win the trenches.
Miami rushed Ball State’s Drew Plitt quite well last week, bringing down Plitt six times. The Redhawks rushed out of pocket on multiple occasions, including on the deciding Miami interception.
The offensive line was the lone weakness in Week 1 offensively, as it works to replace Luke Martin and Danny Pinter. If they shore up their game in Week 2, expect the Cardinals to coast to an easy win.