BY CAMERON SURDYK | Ball State Sports Link
Ball State football fans will likely want to take a deep breath after that win against Toledo in which the Cards survived a late surge by the Rockets to pick up an important victory on the road.
Unfortunately, things will only get tougher from here for the Cardinals.
Eliminating Toledo from MAC West contention on the road is an impressive feat for sure, but the Cards will have to overcome some demons from last season’s traumatic collapse if they want to put pressure on undefeated Western Michigan going into the final week of the regular season.
It’s our guys believing,” Ball State head coach Mike Neu said. “It’s our guys staying positive and our guys knowing that it’s up to us when we get into those critical moments or those late-game situations.
“Last year was the first time we were in some of those, so we have that close-game experience and now in order to take the next step, we had to emphasize it over and over in practice. Our guys took those periods in practice very serious, very game-like, and it’s good to see that hard work by our young men paying off.”
Central Michigan went from being 1-11 in 2018, with its only win coming against FCS Maine, to an 8-6 record, a MAC Championship appearance, and a trip to Albuquerque to play San Diego State in the New Mexico Bowl.
The single biggest turnaround in the FBS was thanks to the appointment of head coach Jim McElwain in 2019. And in 2020, the Chips are continuing their ascension as a program.
Tied with Ball State at 3-1 in the MAC standings, this matchup will be make or break for both teams in this six game adjusted season.
The series between the two team is tight. Overall, CMU leads 26-25-1. The games are evenly split in Mt. Pleasant, 12-12.
The Cardinals will be looking to avenge last season’s heartbreaking defeat to Central Michigan in which they led the Chippewas in double digits at the half, but ultimately lost by a single point at the end of regulation, 45-44.
The Chippewas erased a 17-point BSU lead in Muncie, scoring with 1:01 left on the clock to secure the victory.
CMU quarterback Quentin Dormady was allowed 356 passing yards and running back Johnathan Ward added four touchdowns as the Chips scored 20 in the third and 14 in the fourth quarters. All this despite turning the ball over on three consecutive possessions in the first half.
Central Michigan’s last game against Eastern Michigan should ring a bell then. The Chips were down 20-6 in the fourth quarter and had, prior to that, turned the ball over THREE consecutive times before losing redshirt quarterback Daniel Richardson to injury.
Sam Houston State transfer turned junior quarterback Ty Brock orchestrated three consecutive touchdown drives in relief of Richardson and led CMU to a 31-23 victory.
The Chippewas outscored the Eagles 25-3 in the final quarter and seemed hard pressed to stop giving teams a sense of security late in games.
If Ball State wants vengeance in 2020, it will have to do so on the defensive side of the ball. This is nothing new for the Cardinals, they’ve won their last two games on defensive stands and are getting good at closing out tight games.
Central Michigan ranks 12th nationally in rushing offense (239.2 ypg) behind RBs Kobe Lewis (97.8) and Lew Nichols III (84.3). On defense, the
Chippewas feature the league’s top tackles-for-loss duo in DL Mohamed Diallo (9) and LB Troy Hairston II (8).
Ball State survived a late surge by Toledo, with senior transfer Anthony Ekpe strip sacking Toledo QB Eli Peters with less than a minute left in regulation in order to secure the W on the road for the Cardinals.
All in all, it won’t be enough for Ball State to go ahead big early. This Chippewas team has proven, time and time again, it is more than happy to win no matter how late in the day it might be.
The good news for the Cardinals is, they are beginning to develop the championship mentality that comes with finishing out close games and surviving big runs from tough opponents.
The Toledo game should be a turning point for a defense growing in confidence, ripe with stars like Antonio Philips, Bryce Cosby and Brandon Martin, that believe they can stop anything that Central Michigan throws at them.
Saturday looks to be another close game. Five of the past six meetings between the Cardinals and the Chippewas have been decided by three points or fewer, including BSU victories on game-winning field goals in the final minute in Mount Pleasant in 2014 and 2018.