What To Watch For: Week 3 (Northern Illinois)

BY NATHAN GANGER | Ball State Sports Link

Ball State (1-1) is coming off a dramatic come from behind 38-31 victory over Eastern Michigan, and this week it takes on rival Northern Illinois (0-2).

Here’s what to watch for on Wednesday night with the Bronze Stalk trophy on the line. 

Can Ball State get off to a better start? 

The Cardinals got off to a slow start last week as it trailed 21-10 in the second quarter. Star running back Caleb Huntley scored two second half touchdowns to lead the comeback but getting a lead early in the game is super important against a desperate Northern Illinois team.

Expect the Huskies to come out motivated and angry after getting off to an 0-2 start and losing to two of the top teams in the MAC (Buffalo and Central Michigan). 

Can the Cardinals defense build off the second half success vs EMU? 

After giving up 21 points in the first half vs Eastern Michigan, Ball State’s defense settled in and dominated the second half, giving up only 10 points.

Redshirt junior linebacker Brandon Martin led the way defensively and was named the MAC West division defensive player of the week after collecting a career-high 15 tackles. Through the first two games of the 2020 season, Martin leads the MAC in solo tackles (14) and total tackles (26).  

What will Caleb Huntley do next? 

Caleb Huntley has been absolutely dominant through two games and has taken his game to another level. The senior scored three touchdowns – including the game winner with six seconds left – and rushed for a career high 204 yards against Eastern Michigan last week.

Huntley knows only one speed and that is full speed. His ability to stay on his feet and power his way through defenders makes him so difficult to defend. Huntley reached over 100 yards for the sixth straight game which ties the Ball State record. He leads the MAC in rushing average (167) and touchdowns (5).  

“He loves hard work, he loves to play, and he loves his teammates, ” Ball State head coach Mike Neu said. “And his teammates love blocking for him. He’s one of those guys who is a rare player.”

Can Ball State retain the Bronze Stalk trophy? 

The Cardinals beat Northern Illinois on the road last season to win the Bronze Stalk trophy for the first time since 2008. Ball State came from behind by double digits to steal the win and the trophy.

No surprise here, Caleb Huntley ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the rain to lead the way for the Cardinals. This year, however, Ball State cannot overlook this Northern Illinois team.

The Huskies are 0-2 and desperately need this win. Recent history is not on Ball State’s side, as the Cardinals are 1-9 in their last 10 meetings vs NIU.

Ball State needs to remain focused on the goals at hand: retaining the Bronze Stalk trophy and getting a win to continue the climb to Detroit. 

“We’re going to have to go out and execute at a high level because it’s going to be another tough matchup here, and the Bronze Stalk trophy is at stake,” Neu said. “It’s really important to our guys and our program that we put two games together in regard to that. We want to keep that trophy here.”

Sports Link GameDay LIVE starts at 6p, followed the by the game on ESPNews and SL Digital at 7p.

Author: Nathan Ganger