Written by Noah Reed | @NoahReed_24
Host of 3rd Down Chirp GameDay
Member of Ball State Sports Link
Over the course of the past few years, Ball State and Toledo have delivered numerous memorable moments and finishes. The 2015 homecoming edition, though, did not take shape. Ball State (2-3, 1-1 MAC) fell to Toledo (4-0, 1-0 MAC) 24-10 at Scheumann Stadium.
The Cardinals had a push towards the beginning of the fourth quarter, but as soon as the opportunity presented itself, the Cardinals shot themselves in the foot with a penalty.
“This game came down to our inability to score any points and move the ball effectively in the first half and take advantage of turnovers, good field position,” head coach Pete Lembo said.
The turnovers Lembo was referring to were the two interceptions by Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely on the first two Rocket drives of the day.
Tyree Holder intercepted Ely on the first possession of the game just on the other side of midfield, but it ended in a three-and-out for the Cardinals.
Just a few minutes later, Terin Soloman came up with the interception of Ely. This time, Ball State squeezed out a 10-play drive, but it once again ended in no points.
Riley Neal, for the first time all year long, had flashes where he looked like a freshman. Receivers were able to find separation from the secondary and get to open spots, but Neal’s deliveries were often off target.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Rockets erupted for all 24 of their points in the second frame.
In a span of just over 10 minutes, Toledo put three touchdowns and a field goal up on the scoreboard.
A Morgan Hagee field goal as time expired in the second quarter were Ball State’s only first half points, making it 24-3 heading into halftime.
The third quarter was very similar to the first quarter. Neither offense had much of a rhythm going, and both teams went scoreless in quarter number three.
Heading into the fourth quarter, it was still a 24-3 Toledo advantage.
As much as Neal may have struggled in the first half, the second half brought the Riley Neal we were used to seeing.
Neal led the team on many meaningful drives in the fourth quarter and was one of the biggest reasons the Cardinals still had a chance down the stretch.
The true freshman quarterback from nearby Yorktown High School, completed 23 of his 37 passes for a career high 263 yards. His fourth quarter touchdown strike to Jordan Williams was Neal’s fourth score through the air this season.
The Cardinals, who averaged over 220 yards rushing per game entering last Saturday, were completely shut down by the Toledo defense. James Gilbert was Ball State’s leading rusher on the day, with only 31 yards. For the first in the 2015 campaign, the Cardinals failed to score a touchdown on the ground.
Williams’ 51-yard touchdown grab with just over 11 minutes remaining drew the Cardinals within 14 points, 24-10. Five minutes later, Ball State was driving again. For the second time in the game, Neal connected with Williams in the back of the end zone, but it was called back for offensive pass interference on tight end Dylan Curry.
The penalty call was very ironic and couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Cardinals considering it was one of only three penalties called on Ball State all game long.
The penalty backed the offense up to the 19-yard line. Lembo elected to go for a field goal on 4th and goal, but the Hagee attempt was batted down by a Toledo offensive lineman.
That took just about all the gas out of the Cardinals as they fell to Toledo by the same score of 24-10.
Noah’s 3 Questions Heading Into Northwestern
- Which Ball State defense will show up?
The defense last Saturday afternoon was a tale of two teams. It was just one quarter of letdown that made all the difference.
Over the past couple weeks at Eastern Michigan and at Northwestern, the defense has shown up ready to compete, and it started out that way again in the first quarter against Toledo.
As the Rockets were driving down the field on their first two possessions, two Ball State interceptions kept Toledo from scoring.
The second quarter was a totally different story. The defense we saw in week one versus VMI and week two at Texas A&M reappeared. It wasn’t necessarily allowing a lot of total yards like the two prior contests, but instead it was not being able to stop Toledo from getting into the endzone.
Toledo running back, Terry Swanson rushed from 139 yards on 24 carries. The Toledo run game as a whole totaled 285 yards on 48 attempts and a touchdown.
With the exception of the Toledo second quarter, Ball State’s defense has been great the last three weeks, and that even includes a game on the road against a top 25 team in the country in Northwestern. In two of the last three games, the Ball State defense has shut out their opponent in the second half.
- Riley Neal will be just fine.
He’s a true freshman who just started his second career game last weekend against Toledo. To expect him to not struggle at all this year is just absurd. Neal has now appeared in four of the team’s five games, and for the first time all year, he had patches where you could tell he was a freshman.
Coming away from Saturday, it was obvious that Riley could have been better in some spots, but when you peek at the stat sheet, he was still very impressive.
Neal completed 23-for-37 of his passes, but he was much better in the second half. After struggling to a 7-for-14 first half start, the quarterback connected on 16 of his 23 attempts for a career high 236 yards.
Look at the four teams Neal has played this year as a freshman: @ #9 Texas A&M, @Eastern Michigan, @ #13 Northwestern, and vs. #24 Toledo. That partial schedule is more challenging than most mid major quarterbacks will play all year long, and Neal was thrown into it in his first year of taking snaps.
Not that the schedule is a cakewalk by any means, but it certainly doesn’t get any harder than what Neal has already faced. The Cardinals are about to get in the heart of MAC play and I fully expect Riley to rise to the occasion.
- Keep a close eye on Jordan Williams
Williams is coming off back-to-back weeks with 100+ yards receiving. Most recently against Toledo, the senior wide receiver caught seven passes for exactly 100 yards. After not recording a touchdown in the first two weeks, Williams has hauled in four touchdowns over the last three weeks.
Week after week, Williams continues to climb in the Ball State record books. The senior moved into sole possession of sixth place in career receptions with 158, only 19 away from being top five.
In his third consecutive game with a touchdown grab, Williams is now tied for fifth with 20 touchdowns. He is only two behind fourth place and just five touchdowns behind arguably the most accomplished wide receiver to ever come through Ball State, current New Orleans Saint Willie Snead.
Jordan has become the clear go-to target for Neal. Williams leads the Cardinals in multiple categories including receptions (30), yards (447) and touchdowns (4).
His 447 yards are more than double the next highest, KeVonn Mabon with 213. The rest of the team only has one receiving touchdown.
Even with defenses keying on Williams, he has yet to be slowed down all season long. He will continue to get the targets and will likely continue to put up big numbers.