BY NATHAN GANGER | Ball State Sports Link
The Ball State Cardinals (6-1) have completed their mission of winning the MAC Championship, and now they look to make history once again on New Year’s Eve in the Arizona Bowl vs. No. 19 San Jose State (7-0).
Here’s what to watch for today at 2 p.m. on CBS.
Both teams are having one of the best seasons in their programs history and feature high-powered offenses.
San Jose State, like Ball State, has faced adversity and has had to fight through some difficult seasons. In 2018, the Spartans were a lowly 1-11, while Ball State was 4-8. Fast forward to 2020 and both teams are conference champions and also are playing the best football these two programs have seen in a long time.
These two programs are nearly identical. In a combined 14 games played, Ball State and San Jose State have scored 30 points or more in 11 out of those 14 games.
Looking at these two offenses, they both have experienced quarterbacks at the helm. San Jose State senior quarterback Nick Starkel has been with two SEC schools, Texas A&M and Arkansas, and has plenty of experience to go along with an accurate and strong arm.
Drew Plitt has been slinging the football all over the field this year to Justin Hall, Yo’Heinz Tyler and the rest of this dynamic Ball State offense.
The two quarterbacks have had stunningly similar statistics this season. Starkel has thrown for 1,906 yards, 16 touchdowns, and only four interceptions. Plitt has tossed 1,937 yards, also has 16 touchdowns to go along with six interceptions.
These guys are smart, make big plays and are the huge reasons why San Jose State and Ball State have seen so much success.
Can Ball State get better pass protection?
Despite having one of the best offenses in the MAC this year, the one area the Cardinals have struggled is in sacks. Plitt has been sacked 24 times this season, compared to just five times for Nick Starkel.
San Jose State has an elite pass rush collecting 23 sacks, 10 of those coming from junior defensive lineman Cade Hall. It’s not just Hall who is dangerous, sophomore Viliami Feheko has five sacks in the 2020 campaign. Those two account for 65 percent of San Jose State’s sacks.
For a Ball State offensive line that’s given up a lot of sacks, it is imperative the Cardinals find a way to neutralize Hall and Feheko and keep Plitt on his feet.
Can Ball State continue to get opportunistic turnovers?
The Ball State defense all season has created timely turnovers that ultimately have been a huge momentum shift towards the Cardinals.
Over its last four games, Ball State has forced 10 takeaways and none bigger than the scoop and score by Christian Albright vs. Buffalo in the MAC Championship.
San Jose State has rarely turned the ball over this year. The Spartans have committed five turnovers in seven games and have yet to lose a fumble. Ball State is +6 in the turnover margin and its defense has been continued to force takeaways.
Will Ball State get their first ever bowl win?
Bowl games have traditionally not been kind to the Cardinals, as they are 0-7 all time. The last time Ball State was in a bowl game was 2014 in the GoDaddy Bowl vs. Arkansas State, a tough 23-20 loss.
San Jose State is the biggest challenge Ball State has faced all year. They are solid in all three phases. This is also the second game in a row that the Cardinals have faced a ranked opponent.
To beat a Top 25 team in back-to-back games would be huge for this program. San Jose State is a 9.5 point favorite over the Cardinals, but being the underdog is nothing new to this team. This team has fought through so much, not only this year but in past seasons as well.
The senior class is going out as MAC Champions, and hopefully they can secure Ball State’s first ever bowl win in Tucson as well.