BY CAMERON SURDYK | Ball State Sports Link
After an unforgettable finish against Western Michigan to clinch the MAC West, the Ball State Cardinals have at long last fulfilled their season long motto of “Detroit or Bust” and made it to Ford Field.
Current Ball State students — and even graduates — should be forgiven if they can’t remember the last time that BSU was in the MAC Championship game, and that’s because it was 12 years ago in 2008.
Back then, Brady Hoke’s Cards were coming off a perfect 12-0 regular season and were ranked 12th in the country. They were also the favorites to beat the Buffalo Bulls, a team that in 2008 was celebrating its 20th season in the conference.
The Bulls were 7-5 coming into their penultimate game of the season in Detroit and weren’t expected to put up much of a fight against a Ball State team that boasted the most potent offense in the MAC with the duo of quarterback Nate Davis and running back MiQuale Lewis.
Davis came into that game having thrown a touchdown pass in 29 out of his last 30 games and against Buffalo he threw for one touchdown and 351 yards.
Lewis rushed for two touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough to beat Buffalo, who, on the day, was spectacular. Bulls quarterback Drew Willy completed 67.7% of all his passes, including three touchdown passes, to lead a surprisingly explosive Buffalo offense.
Add in five Ball State turnovers and you’ve got yourself the ultimate upset in the MAC that season. Neither team has won the MAC title since then.
Flash forward to 2020 and the roles are reversed. Buffalo is a ranked team at No. 23 in the AP Poll and also undefeated at 5-0 with a cancellation.
Friday’s meeting at Ford Field will be the 12th all-time meeting between the two schools. The Cardinals own a 9-2 lead, but are 0-1 on a neutral field — 2008 in Detroit.
“The mindset for us was Detroit or bust, and that was the mantra that was established way back in January,” Ball State head coach Mike Neu said. “Our guys worked with tremendous focus and tremendous energy every day, knowing our goal was to win a MAC championship. And we’ve put ourselves in that position.”
If Ball State wants to avenge its 2008 loss, it will have to do what they didn’t do very well on that fateful day, protect the football.
This current Ball State team is on track to do just that. They’ve only turned the ball over six times all season, five times in the air and once on the ground.
The Cardinals will need to keep up that form in order to keep the ball away from one of the best running backs not just in the Mid American Conference, but in the entire country.
Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson made headlines earlier in the season when he rushed for a whopping eight touchdowns — an FBS record — in the Bulls contest against Kent State, a 70-41 win in Buffalo.
Patterson’s back-to-back 300 plus rushing yard games was the first since Ricky Williams for Texas in 1996. Williams, of course, went on to win the Heisman Trophy that season and played in the NFL.
With such awesome power at their disposal, expect Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold to ground and pound for a majority of the game.
Also expect Tyler Stockton’s Ball State defensive unit to be hyper focused on Patterson. Ball State’s defense so far this season has been optimal in comparison to previous years.
With the additions of newly christened first team All-MAC grad transfer from Rice Anthony Ekpe, as well as fellow grad transfer from Sacred Heart Chris Ageymang working wonders for the Cardinals, the battle at the line of scrimmage could prove vital to either side.
Ekpe leads the MAC with 5.0 sacks. He has two strip-sacks, one at Miami and one to seal the Cardinals’ win at Toledo, and also leads the league in forced fumbles with two.
BSU has racked up 29 tackles for loss over the past three games. Fifteen different BSU players have been involved in a TFL over the past three weeks.
Ball State, conversely, will have a few surprises for this UB defense. With Caleb Huntley officially declaring his intentions to focus his preparation on the upcoming NFL draft, a combination of Tye Evans and Will Jones have stepped in to take his place.
However, Jones ran for 71 yards against WMU and Evans registered 25 on the ground as Ball State struggled to establish a strong running presence against the Broncos.
This will need to be improved upon however, as Buffalo’s defense will likely be focused on Ball State’s star wide receiver Justin Hall. Hall has been Drew Plitt’s number one target this season and he is currently leading all of the FBS in career receptions.