Ball State Football: Cardinals take on UAB

Ball State football was picked low nationally because right now, it is a mid-to-bottom tier MAC program and was picked during the preseason to finish last. Now the Cardinals easily could have been 8-4 last season, but closing out games was an issue and they finished 4-8.

Last week’s game at Illinois was more of the same; Ball State was the better team by an objective measure but the scoreboard. A blown coverage on a punt return in the final minutes led to a 24-21 loss. I think most people would pick Ball State ahead of a few teams in the East, but the West is tough, and until it beats teams from its own division (lost to all five last season), there is no reason to pick them ahead of those teams.

The arrow does seem to be pointing up in Muncie, though, in head coach Mike Neu’s second season. The program had its highest-rated recruiting class since at least 2010 and had a lot of young players perform well in the close loss at Illinois. Ball State has an experienced quarterback in Riley Neal, who has started 21 games, and running back James Gilbert was on a lot of preseason watch lists after a really good sophomore season. Ball State is really strong up front defensively, as Anthony Winbush had three sacks.

Ball State head coach gave some insight on UAB.

Here’s what Ball State head coach Mike Neu said after watching film of UAB: “They looked like a team that was tired of going against each other, tired of practicing for a year and wanted to play somebody else. The first thing that jumped out to me was how fast they play and how physical they were. They played well in every phase. We know we’re going to get a team that is certainly hungry.”

What has to happen for Ball State’s offense to be at its best on Saturday?

The two keys for Ball State, as is the case for all its games this season, will be running the ball well and limiting turnovers. Ball State had two turnovers last week, but one led directly to a touchdown. They are limited at wide receiver, so running the ball effectively is important. The Cardinals were able to control the clock last week (36:33 time of possession) and that is why they were in position to win in a Big Ten stadium.

Are there any injuries for the Cardinals leading into the game?

They seem to have escaped relatively injury-free. Running back James Gilbert missed a few possessions in the second half but returned late in the game. The only one I could find out from Neu was right guard Alex Joss is out after limping off the field late vs. Illinois. Neu said he expects to have everyone else available.

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