Written by: Noah Reed | @NoahReed_24
Host of 3rd Down Chirp GameDay
Member of Ball State Sports Link
The Bronze Stalk remains in DeKalb. Ball State (2-4, 1-2 MAC) fell to the host Northern Illinois (3-3, 1-1 MAC) last Saturday in a shootout 59-41.
An early first quarter field goal from Morgan Hagee and a four-yard strike from Riley Neal to sophomore wide receiver Jordan Hogue put the Cardinals up 10-0 early.
But after the early offensive success, it was all Northern Illinois from there on out. Four-second quarter touchdowns gave the Huskies a 28-13 advantage with under two minutes until halftime.
“I really thought we were aggressive early in the game and tried to throw all we had at them,” Ball State Head Coach Pete Lembo said after the game. “We needed to get some stops in the second half, and we weren’t able to do that.”
Ball State was able cut into Northern Illinois’s 15-point lead right before halftime. Freshman quarterback, Riley Neal, led the Cardinal offense down the field, which ultimately led to a James Gilbert two-yard run into the end zone.
The Cardinals gained some life, going into halftime trailing 28-20.
The Huskies scored on their first possession of the second half, but Ball State answered with a 48-yard touchdown. Neal tossed his second score of the afternoon when he connected with KeVonn Mabon. The score kept the Cardinals within on possession, 35-27.
Northern Illinois was able to find the back of the end zone on its next four possession to put the game out of reach for Ball State.
Despite the loss, Riley Neal was once again masterful at the quarterback position. The Yorktown native obliterated many of his career highs that he previously held. Neal completed 31 of his 53 passes for 393 yards and four touchdowns, all of which were career highs. Riley has now thrown for eight touchdown passes, while only starting three games.
Noah’s 3 Questions for this Weekend
- Can the offense keep its pace?
The scoreboard may show a loss, and the scoreboard may also show that Ball State gave up 59 points on defense, but there is no denying how impressive the offense was on Saturday.
The Cardinals put up a season high 503 yards of total offense, including 393 through the air from Neal. Even with what the Cardinal offense would consider an “off night” rushing, they still gained 110 yards on the ground.
How good has Riley Neal been since taking the reigns from sophomore quarterback Jack Milas? How’s 807 yards and 7 touchdowns over a three-week span sound for good? He’s been virtually unstoppable. While the team is 0-3 in that span, I don’t see how much of the blame can be put on Neal.
- Can the defense get back on track?
Through the first three weeks, Ball State was sitting at 2-1 and 1-0 in the MAC, all while looking like the same stingy defense we saw a year ago. The three games since have not gone as smooth.
Since winning at Eastern Michigan, Ball State has yet to give up less than 273 yards rushing. The defense held Toledo to just 164 yards through the air, but allowed 280 on the ground.
The defense played an exceptional first half at Northwestern, but the second half was a different story as the Wildcats were able to rally to win 24-19. Northwestern gained 546 yards of total offense. Toledo followed that up the next weekend with 444 yards in a 24-10 victory. The Cardinals lost their third straight last weekend when they allowed Northern Illinois to score 59 points and totaled 636 yards on offense.
With all that being said, Ball State welcomes a Georgia State team into Scheumann Stadium this weekend who doesn’t have the best of offenses. The Panthers get outscored by about 15 points per game. The Cardinals, who have been giving up 281 rushing yards over the last three weeks, face a must worse rushing attack this week. Georgia State has only rushed for 486 yards in five games, which is just 97.2 yards per week.
- Will the rushing game bounce back against Georgia State?
Through four weeks of football, Ball State possessed one of the top 20 rushing attacks in the nation. Only once in the first four games did the Cardinals fail to reach at least 200 yards rushing, and that was 181 yards against a Northwestern team who operated with the #1 defense in the country at the time.
Ball State rushed for 229 yards in week one against VMI and only continued to get better from there. In a loss at Texas A&M, the Cardinals still managed to gain 240 yards on the ground. Just when we thought the Ball State run game had hit its peak, they followed it up with a 279-yard performance in the conference opener at Eastern Michigan.
That’s when things took a turn and went down hill. After averaging 232 yards rushing per game in the first four, the Cardinals have ran for just a total of 136 yard in two week. That is an average of just 68 yards per game. Ball State scored 10 touchdowns on the ground in the first three weeks, but have only added one touchdown total in the three weeks since.
If there is a time for the Cardinals to get the run game turned back around, this is the week. Not only does Georgia State struggle on the offensive side of the ball, but also the Panthers aren’t too much better defensively.
Georgia State gives up nearly 40 points per game to their opponent as well as 205 yards rushing per game. The Panthers defense hasn’t had a lot of success stopping the run in their first five games, and if the Ball State running backs that we saw in weeks 1-4 show up, it could be a lot trouble for Georgia State.
Expect Darian Green, James Gilbert, and Teddy Williamson to have break through days on Saturday.