By Dane Massey | Sports Link
MUNCIE Ind — The Cardinals came up short in their home opener on Saturday, as the Western Michigan Broncos handed Ball State its first loss in a shootout 37-30.
Ball State and Western Michigan have been in some intense nail biters over the years, with eight over the last 15 matchups being decided by seven points or less. The Cardinals won three of the last four meetings until Saturday’s defeat. Western Michigan ended a two-game skid against Ball State and collected its first victory at Schuemann Stadium since 2016.
“Obviously a tough loss there,” Head Coach Mike New said. “You have to give credit to Western Michigan there, they made some critical plays in certain situations down the stretch and we did not… We got to play detailed football and there are a couple of things that happened there in the fourth quarter that was certainly disappointing and we got to get that cleaned up.”
Despite losing their first conference game, there were a lot of positives that came out for the Cardinals. However, with the positives come to the harsh negatives.
After struggling to get on the scoreboard against Tennessee, the offense had a significant bounce back against Western Michigan. Junior quarterback John Paddock had an astonishing performance throwing for 291 yards as well as two touchdowns and no interceptions. The run game also improved with running back Carson Steele rushing for 147 yards and one touchdown.
The receiving core also proved to be astounding as well. The average yardage for all Ball State receivers was 12.7 yards. Junior wideout Amir Abdur Rahman had led the way for the Cardinals with seven receptions for 90 yards and one touchdown. Yo’Heinz Tyler also added a touchdown for the receivers.
Safeties Jaquan Amos and Jordan Riley had another huge day with Amos racking up eight tackles with three tackles for a loss and Riley having eight tackles as well.
Despite the loss, Ball State has a chance of getting their first win this week with a home matchup against Murray State. Ball State is currently 226-148 all-time against Non-FBS teams while being 2-1 against teams in the Ohio Valley Conference, so Ball State could gain some momentum going into more MAC play.
Falling to 0-2 to start the season is bad enough, but going into halftime, the game seemed to be going Ball State’s way. The Broncos ended the half going 3-for-10 on third down in the first half while punting the ball four times, as well as turning the ball over on downs. They scored one touchdown in the first half, which was capped off by a 12-play 81-yard drive for their last possession of the half.
Several individuals made impactful plays during the first half to keep Western Michigan at bay. Jaquan Amos, Tyler Potts, Nic Jones, and Jordan Riley all made impressive plays out in the secondary while Cole Pearce, Sidney Houston, and Amos all made plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.
The Broncos ended up with 193 total yards in the first half, with half of those yards coming off of their final drive. Ball State went into halftime up 10-7 and if they could just keep containing Western Michigan they could pull the game out right?
The second half for the Cardinals defense was a brutal one. After punting the ball to Western Michigan, the Broncos completed three drives for 50 or more yards (75, 56, then 60) for scores. Senior cornerback Amechi Uzodinma II caught an interception with under 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter however it did not stop the bleeding.
Ball State went on to lose the game in a brutal comeback fashion 37-30, as the Cardinals struggled to keep the Broncos from getting in the end zone. Western Michigan outscored Ball State 23-14 in the second half, with 16 of those 23 points for the Broncos coming in the fourth quarter.
Along with that, the Cardinals defense gave up a whopping 437 total yards against the Broncos with 207 of those yards coming from the Broncos run game. Runningbacks Sean Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson combined for 174 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
If Ball State is to compete in the MAC this season, late-game meltdowns can certainly not happen.
It all centers around a problem Ball State had last year. Its ability to pull out wins in tightly contested games.
Last season, the Cardinals lost three tightly contested games that were decided by ten points or less. That may not seem like a big deal until you see who they played in those three matchups.
The Cardinals dropped the three to MAC opponents and if the contests went Ball State’s way, the Cardinals would have secured a trip to Detroit to possibly repeat as MAC Champions. They also would have finished the season with a 9-4 record en route to another bowl game. Ball State did end up competing in the TaxAct Camillia Bowl against Georgia State but went on to lose 51-28.
Also last season, the Cardinals got off to a rocky start as they started the season 1-3. In 2020, they lost their season opener before winning seven in a row, eventually leading to a 2020 MAC Championship (their first since 1996).
With the loss against Western Michigan, Ball State fell to 0-2 on the season. Even if the Cardinals do get a win against Murray State on Saturday, their schedule just gets more difficult. With the MAC West being more talented this season, it will be a hard climb for Ball State as it has already fallen to 0-1 in the MAC.
The Cardinals have to go on the road to play three MAC West opponents (Toledo, Miami (OH), Central Michigan) and the reigning MAC East Champions in Kent State, along with taking on two MAC West opponents at home (Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan), so their season is in their hands.
Ball State returns to action this Saturday (Sept. 17) when it hosts Murray State at Scheumann Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. with the game being broadcast live on ESPN+. Follow along with @bsusportslink for more updates