If Auburn was playing Ball State last year, I would say this would be a very tough game, but this is not last year. Ball State had won 12 straight games at one point last season before losing to Buffalo in the MAC Championship Game under former HC Brady Hoke (now the HC at San Diego State) and was a good football team. Since Brady Hoke left the program, OC Stan Parrish was promoted to Head Coach before the GMAC and has lost every game as the HC of Ball State and looks to be taking the program from 12 straight wins to 12 straight losses. His losses this season include North Texas, New Hampshire and Army. Let's take a closer look at the Ball State Cardinals Offense, Defense and Special Teams.
This Ball State offense is struggling after three games to find a quarterback that can lead it, but the offense only returned 4 starters from last year's squad. This offense is ranking among the worst in all offensive stats and are only averaging a pathetic 14.33 points per game. On the quarterback front, the Cardinals have opted mainly for redshirt freshman Kelly Page over 5th year senior Tanner Justice, but both saw playing time in the last game against Army and both had sub-par performances by combining to throw four interceptions. The bright spot of the offense is that it returned 1st team All-MAC running back MiQuele Lewis who rushed for 1,736 yards last season and scored a school record 22 touchdowns, but so far thru three games has been completely bottled up and only able to gain 157 yards on 41 attempts. The wide receivers is the other area of strength for the offense where the Cardinals return last season's team leading pass catcher in Briggs Orsbon. The offensive line is the area of most concern because it lost four of its starters from last season and has struggled to provide protection for the quarterback and pave running lanes for Lewis. Ball State is going to have to try and control the clock if it has any shot at making this game competitive and that means giving the ball as much as it can to Lewis and trying to avoid passing situations in which the Cardinals have struggled with all season.
The defense fairs a little bit better than the offense in that it returns 7 starters from last year's squad. The defensive line is the strong point of the team and it is returning all four starters from last season including 34 year old former Marine and 2nd team All-MAC DE Brandon Crawford. The cardinals are returning 1 starter from last season and that is Davyd Jones and he led the team last season in 10 tackles-for-loss. In the secondary, the Cardinal's strength is their two returning starters in Sr. Alex Knipp and MAC Freshman of the Year Sean Baker, but they are forced to replace both of their starting corner backs along with their top reserve from last season. This defensive group is on the smallish side especially along the line and linebackers and it shows in that they are ranked 110th out of 120 in rushing yards allowed by giving up over 200 yards per game. Ball State has to slow down and stop the Auburn rushing attack if it wants to make the game remotely close. I would look for the Cardinals to bring a lot of men close to the line of scrimmage and to try and take away the outside rushing lanes forcing the Tigers to go up the middle and throw the ball.
The Cardinals have been pretty consistent on special teams. They lost their All-American Punter, Chris Miller from last season, but redshirt freshman Scott Kovanda has done a pretty good job of stepping in to that role and averaging almost 43 yards per punt on 17 punts. Ian McGarvey is the returning placekicker and he has connected on 5 of 7 seven field goals this season. At the returner position, Briggs Orsbon is averaging 5 yards a punt return while Eric Williams is averaging 26 yards a return on the kickoff. Ball State would like to get this game into a field position game by being able to flip the field in kicking situations.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Auburn needs to come out and establish the run and do that by keeping the tempo of the offense racing fast and wearing out the smaller defensive unit of Ball State.
- The Auburn defense needs to shut down the run and MiQuele Lewis and get Ball State into passing situations where the Cardinals have given up over 2 sacks per game on average.
- No Special Teams blunders and improve the kickoff coverage team.
I hope you enjoyed the Ball State Preview and please feel free to share your thoughts on the Ball State Game.