2016 Season Preview: Sept. 10 Ball State Cardinals

Written By Alex Compton

Week Two: Ball State
Date and Time: Saturday, September 10th, TBA
Venue: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, IN

Cardinals at a Glance

Head Coach: Mike Neu
1st year as head coach, 1st year at Ball State
Overall Record (0-0)
At BSU (0-0)
Team Last Year: 3-9

Preseason Predictions

  • Athlon- 5th in the MAC West
  • Sporting News- 5th in the MAC West
  • Lindy's- 5th in the MAC West
  • Phil Steele- TBD

Returning Leaders for the Cardinals

Passing: Riley Neal  (58.3 Comp pct. 2,276 Yards, 16 TDs, 6 Int)
Rushing: Darian Green (145 Att. 746 Yards, 5 TD, 5.0 YPC)
Receiving: KeVonn Mabon (70 Rec. 745 Yards, 2 TDs)
Defender: Sean Wiggins (LB 95 Tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2 Int, 6 PBUs)

Why the Cardinals Will Win

An experienced defense could rattle both the home crowd and new-look offense in the first game of the year on the new turf at Memorial Stadium,, while sophomore QB Riley Neal proves tough to stop once he is in a groove.  

Although they finished as one of the worst defenses in the Mid-American Conference last season, the unit this season will return nine starters, including two first team All-MAC players (DE Josh Posley, LB Sean Wiggins). An experienced defense could pose problems to an offense that will likely still be searching for consistency in what figures to be just the second game in new quarterback Richard Lagow’s IU career. 

While none of the position groups are head and shoulders above the others, the linebacking corps features the most talented players on the defensive side of the ball for BSU. The aforementioned Sean Wiggins is an NFL caliber player, and will anchor the unit alongside fellow senior Zack Ryan. These two have seen just about everything in their careers, and will not be rattled by IU’s crowd or offensive approach. The Run’N’Gun style that Indiana utilizes is very comparable to many of the teams Ball State plays consistently in the MAC, so they will certainly be familiar with those looks. 

On the other side of the ball, there is plenty to be excited about in second-year signal caller Riley Neal. As a true freshman last season, he appeared in all 12 games, but really came on strong after starting the last 8 games, in which the Cards went 1-7. While the wins didn’t come, his play turned heads around the league, and is now widely regarded as one of the conference’s future stars. At 6’5”, he looks like a high-major D1 quarterback, but also is mobile enough to scamper for scores or first downs when the time is right. 

Since he was playing right away last season, the calls were generally much more conservative when Neal was under center. However, if he got into a groove early, he was given the keys to the offense and the whole playbook was opened up. One game in particular shows how dangerous he can be if the Hoosiers aren’t sharp early. 

On the road against a really, really solid Northern Illinois team last season, Neal had his coming out party. He threw the ball 53 times, completing 31 of those for a total of 393 yards and 4 touchdowns. I was in the stands for that game. There was no pressure early, and Neal was able to settle in. Once he felt comfortable in the pocket, he made every throw and had the offense humming. Although they lost 59-41, Neal has proven himself to be dangerous. If he gets going early, he would be the man to carry the Cardinals to an upset victory in Bloomington. 

Why the Hoosiers Will Win

While the Ball State defensive unit is experienced, it does not mean that they are not vulnerable. This was regarded as one of the worst defenses in the conference last season, and is the main reason that Ball State had one of its more underwhelming seasons in recent years. 

In 12 games last season, BSU gave up an average of 518 yards per game, and a whopping average of 6.8 yards per play. Additionally, they could not stop big plays, as they allowed 10 plays that were 60 yards or more. If IU can protect Lagow, he should have a field day carving up the back end of the Cardinal defense.  

IU’s talent on offense should absolutely overwhelm the BSU D, and should allow the Hoosiers to put up points at will. This game should provide the chance for Kevin Wilson and his staff to see which of the 2’s and 3’s on offense can be counted on when needed. Additionally, this will be the first game at Memorial Stadium for Richard Lagow, so it should be a good chance for him to get comfortable at home.

Up front, the Hoosiers should dominate the Cardinals as well. With a stacked offensive line again this season, there should be little pressure on Lagow, and huge holes for Redding and company to run through. Lots of guys should get carries in this game, and the offensive line figures to provide all of them the chance to produce as their numbers are called throughout the course of the game. 

On the other side of the ball, the defense will be tested, but in a good way. Based on the unit’s skillset, Ball State will likely have a tough time running the ball. This means that the Cardinals and QB Riley Neal will be looking to throw right out of the gate. If the Hoosiers can position themselves properly in the secondary as they anticipate throws, new defensive coordinator Tom Allen will be able to see which players in his secondary can defend the pass. 

The defense will likely be shaky at the beginning of the game. However, as the game rolls on, IU will likely crank up the pressure and try to really fluster Riley Neal. Once Neal is flustered, Ball State will struggle to move the ball, and IU should be able to take control of the contest. If the defense can prove they can contain a good passing offense, it should give IU fans everywhere some real confidence moving forward. 

Final Analysis

While Ball State has talented players, they are just plainly overmatched at every position. Indiana will likely come out with tons of energy in front of their first home crowd, and this should be enough to propel them to an early lead. If the defense can prevent big plays while the offense keeps control of the ball, there is very little chance that the Cardinals can escape Bloomington with a win. Anybody can beat anyone on a given Saturday, but in this case I just can’t see it happening. I like the Hoosiers, and you should too. 

Win Probability: 95%