Birdwatching Week 3: VS Murray State

By Dane Massey | Sports Link

MUNCIE Ind — The Cardinals prepare for battle on Saturday, as they return to Scheumann Stadium for Family Weekend to take on FCS opponent Murray State.

Coming off of their second consecutive loss against Western Michigan (their third loss in a row counting their loss against Georgia State to end last season), the Cardinals will look to avoid an 0-3 start, and get their first win of the season, and they have an excellent opportunity to do that on a very special weekend like Family Weekend. It has not started a season 0-3 since 2009 when it began 0-7 under former head coach Stan Parrish.

“Obviously another big game this weekend at home against Murray State,” Head Coach Mike Neu said. “[Murray State] is a good football team… I know they had a couple of tough games here and there, starting out on the road at Texas Tech in which their starting quarterback DJ Williams went down with an injury… It is going to be a good challenge for us.”

Murray State is 0-2 as well coming into this week. The Racers only scored 13 points in the two losses against Texas Tech (63-10) and Jacksonville State (34-3). Starting quarterback DJ Williams went down with a season-ending injury (ACL tear) in the Racer’s opener against Texas Tech; leaving redshirt freshman Lucas Maue to take the reigns for the season.

Last weekend, against Jacksonville State, Maue only completed five passes on 18 attempts for 55 yards. Out of Murray State’s 296 total yards, 206 of them came from the rushing attack. Freshman runningback Jawaun Northington led the rush with 56 yards off of ten attempts and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

Ball State will play Murray State for the first time in its long history. The Cardinals are currently 226-148 all-time against FCS opponents, they have also won their last seven games versus FCS teams, including wins over Western Illinois (2021), Fordham (2019), Central Connecticut (2018), Tennessee Tech (2017) and Eastern Kentucky (2016) under Neu.

As Ball State prepares for its first-ever matchup against Murray State, here are a few things to keep an eye on.

Keep on the Pedal:

It’s no secret that this is something Ball State is trying to overcome. Since 2019, Ball State has been 8-7 in one-possession games. The Cardinals led 10 of those games by more than one possession in the second half. They are 4-6 in games they led while being 4-1 in games that they were down going into the second half.

Last weekend, the Cardinals led the Broncos 23-14 going into the halfway point of the third quarter. In a quarter and a half, Western Michigan ended up scoring 23 of the game’s final 30 points.

The Cardinals certainly have an opportunity to finish the right way, and certainly have the firepower to do it. Through two games, the Cardinals are averaging 20.0 points on 395.0 total yards, while allowing 48.0 points on 503 yards per game. Ball State’s offense leans more on the passing game this season, averaging 115 yards per game on the ground and 280 yards per game in the air.

Defensively, Jaquan Amos leads BSU with 16 total tackles, 3.0 tackles-for-loss, and a pass breakup. Murray State not having its starting quarterback out to injury does hurt their chances, but it does not mean that they will give up so easily. Currently, the Racers are 1-1 when coming into week three since the arrival of Coach Dean Hood in 2020.

Executing in the Red Zone:

Certainly, Ball State’s offense is an exciting one to watch this season. However, Ball State struggled in the red zone last week against Western Michigan. Ball State scored four times in the first half but went into halftime with just a two-point (16-14) lead following a 44-yard field goal. The most frustrating of those possessions was late in the first quarter when the Cardinals had first-and-goal from the 6-yard-line and settled for a field goal.

Ball State kicker Ben VonGunten has yet to miss a field goal through two games and while the Cardinals seem to have a solid kicker on their roster, they know they could’ve scored more points Saturday.

Murray State is tied for 35th in the FCS in red zone defense. The Racers, in seven red zone attempts, have given up four touchdowns and one field goal this season. Ball State has scored on all five of its red zone trips this season, settling for field goals on two occasions, but will have to be more effective in scoring touchdowns this game against one of the best red zone defenses in the FCS.

Don’t Let the Yellow Flags Fly:

Penalties have definitely been a major issue for the Cardinals this season.

Two weeks into the season, Ball State is the most penalized team in the MAC and one of the most penalized teams in the nation. Through two weeks, Ball State’s been penalized 20 times for 141 yards. In the FBS, it is tied for 113th in total penalties and 92nd in penalty yards. Bowling Green (17 penalties for 143 yards) is the nearest most-penalized team in the MAC.

Against Western Michigan, penalties played a major factor in the Cardinals losing that game. Especially in crucial situations in the second half.

Malcolm Lee was called for kick catch interference, which was quickly followed by the game-winning 60-yard TD run from Sean Tyler in the fourth quarter. The Broncos scored on the 2-point conversion after getting another chance following a pass interference penalty on Nic Jones. Earlier, Jaquan Amos received a personal foul on Amechi Uzodinma’s interception, forcing the Cardinals to start their drive from their own 8-yard line. Joshua Tarango was flagged for roughing the passer on a 20-yard Western Michigan completion on 3rd-and-9 on a drive that ended in another TD. Another roughing the passer call occurred on a 3rd-and-8 on Western Michigan’s first offensive drive and set up the Broncos first TD score. Ball State ended the game with eight penalties for 58 yards.

The Cardinals and Racers will kickoff at 2 p.m. tomorrow from Scheumann Stadium and will stream live on ESPN+. Follow along with @bsusportslink for more updates

Author: Dane Massey