By Dane Massey | Sports Link
MUNCIE, Ind — The prodigious atmosphere of Scheumann Stadium will return on Saturday as Ball State gets set to take on Western Michigan for their first conference game of the season.
Despite losing to Tennessee on the road for the season opener, the Cardinals are looking to start fresh this week as they have a great opportunity to get not only their first win of the season in their home opener but to make a statement in the MAC.
The Broncos, much like Ball State, are also coming off of a tough loss to a power five conference opponent in Michigan State. The Broncos hung in with the Spartans for most of the game, making it an eight-point game going into the fourth quarter. The Spartans then scored 14 answered points to run away with the win.
Also much like Ball State, the Broncos had a new facing starting under center. Freshman quarterback Jack Salopek did alright for his first start, going for just 193 yards with a 58.3 completion percentage. Compared to Ball State’s own John Paddock who threw for 269 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions (he also finished with a 62.8 completion percentage).
To go along with Ball State has won three of the last four meetings against Western Michigan with those three meetings being won by seven points or less. Two out of those wins by Ball State were achieved in the most bizarre endings. In 2018, Ball State stopped the Broncos on a two-point conversion attempt to seal the win. In 2020, the Broncos scored with no time left on the clock but a penalty overturned the score and Ball State ran away with the victory. This matchup has been a dogfight for years and is expected to be another thrilling game this year.
As the Cardinals get ready for their home opener, here are a few keys to keep an eye on the watch list for Ball State’s first conference game of the year.
John Paddock the Redeemer
It was definitely an interesting week one for the junior out of Bloomington Hills, Mich. In his first-ever play as the full-time starting quarterback, Paddock threw an interception on a flea flicker pass intended for running back Carson Steele. Paddock would throw another interception in the second quarter as he ended the first half completing 16 of 24 passes for 157 yards on top of those two picks.
“His look when he came off the field, that did not shake him up. He handled himself very well on the sideline,” Head Coach Mike New said. “He does a great job communicating with his teammates, he didn’t even blink. I thought he handled himself well and came back and just competed as he always does.”
And compete he did! After the first half slump, Paddock rebounded significantly throwing for 112 yards and a touchdown, along with a 55.6 completion percentage in the second half. Despite the loss, Paddock was one of the bright lights of this offense, as he showed his ability to deliver the deep ball to his receivers against one of college football’s most improved defenses. About 37 percent of his completions were for ten yards or more, resulting in Paddock achieving 59 percent of the 17 first downs that Ball State had the entire game.
This week, Paddock has an opportunity to shine. Putting up 259 yards against one of the SEC’s best is incredible in its own right, but Paddock has the potential to be one of the best in the MAC this season, and the journey to the top starts with his performance against Western Michigan.
Paddock has been given the chance to redeem himself against a Broncos defense that gave up 223 yards and four touchdowns on just 12 completions by Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne. Paddock has an offensive line that had a fantastic game against Tennessee’s defense; registering zero sacks and keeping Paddock as comfortable as possible in the pocket. Despite this, Paddock will see his first snaps as not only a starter on his home field but against a MAC opponent at home.
Can Both Lines Dominate?
Ball State’s offensive line impressed many last weeks against Tennessee, allowing no sacks all game while only allowing 2 tackles for a loss. However, the defensive line seemed very quiet all game and did not seem like much of a problem to Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker. Ball State defensive star Tavion Woodard struggled to find a way to pressure Hooker, only registering three total tackles with one being a solo tackle. Hooker only took one sack all game, with the play being made by safety Jordan Riley-Scott.
With this in mind, many question if both sides of the line can get on the same page.
With the outstanding performance against Tennessee, the offensive line definitely has the potential to be one of, if not the best in the MAC. Ball State has filled in the holes in the line nicely with sophomores Corey Stewart (left tackle) and Ethan Crowe (center) being placed as starters. The offensive line should lead the charge and will be the offense’s backbone.
Much like quarterback John Paddock, the defensive line has an opportunity to make a statement, and while having arguably one of the most talented positions, the defensive line could be the x-factor against the Broncos. Western Michigan surrendered seven sacks against No. 15 Michigan State, so it will be an interesting show to see if the defensive line can cause major problems for the Bronco’s offense.
A Revival of the Run Game
It is no question that the run game was a little disappointing to see despite being one of the most hyped-up positions on the roster. Out of 27 total rushing attempts, Ball State could only earn 74 yards, while only averaging 2.7 yards per carry. Along with having no touchdowns, runningback Will Jones fumbled the ball in the endzone causing a touchback to give the Vols little time on the clock in the first half.
Carson Steele struggled to find his footing, ending the day with 11 carries for only 27 yards. Steele also caught four passes for 14 yards as well. For a talent like Steele, a day like that is disappointing to see but he did go up against a very talented Tennessee defense which currently ranks as one of the top defenses against the rush in the country.
Certainly the rushing attack this game will be much better going into this week as the Cardinals have a more lenient opponent in front of them. Western Michigan gave up a whopping total of 197 yards on the ground against the Spartans, which shines a bright light for Carson Steele as he continues his 1,000-yard season campaign.
The Cardinals and Broncos will kickoff at 2 p.m. tomorrow from Scheumann Stadium and will stream live on ESPN+. Follow along with @bsusportslink for more updates