By Dane Massey | Sports Link
MUNCIE Ind — All were smiling at Scheumann Stadium on Saturday as the Cardinals got their first win of the season in a shutout win against Murray State 31-0.
It was a dominant performance for the Cardinals as they finally get their first win of the season on Family Weekend to improve to 1-2 on the season going on into their final away non-conference game against Georgia Southern (2-1). With the win over the Racers, Ball State also improves to 1-1 against non-conference opponents on the season and snapped a three-game losing streak (dating back to the loss against Georgia State in the Camellia Bowl).
“A Great Win,” Head Coach Mike New said. “Obviously proud of our football team. Anytime you can get a win and get a shutout.. [I’m] really proud of the effort from our defense overall for four quarters… Then special teams, really the guys running down the field on the kickoff coverage unit, [I’m] proud of that… We’re going to enjoy it, we have things that we need to clean up… We’re just going to try and keep getting better.”
Ball State getting its first win of the year means a lot of good came out of this weekend, however, there are still some negatives that the Cardinals should be addressed.
Let’s start with this. Ball State got its first win in dominant fashion.
The Cardinals got their first shutout win since 2008 (against Toledo also winning 31-0), and most of that is thanks to a strong performance by the Ball State defense.
Ball State’s defense limited Murray State (0-3) to just 155 yards on 53 plays, forced three turnovers, and held the Racers to go just 3-of-14 on third down. Of Murray State’s 53 plays, only nine came on Ball State’s side of the field with four coming on one drive in the second quarter and four more off a Cardinal turnover.
Nic Jones had an outstanding performance, providing three of the biggest plays of the game after picking off two passes and blocking a punt. Sidney Houston Jr. and Josh Tarango led the defense with seven tackles each. They limited the Racers, who came into the game averaging 6.5 points and 263.5 yards, to 155 total yards (2.87 yards per play)
Despite a lackluster first half, the offense got into gear for the second half as the Cardinals rallied 17 points in the second half. Paddock would throw for another touchdown and an interception to finish the day with 227 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Runningback Carson Steele had a sensational second half rushing for 108 yards and one touchdown in the second half alone. Wideout Jayshon Jackson continued to prove that he is a solid playmaker for the Cardinals ending with six receptions for 64 yards (10.7 yards per reception), and one touchdown.
Ball State finished the afternoon with 476 total offensive yards, the most this season so far. The Cardinals look to keep the momentum going as they travel to Statesboro GA to take on the Georgia Southern Eagles for the first time in their history.
An opportunity to go 2-3 for the second time since 2017 lies in front of the Cardinals, as Georgia Southern is ranked in the bottom half of the Sun Belt Conference defensively. Offensively it should be a test for Ball State as the Eagles are ranked as the best offense in the Sun Belt Conference. Part of that success is due to the Eagles having an astonishing 521 yards per game. Sixth-year quarterback Kyle Vantrease has shown to be a problem for most defenses to handle, however, he has shown cracks in his abilities. Despite throwing for 980 yards this season (seventh best in FBS), Vantrease has thrown for six touchdowns and six interceptions on the season thus far.
Despite the win, it seemed like Murray State losing was pretty inevitable from the beginning.
The Racers were without their starting quarterback on Saturday (Redshirt sophomore DJ Williams is out for the season with a torn ACL), which made their dual-threat passing game come out of the picture for the Cardinals; making the Murray State offense feel very small going against a hungry Ball State defense.
The Racers gave freshman Issac McNamee the reigns for the offense as he was named the starting quarterback for Murray State against the Cardinals. As expected Ball State devoured McNamee, as they forced him to throw two interceptions and only seven completions for 57 yards.
Despite the strong defensive performance, in the first half, John Paddock and the Cardinal offense struggled to get points on the board. Yes, they put up 31 total points which is impressive, the score at halftime was only 14-0. After a great first drive, which ended with a touchdown pass from Paddock to tight end Brady Hunt, Ball State’s six out of its next seven drives would come up empty (Paddock would throw another touchdown pass to tight end Tanner Koziol with under eight minutes to go in the second quarter). The rushing attack for the Cardinals struggled to find its footing in the first half as Carson Steele only had 33 yards off of nine carries. However, the offense would redeem itself in the second half to close out the win.
There’s not a lot of ugliness that went down for this game, but the penalties continue to be an issue for the Cardinals. In total, the Cardinals gave up 73 yards on just six penalties which made the game seem closer than what the score said.
Overall, the Cardinals are ranked as one of the most undisciplined teams in the MAC this season. Ball State has given up a surprising 214 yards off of 26 penalties while averaging 71 yards off of penalties a game thus far. Ball State leads the MAC in total committed penalties while ranking second behind Akron in yards given up to penalties (218 total yards) and average yards off of penalties per game (72 yards per game).
As for Ball State going forward it only gets tougher.
The Cardinals go into their last road non-conference game of the year against the Sun Belt Conference’s own Georgia Southern. Although this matchup will be a first in history for Ball State, the Cardinals are 1-2 all-time against teams in the state of Georgia, as well as being 3-6 all-time against teams in the Sun Belt Conference.
Georgia Southern has played top-tier competition throughout this season. The Eagles rallied off wins against the Morgan State Bears (59-7 and the Nebraska Cornhuskers (45-42), however, are coming off of a loss against UAB (35-21). In the last two games, Eagles quarterback Kyle Vantrease has been in a slump throwing for five interceptions.
The rushing attack for the Eagles is what poses a bit of a problem for Ball State. Over a span of three games, the Eagles rushed for over 580 yards while averaging over 190 rushing yards per game, compared to Ball State who has just 469 total rushing yards while averaging 156 rushing yards per game.
Ball State returns to action this Saturday (Sept. 24) when it goes on the road to take on Georgia Southern. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. with the game being broadcast live on ESPN+. Follow along with @bsusportslink for more updates.