November 17, 2009

CMU vs. Ball State Preview

How the mighty have fallen. Last year, the Ball State Cardinals came into Kelly/Shorts Stadium 10-0 and ranked as the #14 team in the nation to face an 8-2 Central Michigan squad for a trip to the MAC Championship game. The aftermath was a 31-24 Ball State victory in a back and fourth game that sent the Cardinals to Ford Field for the MAC Championship game.

Fast forward one year and Ball State is missing numerous components from their record setting year, most notably quarterback Nate Davis, who was an early entry into the NFL Draft, and their head coach Brady Hoke, who opted to take the head coaching job at San Diego State. With those pieces gone, the Cardinals found it hard to reload and currently sit at 1-9 (1-5) and faced with the reality that their lone win came over an 0-10 (0-6) Eastern Michigan squad that managed to put just 1535 fans in the seats to witness it. Needless to say, the stakes are different for the 2009 Central Michigan vs. Ball State match-up.




Looking at the Ball State offense:

When Davis opted to leave early for the NFL pastures, Ball State looked to redshirt freshman quarterback Kelly Page to guide the offense. Page was ranked a three star prospect by Rivals.com in 2008 and chose the Cardinals over offers from Tulsa, Army and Oregon. Page had a somewhat up and down first season as a starter, throwing for 1019 yards with 7 touchdowns and 9 interceptions before suffering a season ending thumb injury against Bowling Green. Senior Tanner Justice stepped in and has only passed for an average of 59.7 yards per game with a 46.6% completion percentage. In last week's 26-20 loss to Northern Illinois, Justice completed 11 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in what was probably his best game of the season, but it's clear the confidence is not there with him yet and the Cardinals are a very run focused team. To illustrate the problems Ball State has had at the quarterback position, they rank dead last in the MAC in passing efficiency.

Speaking of the run game, one key component of Ball State's magical 2008 season did return and he is the clear cut playmaker for the Cardinals this season. Senior running back Miquale Lewis has tallied 853 yards and 4 touchdowns on 152 carries this season and is also second on the team in receptions with 27. Cory Sykes serves as Lewis's primary backup and has chipped in with 430 yards on 64 carries while Eric Williams offers a compliment as is utilized in Ball State's version of the wildcat offense. Sophomore wide receiver Briggs Orsbon leads the Cardinals in receiving with 46 receptions for 428 yards, but has only one touchdown reception as a result of the sporadic passing attack.

Ball State ranks tenth in the MAC in scoring offense with an average of just over 20 points per game and has the second worst pass offense behind Northern Illinois. As a unit, the Cardinals offense ranks eleventh in the MAC in total yardage and has been one of the worst offenses in the conference against the top tier teams that can take away their rushing attack.

Looking at the Ball State defense:

While its clear most of the team woes for Ball State lie on the offensive side of the ball, the Cardinals defense hasn't done them any favors either. They allow a average of 28.6 points per game and rank seventh in the MAC in both rush and pass defense. Their pass rush has only been able to generate 13 sacks (7 from defensive end Robert Eddins) and they rank dead last in the MAC in pass defense efficiency.

If Miquale Lewis is the clear cut playmaker on offense for the Cardinals, Robert Eddins is the playmaker reflection on the defensive side. As previously mentioned, he has accounted for over 50% of Ball State's sacks and also has 13 tackles for a loss and 3 forced fumbles. Junior linebacker Davyd Jones and true freshman linebacker Travis Freeman lead the Cardinals in tackles with 79 and 78 respectively. Senor Brandon Crawford is also back for another go around this year and has added 10 tackles for a loss from his defensive end position.

After leading the MAC in turnover margin last season, Ball State ranks twelfth in the MAC this season with a -11 turnover margin and have only forced 12 turnovers all season.

How CMU wins:

Every game in the MAC is dangerous...but let's be realistic here, Ball State is just a flat out bad football team and so one dimensional on offense it's comparable to pewee football. If CMU comes out and plays the way they have all season, the trip to Muncie tomorrow night should serve as a Ball State beatdown in front of a national audience. The Cardinals are simply too young, too banged up and too out coached to hang with the Chippewas this season and every comparable offensive squad Ball State has faced this year has put at least 30 points on them. That said, the Cardinals are coming off maybe their best performance of the season in last week's six point loss to Northern Illinois, but this game still has all the makings of a blowout. CMU backup quarterback Ryan Radcliff, get your arm ready.

PREDICTION

Central Michigan: 38
Ball State: 10




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