BY MICK TIDROW | Sports Link GameDay TV Host | SL Radio on WCRD Sideline Reporter
Fresh off the bye week, Ball State Football hosts Central Michigan on homecoming for the first game at Scheumann Stadium in four weeks.
Before the bye week, the Cardinals (2-4, 0-2) dropped their second conference game of the season in Akron, 31-3.
It has been an entertaining all-time series with the Chippewas (3-4, 1-2), especially in recent memory. With the series hitched at 24-24-1, the past two meetings have been decided by a combined five points. Central Michigan has won each meeting, including last year in Mt. Pleasant, 24-21.
Homecoming has been one of the most successful weekends year-to-year for Ball State. The Cardinals are 53-35-2 in such games and host Central Michigan on homecoming for the first time since 1997.
1. Blast From The Past
Head Coach Mike Neu’s familiarity with homecoming stems not only from last year in his first season at the helm, but from his time spent as the quarterback of Ball State.
In its 1993 homecoming game against Toledo, Ball State trailed 30-3 in the third quarter. With the momentum in favor of the Rockets, Neu rallied the offense and went to work.
He led the offensive charge to put up 28 unanswered points, including the game-winning touchdown as time expired to give Ball State a 31-30 victory.
The Neu-led comeback stands as the largest in program history. Not only were the team numbers off the charts, Neu posted a school record 469 passing yards with a record 297 of them going to Brian Oliver.
The impressive numbers do not stop there, as the two connected on a 98-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, breaking the record for the longest pass in team history.
Ball State looks for more homecoming fireworks, this time against the Chippewas.
2. Run. Run. And Run Some More.
The ground game has been a staple of Ball State’s offense this year. With 147 rushing yards per game, Ball State turned heavily to freshman Caleb Huntley against Akron two weeks ago.
Huntley posted a career-high 129 yards and led the team in rushing against the Zips. With his stellar performance, it gave him the lead in rushing yards on the Cardinals roster at 394 yards this season. Both Huntley and sophomore Malik Dunner average five yards per rush, while Dunner leads the team in total touchdowns with five.
On the other end, Central Michigan averages 119 rushing yards per game, second-lowest in the Mid-American Conference this year.
Jonathan Ward is the Chippewas leading rusher at 363 on the year, good for 51 yards per game. Ball State’s run defense gives up 146 yards per game, while Central Michigan allows 212.
The tandem of Huntley and Dunner have a chance to get started early and push a Central Michigan defense struggling to stop the run.
3. Third Down Conversions
Success on third down throughout the course of a season helps define a team, and Ball State has been one of the best in the county at converting on such plays. The Cardinals are 17th across America with a 47 percent conversion rate. Ball State ranks as the highest MAC team, with Ohio two spots back at 19th.
For Central Michigan, third downs have been a weakness during the season. With a 30 percent rate of conversion, it ranks near the bottom in the MAC.
With Ball State’s pass rush led by Anthony Winbush’s 7.5 sacks on the season, the Cardinals can apply heavy pressure in the face of Central Michigan on critical third downs.
4. Field Position Battle Saturday
Dunner is already on the board this season with a kick return for a touchdown to boost the Cardinals kick return average to nearly 26 yards. The sophomore averages over 32 yards per kick return, while freshman Justin Hall has helped flip field position on kickoffs with an average of 21 yards per return.
Both Dunner and Hall possess the speed to breakaway from defenders in the return game. But one factor that has kept the ball out of theirs hand has been the ability of opponents to record touchbacks.
Whether it is a touchback or a chance to return kicks, it has been a tough road for Central Michigan. The Chippewas average just three yards per punt return, and 18 on kickoffs.
The lack of opportunities to return punts has been the main issue for Central Michigan. The Chippewas have just five attempts in seven games, three of them by Amari Colman for a total of 15 yards.
For exclusive coverage of Ball State Football, tune in to Sports Link GameDay, presented by Stoops Buick GMC, at 2:20 p.m. on all SL social media platforms to preview the 3:05 pm kickoff.
SL GameDay will also stream live at halftime and an extended postgame show, featuring players, coaches and your live pass to Mike Neu’s press conference.