By Dane Massey | Sports Link
MUNCIE Ind — Ball State football returns home this week for their last non-conference matchup of the season against UConn (3-4).
As both teams sit with three wins on the season, the Huskies have had the tougher go around this season. Three of its seven opponents are in power five conferences, two of which are currently ranked in the AP Top 25 (Michigan and NC State). Much like Ball State, UConn had a rough start to the season, going 1-4 in their first five games of the season, the Huskies would then win two in a row, knocking off wins over Fresno State (19-14) and Florida International (33-12).
Much like the Huskies, Ball State has had its tough go around to start the season, starting off tough losses against Tennessee, and Western Michigan. However, since then, Ball State has won three of its last four games (two of them coming against MAC opponents) to put them at 3-3 on the season coming into this matchup.
In the three times, these two have played each other, Ball State has won all three matchups, the last coming in 2002 with a 24-21 win under head coach Bill Lynch. The Cardinals are 9-7 against FBS Independent teams all time, as this will be the first time the Cardinals will play Upon under Mike Neu.
As the Cardinals get set for their final non-conference games of the season against UConn, here a few things to keep an eye on.
A Defensive Revival:
It seemed like the defensive side of the ball toward the end of the game was a weak spot on this team. Although ranked as one of the top defenses in the MAC, Ball State struggled to finish games to begin the season. In week two against Western Michigan, the Cardinals gave up 16 points in the fourth quarter to lose the game 37-30 to hand the Cardinals their first conference loss of the season.
Two weeks later, the Cardinals would again collapse in the fourth quarter, and would give up 14 points in the fourth quarter against Georgia Southern to lose 34-23.
Ball State has come in clutch in the last two games and thrown that problem out of the window. Against Northern Illinois, Ball State came back in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 38, however, in the final seconds of the quarter, the Cardinals forced a turnover on downs just outside of their territory and forced the game to go into overtime. Ball State’s defense would come in clutch at the end when they forced a turnover on downs to seal the comeback win for the Cardinals
The Cardinals would then come in the clutch again with a one-point victory against Central Michigan on the road 17-16. In the second half, Ball State’s defense came up with a fumble return touchdown to put the Cardinals in front 14-10. Central Michigan would later score a touchdown but miss the extra point to make it a 17-16 game. In the final seconds of the game, the Cardinals would force a turnover on downs in their own territory to seal another thrilling victory for the Ball State.
The question arises if Ball State can keep the clutch performances up and if this defense’s abilities have finally blossomed, with the clutch performances, the Cardinal’s defense will look to showcase its full potential against one of FBS’s worst offenses.
A Rising Threat:
All the pieces are finally coming together for Mike New and Ball State and the offense.
Ball State currently ranks as one of the best overall teams in the Mid-American Conference. Coming into this game ranks as the third-best offense in the MAC while averaging 410.5 yards a game with 25.5 points per game.
Ball State’s backfield has continued to be lethal and a headache for most defenses to handle. Junior quarterback John Paddock currently ranks as one of the best quarterbacks in the MAC (ranked second behind Ohio’s Kurtis Rourke). Paddock has been phenomenal under center with over 1,600 yards along with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. His supporting cast in sophomore runningback Carson Steele and senior wideout Jayshon Jackson has been equally as impressive, both ranking in the top 5 in the MAC.
This trio continues to prove to be a lethal part of not only this offense but of the team.
On defense, the secondary continues to get better and grow. Safeties Jaquan Amos and Jordan Riley are amongst one the best in their position in the Mid-American Conference. Linebackers Clayton Coll and Cole Pearce also are some of the best linebackers in the conference.
Watch out, this team is hungry and could be a team to look out for in the near future.
The Cardinals return home Saturday, Oct. 15, for a non-conference matchup against UConn. Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m. ET at Scheumann Stadium and will be streaming live on ESPN+. Follow @bsusportslink for more updates.