BY NATHAN GANGER | Ball State Sports Link
It’s the final week of the Mid-American Conference regular season and everything is on the line.
Ball State (4-1) has won four games in a row, while Western Michigan (4-1) is coming off a disappointing loss to a previously winless Eastern Michigan team.
With a MAC West title and a trip to Detroit for the MAC Championship at stake, Saturday’s game is the biggest one that Ball State has played in years.
Sports Link GameDay LIVE gets you ready for the action Saturday at 11 a.m. on social (@bsusportslink), leading up to kick on ESPN+ and with SL Digital (www.mixlr.com/bsusportslink).
Can Western Michigan’s defense get stops?
Ball State’s offense certainly has a huge advantage over Western Michigan’s defense, even if star running back Caleb Huntley isn’t able to play.
The Broncos’ defense has allowed 350 yards or more of total offense in four straight games, including 533 yards against Eastern Michigan.
Western Michigan allowed the Eagles to score on its final eight possessions of the game, and only forced one punt the entire game, on Eastern’s final possession.
The Eagles were 9-for-16 (56%) on third downs and converted both of their fourth down attempts.
Facing a Ball State offense with Drew Plitt, Justin Hall and Yo’Heinz Tyler will be an extremely difficult task for this Broncos defense.
They will need to get pressure against Plitt and make him uncomfortable in the pocket if the Broncos want to come out of Muncie with a win.
Can both teams get healthy?
Western Michigan’s primary concerns are at defensive end. Starters Ali Fayad and Andre Carter were on the field together last week for the first time since week one, although neither was at full strength.
“I’ve got two defensive ends with one leg – one on one side and one on the other,” Broncos head coach Tim Lester said.
For Western Michigan to get pressure on Plitt, Fayad and Carter will need to be healthy and active at the line of scrimmage.
“We played two games (against Ball State) with him as the quarterback,” Lester said. “One went to overtime and the other one went down to the last minute, and he’s just so efficient. He can make all the throws, but we got to get to him.”
For Ball State, the main concern is the status of running back Caleb Huntley who has missed the last two games due to a rib injury.
“It’s just really day-to-day,” Neu said of the status for his team’s leading rusher. “He was on the practice field a week ago going through the walkthroughs just to stay sharp mentally. We were holding out hope the day of the game there that he would go through pregame warm-up and be good to go, but unfortunately, he just didn’t feel good enough to go.”
The good news for the Cardinals is that Will Jones returned to the lineup last week against Central Michigan which helps the depth at running back. Tye Evans got the majority of the carries (18 carries for 64 yards), but having Will Jones back gives Ball State a veteran presence at running back.
Can Ball State control its emotions?
Ball State has worked all year to get a chance to go to Detroit to play for a MAC Championship. It’s right in front of them but to get to Detroit, they have to remain focused on Western Michigan.
This team has worked so hard to get to where they’re at and there will be plenty of emotions leading up to kickoff.
This is new territory for this era of Ball State football. The last time the Cardinals won the MAC West was in 2008 when Western Michigan came to Muncie and lost 45-22.
It’s time for history to repeat itself. Ball State will need to lean on its veterans to keep everyone focused and not look ahead to a potential game next week.
The Broncos have plenty of motivation as well. They’ve been so close the last two years to playing in the MAC championship but have come up short.
In 2018, Ball State ended Western Michigan’s chances of playing in Detroit and last year the Broncos lost, 17-14, to a 4-7 Northern Illinois team in the season finale.
It’s been “Detroit or Bust” for Ball State since the season began and now it’s time to go and make Detroit a reality.