Birdwatching Week 4: at Georgia Southern

By Dane Massey | Sports Link

MUNCIE Ind — Following a shutout win against Murray State, the Cardinals will go on the road to Statesboro Ga. to take on Georgia Southern for their final road non-conference game.

Ball State is looking for their first .500+ start through four games since 2020 and their second since 2017 if the Cardinals can pull out a win against the Eagles, with the possible win, it could be Ball State’s first road win since last November against Akron (31-25).

Ball State looked impressive in its week three win against Murray State, coming out on top 31-0 to get their first win of the season. Despite only posting 14 points going into halftime, the Cardinals would have a better second half. Closing out the Racers in dominating fashion 31-0.

Georgia Southern on the other hand is coming off of a two-week road trip, first to Lincoln Neb., and then to Birmingham Ala., where the Eagles went 1-1 on the road. In week two against Nebraska, the Eagles shocked the college football world by coming out with a 45-42 win over the Cornhuskers. Last weekend, however, it would be a different story against UAB. Sixth-year quarterback Kyle Vantrease would throw three interceptions as the Eagles ran out of gas in the fourth quarter to give the Blazers the win 35-21.

Ball State is currently 3-6 all-time against teams in the Sun Belt Conference while being 1-3 against Sun Belt teams since 2000 with Ball State’s recent matchup being against the Sun Belt Conference’s own Georgia State last season in the Camellia Bowl. Ball State would lose to the Panthers 45-20. The last time Ball State beat a Sun Belt Conference opponent was in 2016 when it beat Georgia State 31-21.

Georgia Southern has played four games previously against current members of the Mid-American Conference, posting a 3-1 record and beating teams in Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, and Bowling Green. The Eagles only lost against a MAC opponent coming against Western Michigan in 2016 when they got beat 49-31.

As Ball State heads on the road for its last non-conference game on the road of the season, here are a few keys to keep an eye on the watch list for the Cardinals against the Eagles. 

Familiar Faces:

Georgia Southern has a familiar face starting at quarterback this season.

Sixth-year quarterback Kyle Vantrease started for Buffalo in 2018 before entering the transfer portal last December. Vantrease elected to use the sixth season due to COVID regulations to enroll at Georgia Southern a month later.

Over the course of his time in Buffalo, Vantrease threw for 4,500 yards, while having 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions under his belt. Amazingly enough, Vantrease has never beaten Ball State as a starter. Since taking over as the starting quarterback in 2019, Vantrease has only played Ball State twice in which both resulted in crucial losses for the Bulls.

In 2020, Ball State played Vantrease for the Mid-American Conference Championship. With the stakes at an all-time high for both teams, Ball State would get the best of Vantrease in the second half, pulling away in the third quarter to secure their first MAC Championship since 1996. Vantrease would end the game with 29 completions for 365 yards, two touchdowns, and two turnovers (a fumble and an interception).

The following year, Buffalo got its rematch against the Cardinals which would also result in a Ball State victory 20-3. Vantrease would watch the game from the sidelines as junior Matt Meyers who would throw four interceptions and no touchdowns in the 20-3 win for Ball State.

In his first game as an Eagle, Vantrease would throw for four touchdowns and one interception against Morgan State. Ever since that game, he has been in a bit of a struggle. In the last two games, he has thrown five interceptions compared to just two touchdowns. This may not be the defense that Vantrease faced in 2020, but Ball State will look to make sure that Vanterease does not come out of that slump and give him a hard time in the backfield.

“We know Kyle Vantrease extremely well having played against him a couple years ago in the MAC Championship game,” Head Coach Mike Neu said. “He’s played at a high level for a long time in our conference and obviously he’s doing a great job down there, but they’re a well rounded team. They throw well, they run well. It’s going to be a great challenge for us…”

Keep it on the Ground:

For Ball State, the run game has definitely been of the strengths of the team. Sophomore Carson Steele is one of the best running backs in the MAC so far (ranked second in the MAC); rushing for over 300 yards and two touchdowns.

Steele has an opportunity to have one of the best games of his college career this week, as the Cardinals go up against an Eagles defense that is ranked as one of the bad ones in the Sun Belt Conference. A defense that is giving up 239 rushing yards per game this season. So far this season, the Eagles have given up 717 rushing yards, ranking last in the Sun Belt Conference.

Compared to Ball State, the Cardinals have only given up 515 rushing yards on the season, while being one of the best rushing attacks in the MAC averaging over 150 rushing yards per game while averaging 4.5 yards per carry, making the rushing attack one of the x-factors of this matchup.

Into the Eagle’s Nest They Go:

This is not the first time this season the Cardinals have gone to play at one of the toughest places to play.

For the season opener, Ball State went on the road to play Tennessee in front of almost 100,000 screaming fans. The Cardinals would end up losing that game 59-10. It is a similar situation with Georgia Southern, which has one of the highest all-time win percentages in FBS history with a .627 win percentage (409-241-10).

Georgia Southern’s Allen E. Paulson Stadium is one of the hardest places to pay in college football, as the Eagles hold one of the best home-field advantages in the FBS, posting a 206-46 all-time home record since the stadium was built in 1984. That winning percentage is the fourth-best out of all currently used FBS stadiums, trailing only Alabama, Boise State, and Oklahoma. Since 2010, the Eagles have posted a home record of 56-17, however, they have gone 9-5 since 2020.

“They’re good in all phases,” Head Coach Mike Neu said. “The job that Coach [Clay] Helton has done in his first year there has been very impressive. This will be a great challenge for us going to a place where traditionally they’ve been extremely successful as one of the winningest programs in college football at home.”

The Cardinals and Eagles will kickoff at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Allen E. Paulson Stadium and will stream live on ESPN+. Follow along with @bsusportslink for more updates.

Author: Dane Massey